The “Look” Behind Freestyle Love Supreme: Talking with Costume Designer Lisa Zinni

Costume designer Lisa Zinni is heading back to the area as part of Freestyle Love Supreme (FLS). The Philly native found her passion for design at an early age. Now living in New York, Zinni’s work covers a broad range of styles from contemporary to period and fantasy. Zinni talks about her work with the show and where she gets her inspiration from. 

[Miller (formerly Merriam) Theater at the Kimmel Cultural Campus] June 7–12,

Debra Danese: What was the first show you ever costumed?  

Lisa Zinni: If we are being technical, I would say I started very young. I grew up in the East Oak Lane neighborhood of Philly. We use to put on shows in the back yard of our house on Chelten Avenue with all the neighborhood kids. I would costume my siblings and our friends with whatever clothing I could find around the house. 

The more formal answer would be in undergrad at Desales University. Our senior class had to produce a children’s show and I designed the costumes. The show, Don’t Count Your Chickens Before They Cry Wolf, was a fun and clever reimagined version of Aesop’s Fables.  

DD: What did you take away from that experience?  

LZ: Without realizing it, I think that 10-year-old me inherently knew how much the visual aspect of a show can elevate the overall experience for the audience. College- age me decided that being a Costume Designer was exactly what I wanted to do! Looking back, I think I realized how much I loved the joy in the collaborative process.  

DD: What was your inspiration for Freestyle Love Supreme?  

LZ: FLS is so unique and unlike any other type of theatre. There’s no script or plot. From the design aspect, the characters are all heightened versions of their own personalities. I take my inspiration from the performers themselves, along with a mix of old school hip hop and contemporary fashion.

I start each look with a conversation finding out what they enjoy wearing- what colors or prints they like- and get their overall vibe. I like to enhance and heighten what they might wear in everyday life. I like to mix textures and colors and I always personalize each look and add details wherever possible. 

For example, I added the rhinestone letters KR on the right sleeve for Kaila (Kaiser Roze). Chris Sullivan (Shockwave) has T-shirts with an abstract graphic on them, which actually says shock wave. I designed a rainbow color, bandanna print do rag for Jay Ellis that has extra length down the back so that he can use it in any way that may work in the moment- as hair, a veil, or a scarf.  

 James Iglehart (J-Soul) is a fan of Star Wars and prefers the simplicity and comfort of a T-shirt so we custom printed his shirts. One of them being a large-scale Millennium Falcon enhanced with matching Swarovski crystals. 

Andrew (Jelly Doughnut) has a jacket and sneakers that we embellished with done stones. His chain necklace is actually in the shape of the state of Maine where he grew up.

In theater, it’s necessary to have two of everything for laundry. Instead of doubles, the FLS cast all have a second look so they never get stuck in the feeling of repetition. It also gives the show a constant flow of visual combinations to support the improvisational nature of the show.

DD: Your portfolio covers a diverse range of genres. What have been some of your favorite shows to costume?

LZ: I genuinely love what I do so it’s a difficult question to answer. Sometimes I love a show because of the combination of people. Sometimes it’s the creative process with the director or the show itself- its music and message. I have so many favorites. 

A very memorable one is a production of West Side Story in Tokyo at the IHI stage. The audience seating was built on a revolve and rotate stage and had the equivalent of 12 Broadway sets in a circle. The concept combined realism and theatricality. Designing those costumes and custom building the entire show, tailoring every suit, and building every dress, has been a career highlight for sure. To see and experience the finished production on such a grand scale was incredibly rewarding.

I loved designing Sweeny Todd for its edgy darkness and I also have a great love for designing Shakespeare. I enjoy the freedom and creativity that comes from not being bound by a specific period and being able to combine contemporary elements and period costumes to create a fantasy world. 

I have been the Associate Costume Designer on a number of Broadway shows with amazing costumes. I loved being part of the design team for An American in Paris, set in the 1940’s. It had 500 costumes, covering everything from uniform and show girls to Dior inspired gowns and ballet costumes. I am currently the Associate Costume Designer of SIX The Musical about the six wives of Henry the 8th reinvented as Tudor pop stars. The costumes are made of hologram vinyl with studs and stones and latex printed spandex. Maybe my favorite is whatever I’m currently doing.  

DD: What traits make you a successful designer?

LZ: A passion for creating, along with being a good listener and excellent problem solver, are definitely my strengths. I am good with budgets and understand where to put the money when you have it and how to make things work when you don’t. 

I know how to ask the right questions. I listen to the actor and do my best to help them connect to their character through their costume. I understand the psychology of clothing and how the choices I make can visually support how we perceive and understand a character and enhance the directors vision. I can see the big picture. I can zoom out the broad stokes of color palette, while at the same time, zoom in and treat every costume like it’s the only one. I’m not precious about sharing ideas. If one doesn’t work, I always have another. 

DD: As a Philly native, which local spots could you typically be found at?  

LZ: Philly and its theater scene have always been thriving. Growing up, my parents took us to the Walnut Street Theatre so it meant a lot to me to be able to work there as a designer. I also enjoyed working at the Arden Theatre Company. It felt full circle to have my family and friends see my work in the theaters in Philadelphia. There is so much culture and so much to see and do- fantastic restaurants, bars, and museums. You will definitely find me at the Miller Theater (formerly Merriam Theater) with FLS!

FREESTYLE LOVE SUPREME, makes its Philly premiere June 7–12, 2022, at the Kimmel Cultural Campus’ Miller (formerly Merriam) Theater.


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