The Costumes: ‘Burlesque’

Call him the accidental trendsetter. Costume designer Michael Kaplan’s futuristic-noir look for “Blade Runner” inspired an Alexander McQueen fashion collection. His “Fight Club” designs were soon being paid tribute to by his designer friend Marc Jacobs as well as Donatella Versace. And then there were the slouchy, off-the-shoulder outfits in “Flashdance,” which triggered a rabid ‘80s trend that still has some life left in it. So does this mean we might all soon be wearing feathered headdresses?

Kaplan’s latest film, “Burlesque,” a lush, feel-good musical written and directed by Steven Antin, tells a glitter-heavy, beaded version of the trope about a small-town ingénue, in this case Ali ( Christina Aguilera), looking to make it big in Los Angeles. She takes a job as a cocktail waitress at a burlesque lounge run by stage veteran Tess ( Cher) and soon she finds her calling to perform. Kaplan’s bold, over-the-top dance costumes play such a prominent role in the film that they actually move the plot forward at critical points.

To achieve all that sparkle and pop, Kaplan drew from the art form’s long history. The costumes, he says, span “the ‘20s through the ‘40s, and there’s also a feeling of the ‘50s and ‘60s too. Some of it even has a tiny bit of futurism.”


Despite his past impact on the cultural scene, Kaplan says that influencing the zeitgeist is not his focus. “I wouldn’t be doing my job if I was thinking about the effect of the movie on fashion. I do what I think is right for the character,” he says. “I want them to look like they exist in the world.”

Maybe so, but don’t be surprised to see a little “Burlesque” in some upcoming jewelry designs.

Here, Kaplan walks us through some of his creations for the film, being released Nov. 24:

“That’s a costume from a number called ‘I Am a Good Girl.’ I wanted Christina to kind of look like a dessert. There’s feathers, there’s satin, and she’s all pink and peach and adorable. Like some kind of sorbet.”

“That was one of Cher’s working outfits. When she’s in the club, she doesn’t wear period clothes, she’s just Tess running her club, with her beautiful blue-black hair. I wanted Cher to have her own color — and I felt the character Tess should be in black. That was her color. Cher always put her imprint on everything she was wearing. I’d put clothes in her room every day and she’d walk out combining them in a different way than I thought she would. Cher and [her character] Tess are not that unalike — both are show business troupers.”

“All of the costumes [in this dance number] have a little bit of surrealism in them, that was kind of my departure point — you could say Magritte from the hat. And other costumes have a little bit of Man Ray. She has beaded hands on her breasts and a set of hands on her butt, so there was some humor, some sexiness. There’s also a skirt made of just garter belts that moves wildly [with the] dancer. It was a lot of fun to do that one — it was one of my favorites.”

“That’s Christina in the finale wearing a costume I made of gold chains. All the costumes, on all the dancers [in this number] — and there were quite a few — were made out of gold chains, all handmade and linked together, link by link. Gold chains and Swarovski crystals.

“I invited Nadja Swarovski to see the finale of the movie. I guess she loved what she saw because she said she was very moved. And a few days later she called and asked me if I would design a line of jewelry for Swarovski, which I just completed.”