Inside Broadway’s ‘Moulin Rouge!’ wardrobe with costume designer Catherine Zuber

No two skirts are exactly alike in "Moulin Rouge!" costume designer Catherine Zuber reveals. Pictured here, Bahiyah Hibah performs in the show.  Photo Credit: Matthew Murphy

“Moulin Rouge!” — which officially opens today — oozes sexy with curve-kissing corsets, skintastic bustiers, glamour gowns and ooh-la-la lingerie.

No two skirts are exactly alike in "Moulin Rouge!" costume designer Catherine Zuber reveals. Pictured here, Bahiyah Hibah performs in the show. 
No two skirts are exactly alike in "Moulin Rouge!" costume designer Catherine Zuber reveals. Pictured here, Bahiyah Hibah performs in the show. 

Set in a decadent Paris pleasure palace, Broadway’s “Moulin Rouge!,” which officially opens Thursday, oozes sexy. That includes curve-kissing corsets, skintastic bustiers, glamour gowns and ooh-la-la lingerie designed by seven-time Tony-winner Catherine Zuber for maximum sensuality.

The goal, she tells amNewYork, was creating “an allure. We used a lot of lace, stoning, feathers, velvet and taffeta.” In all, there are more than 200 costumes (“My biggest musical,” she says), and they conjure a riot of colors, moods and textures.

In the show, based on Baz Luhrmann’s 2001 big-screen spectacular spectacular, fashion fireworks complement the 1899 love story between Satine (a cabaret courtesan, played by Karen Olivo) and Christian (a composer, played by Aaron Tveit) threaded by more than 70 pop songs and fueled by an almost hyperkinetic energy.

Zuber’s come-hither costumes are on view even before the show begins. (Memo: arrive early.) That’s when various denizens of the naughty club decked in slinky next-to-nothings, plus-size codpieces and other get-a-look-at-me get-ups prowl the stage, preening and posing in a bit of frisky whistle-whetting. As the show prepares to make its official premiere, Zuber welcomes amNewYork into the “Moulin Rouge!” wardrobe.

Diamonds are a girl’s best friend
The dazzling descending entrance of Satine, who shimmers in a silver-on-black showgirl outfit is Zuber’s favorite moment. “She’s referred to as the Moulin Rouge’s ‘sparkling diamond,” says the costumer. “Her first costume needs to support that.” Beads, stones and appliqués lend sparkle to outfits throughout the show. Ditto Swarovski crystals. Zuber estimates that she used “about 30,000 of them.” 

"We also built in stretch panels so that actors could move during the dancing,
"We also built in stretch panels so that actors could move during the dancing,” costume designer Catherine Zuber tells amNewYork.  Photo Credit: Matthew Murphy

Go sista, flow sista

“There’s extreme movement in the show,” Zuber says. Which is why many garments incorporate theatrical magic. Corsets come with the illusion that they tie in the back, like classic versions. But for the quick changes — some of them right on stage — zippers do the trick. “We also built in stretch panels so that actors could move during the dancing.” 

Up where we belong

For costumes worn by high-stepping cancan dancers, Zuber found inspiration, she says, in artwork of real-life painter and illustrator Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, played by Sahr Ngaujah in the show, and the history of the dance. These skirts get lifted to reveal multihued layers of ruffles underneath — “about 12 ruffles,” says Zuber, adding that “no two skirts are exactly alike.” When in motion, the skirts recall extravagant, eye-popping peonies in full bloom.

Karen Olivo, left, stars as Satine and Tam Mutu as The Duke of Monroth in "Moulin Rouge!" on Broadway.
Karen Olivo, left, stars as Satine and Tam Mutu as The Duke of Monroth in "Moulin Rouge!" on Broadway. Photo Credit: Matthew Murphy

Mr. big stuff

Top hats were in style in fin de siècle Paris and loom large in the show. There’s a secret under those head-turning accessories. “We buy top hats a size too big,” says Zuber, “and then pad them with foam so they fit snugly.”

Come what may

On a recent Saturday night, some theatergoers got in on the act. They came dressed in billowing taffeta skirts, top hats, bedazzled bodysuits and velvet and lace glamour gowns trimmed with cascading flowers that screamed “Moulin Rouge!” 

If you go: ‘Moulin Rouge!’ plays an open run at the Al Hirschfeld Theatre, 302 W. 45th St., moulinrougemusical.com

Joe Dziemianowicz