HEDDA Gets Styled to Rock: Interview with designer Autumn Kietponglert

In 2013, star local photographer/videographer Kyle Cassidy successfully raised $5,000 to film Henrik Ibsen’s A Doll’s House, based on a site-specific production at the Ebeneezer Maxwell House in Germantown staring Jennifer Summerfield (his wife) and directed by Josh Hitchens. Now, the group are fundraising for a production of Ibsen’s HEDDA GABLER in the parlor of Philadelphia’s historic Physick House over two weeks in December 2015. Between performance weeks, a four-day video shoot will bring this intimate production to people who can’t see one of the eight performances. (Check out the kickstarter here.)

For just $25 you get a ticket to the play, for $20 you get a copy of the film, but for $1,000 you get the mourning dress worn by Jennifer Summerfield as Hedda in the production. It’s a gorgeous creation by fashion designer Autumn Kietponglert of BRAVO’s Styled to Rock. Phindie spoke to Autumn about her work on the project, hot on the heels of her fall fashion show with her company Heartless Revival. [Physick House, 321 S. 4th Street] December 10-20, 2015; kck.st/1YOJPUI.

Autumn Kietpon Photo by Kyle Cassidy.
Autumn Kietponglert.
Photo by Kyle Cassidy.

Phindie: How did you get involved with the HEDDA GABLER project? You are known as a fashion designer who works with unusual fabrics. Had you ever considered designing anything for a theatrical production before?

Autumn Kietponglert: I met Kyle Cassidy (filmmaker) and Jennifer Summerfield (lead actress) at a Neo-Victorian fashion show years ago, where I presented one of my first collections; we have been friends and collaborators ever since. When they began working on the project, they asked me if I would be interested in designing Hedda’s mourning gown because of my love and roots in Victorian inspired fashion.

Phindie: You are known as a fashion designer who works with unusual fabrics. Had you ever considered designing anything for a theatrical production before?

AK: This is actually my first time design anything for theatrical production but I had been interested in working on costumes for film for a long time so I leaped at the chance.

Clothing from Autumn's fall fashion collection.  Photo by Kate Woodman.
Clothing from Autumn Kietponglert’s fall fashion collection.
Photo by Kate Woodman.

Phindie: You’ve just completed a fall fashion collection. What are the differences between creating a look for a runway show and designing and making costumes for an intimate production like the one at the Physick House?

AK: I would say the biggest difference between the two, is that for runway, I really try to create an expression of an image/inspiration I see in my mind. For this production, I approached the creation of the mourning gown as though it was an extension or physical manifestation of Hedda’s character. I included my own aesthetic twist in the garment while still creating something appropriate for the time and character. The wonderful thing about an intimate location like the Physick House is you really can appreciate the detailing of the costumes and they become one with the character and scenery to create a visual story.

Phindie: Were there challenges you didn’t expect that presented themselves in creating Hedda’s mourning gown? 

AK: I would say the creation of every garment takes on a life all it’s own and each piece has it’s own personality that begins to come to life as I am working on it. The creation of this gown was very intuitive while still being based on couture techniques that would have been used to create a dress of the period.

Jennifer Summerfield in Autumn Kietponglert's mourning dress for HEDDA GABLER. Photo by Kyle Cassidy.
Jennifer Summerfield in Autumn Kietponglert’s mourning dress for HEDDA GABLER.
Photo by Kyle Cassidy.

Phindie: Could you tell us a bit about the process you went through in your costume design?

AK: First I did research on fashion from the 1890s, including visit the “Death Becomes Her” mourning wear exhibition at the Met and the Fox Historic Costume Collection at Drexel University. Then I sketched several free-flowing ideas in charcoal, next I went searching for the perfect fabric to help inform the piece. I was looking for something that had the good weight and beautiful luster that would help bring the design to life. The feel and drape of the fabric was very important to the design process as I was going to use couture draping techniques and drape the fabric directly on the dress form to create the design, (as opposed to doing a muslin and creating a pattern which is the standard method for creating most costumes and fashion.) There were several fittings along the way and this helped with evolving the design idea, at one point the skirt was very long and extremely dramatic, which we all loved but wasn’t practical for all the scenes. I came up with the idea to make the skirt versatile should they decide to create a very dramatic scene for the film version, the back of the skirt can be unhooked easily to create a flood of cascading black fabric.

Phindie: Was creating the Hedda gown similar to your usual artistic process, or did you have to adapt to the historic period of the play?

AK: This design approach is similar to the one I use when I designing a collection, but I was very inspired by the idea of the costume being an extension and physical manifestation of attributes of the character, Hedda.

Photo by Kyle Cassidy.
Photo by Kyle Cassidy.

Phindie: What’s next for you? Do you see yourself costuming theatrical productions in the future?

AK: I’ve just shown my collection at both New York Fashion Week and Philadelphia Fashion Week, for now I am concentration on my show at The Vault for the Philadelphia Collections and my trunk show at Toile Atelier this October.

Phindie: Do you see yourself costuming theatrical productions in the future?

AK: I would love to be involved in more film projects in the future, I think the processes of designing for a character has really has become a part of me and will inform how I will create in the future.

[Physick House, 321 S. 4th Street] December 10-20, 2015; kck.st/1YOJPUI.

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