Kendra Rai talks about British fashion, Ab Fab & brown shoes

Kendra Rai, costume designer for Constellation’s Taking Steps, was in New York City getting ready for a 2nd day of shopping and sourcing costumes for upcoming productions when we spoke on Saturday….which also happens to be the first opening night of Constellation shows that she’s missed.

“I’m so sad not to be there!”, she said.

But her spirit was, in every costume detail that she had created. From the stripy tights and colored socks to flannel plaid pajamas to fishing hats, Kendra doesn’t miss an inch of her character’s look. Each costume is in perfect..step…with the character.

Emily Morrison: I know that Taking Steps is staged in the present day. What was your inspiration?

Kendra Rai:  I am a huge fan of British tv – I’ve always watched shows like Upstairs Downstairs and Are You Being Served. I adore Absolutely Fabulous. And growing up, we got to live for a summer in England. I love the quirky, unmatched way the British dress – they have a really different sense of style than we do in America. Their way of missing colors is so different –  like a British man will wear a black suit with brown shoes and it looks fine. But here, you have to wear black shoes. I love this about them.

Emily: Let’s look at a few characters. What about Elizabeth? (A dancer, wife of Roland, sister of Mark)

Kendra: So my inspiration for Elizabeth is Bubbles from Ab Fab. Its all dance inspired – the Fosse period of leggings and short shorts. She has a ton of odd things lying about on the floor and just picks them up and puts them on. But everything had to be about dance. She’s the most colorful and eclectic of the bunch.

Then for Roland. I gave him a sort of Lord of the Manner look, with a twist. So even tho he’s coming in from work he wearing his golf clothes. He sees himself in this lordly role. I’d seen this picture of a duke in his garden wearing a red vest and an assortment of other mismatched clothes, and thought, yes, Roland.  Another important element for Roland was his ascot, which keeps coming up in his face. He wears it to bed, which is pretty funny.

For Tristam I wanted him to have a bow tie and this little argyle vest – he’s got the nerdy look down. And Mark with his fish shirt and fishing hat with all the bait pinned to it are in line with his obsession with fishing.  Finally for Kitty – much of her outfit is meant to intrigue – her top half is quite sweet but her bottom half with her enormous heels and short skirt indicate a naughtiness that might be going on. In every farce, you expect someone to take their clothes off – in this one its Kitty.

Emily: And the character Leslie – that is a great surprise and very funny.

Kendra: “I LOVE this play, its awesomely funny. We had to find a balance between going way out there and reality. I’m happy where we landed.”

Emily: So what’s next?

Kendra: Well next is Hedda Gabler at Catholic University. Then I’ve got Big opening at Adventure Theatre and a remount of Pinocchio at Imagination Stage.  I’ve got another couple projects then I’m back at Constellation for Zorro!


Kendra Rai won the 2012 Helen Hayes Award for Costume Design for her work on Constellation’s The Green Bird. 


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