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Creating flamboyant costumes for the MFA (Design for Performance)

Nagham Helou is exploring new practices and ideas in her NIDA Master of Fine Arts (Design for Performance) as costume designer for The Country Wife, part of NIDA’s Paradice Family Foundation Season of student productions.

Nagham Helou, Master of Fine Arts (Design for Performance)

Nagham Helou, Master of Fine Arts (Design for Performance)

Photo: Nagham Helou, in NIDA's costume department, as part of her Master of Fine Arts (Design for Performance).

Nagham Helou is exploring new technologies, practices and ideas in design as part of her NIDA Master of Fine Arts (Design for Performance). In June she designed the set for The Caucasian Chalk Circle and now she is the costume designer for The Country Wife, part of NIDA’s Paradice Family Foundation Season of student productions.

Nagham completed a Bachelor degree in Beirut, studying visual and performing arts. ‘I come from a cinema and photography background,’ she said. ‘Costume and set design is a new and different direction for me. I wanted to study something more specific.’

The Country Wife, a Restoration comedy, is funny, sexually playful and flamboyant. It’s the first play where women took to the stage as actors.

‘For the costuming, I did a lot of historical research about what people used to wear and what fabrics were used,’ said Helou. ‘I’m interested in the changing silhouette of men and women’s bodies. The costumes are made up of many layers - there is a chemise, then a corset, petticoat and pads, then sometimes an underskirt and then a skirt. The men also wear layers – chemises, breeches, waistcoats, cravats and jackets. Men also wore heeled shoes at this time.’

‘The character’s body shapes are unique to that time period. The women’s costumes had an open décolletage, exposed shoulders, and tight corsets. They had to walk very upright and they couldn’t lift their arms above their elbows. These costumes reflect the Restoration lifestyle – they wouldn’t wash the outer garments, just the chemise undergarment. And the costumes are very heavy, so the actors have to learn how to move around in them. It totally changes their posture.’

Rehearsals for The Country Wife

Photo: Rehearsing in period corsets for The Country Wife.

‘We have tried to replicate fabrics that were used in 1675 – we have focused on velvet, shot silk and jacquard fabrics, which were very hard to find. We sourced the fabrics from lots of different fabric shops and also found materials in upholstery stores.

‘The costumes don’t give a lot away about the character, I wanted the actors to do that. At the same time, we have added lots of small details on their shoes, pants and jackets. We are also using wigs, hats,  cloaks and scarves and costume props like fans, walking sticks and handkerchiefs.

A team of nine students and supervisors are making the costumes for the performance of The Country Wife.

‘This MFA (Design for Performance) course has given me a chance to learn a lot in a very short period of time,’ said Helou. ‘It's a huge learning curve. It’s given me an opportunity to work on the academic background of the design and also a chance to make and participate in two shows in one year.’

Master of Fine Arts degrees are offered in Cultural Leadership, Design for Performance, Directing, Voice (voice teaching) and Writing for Performance, which are all delivered in the NIDA Graduate School building. Applications for courses are open until 29 October 2017. Apply today by visiting

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