Dana Oland: The art and design of Star Moxley

Costume designer shares her process.

October 18, 2013 

  • ELEMENTS: A COSTUME RETROSPECTIVE

    Oct. 18-Nov. 22. Opening reception, 5 to 8 p.m. Oct. 18. 3 to 8 p.m. Thursdays, and by appointment. 120 E. 38th St., Unit 105, Garden City. 991-0117, EnsoArtspace.com.

A Star Moxley costume is more than something an actor wears. It’s an artful expression that must communicate character, style, history and more across the footlights, do it all in an instant and without words.

As a designer, Moxley is best known for her luscious and spot-on costuming for the Idaho Shakespeare Festival, Great Lakes Theater, Idaho Theater for Youth and Boise Contemporary Theater. Her most current work can be seen in BCT’s “Red,” which now is in production.

You can explore Moxley’s work in “Elements: A Costume Retrospective” at Enso Artspace in Garden City.

A group of artists working in different media founded this collective in 2011 after J. Crist Gallery, the gallery they were part of, closed.

Two years into the venture, they are starting to branch out to other artists, and Moxley was one of the first to receive an invitation. Enso received a Boise 150 Grant to recognize artists who have made significant contributions to Boise’s culture.

The exhibit is part survey, part art installation, she says.

Pulling ideas from renderings, photography, fabric swatches, her partial and complete costumes from her stage work that goes back to the 1980s became a mammoth undertaking, she says.

“It’s about what makes me the designer I am,” she says. “What are the elements of my work that someone can see and recognize and that are intrinsic to my sensibility.”

Wearing a Moxley costume feels heavenly, says actress Lynn Allison, who has worked with Moxley often as part of the ISF repertory company for several years.

“Her clothes hang on you very comfortably,” Allison says. “From the materials she chooses — gorgeous silks, elegant brocades — they make you literally feel like you look great. And you do — you look and feel elegant.”

One of Moxley’s strongest elements is her use of color. Even when her palette is narrow — say, grays, whites, blacks and reds — she can create a varied and rich landscape of textures and heightened contrasts.

Moxley nails a stylized realism that becomes a concrete piece of the world of the play — whether it’s the bird-like witches in Charlie Fee’s Japanese-inspired “Macbeth” (1997, 2002 and ’08), or the elegant, haute couture she created for their most recent take on “The Two Gentlemen of Verona” (2011) that had women in the audience wishing she had an off-the rack line.

Fee is her longest on-stage collaborator, and their working relationship was magic from the first play, 1994’s “Much Ado About Nothing.”

“It’s been a remarkable partnership,” Fee says. “I love that she has very strong opinions about her design process. And she’s really open to the process of discovery. She has fantastic taste — and also eccentric taste. It’s fun to watch the ideas take shape with her.”

Moxley dives into any project. She reads the script and then trusts her instincts.

“I like to come in with my own ideas, even before I have the first conversation with the director, before I do any research. It’s about what speaks to me,” she says.

When they begin the research, Fee and Moxley often find themselves delving into the current Paris and New York fall and spring fashion, Fee says.

“And that’s no matter what time period we’re working with — it’s actually before we make that decision,” Fee says.

That grounding of the designs in contemporary fashion infuses even historically inspired costumes with immediacy.

Costuming is part of the bigger picture of a production. It often subtly addresses subtext, adding irony or acting as metaphor to the story that’s being told.

Some costumes become even become poetic. For Fee’s “Hamlet” in 2001, Moxley built a flowing, slivery silk gown for Sara M. Bruner to wear as Ophelia. The train was several feet long and when Ophelia climbed a ladder that led to a doorway at the top of set — as the character exited to drown herself — it took nearly 10 seconds for the train to follow her, time enough to think someone could stop her.

It was a memorable last image for the character who would be pulled “to muddy death” ... by “her garments, heavy with their drink.”

“Hamlet’s a good example because there were far more conversations about it,” Moxley says. “It’s an important play that requires more investment on every level to try and present it in a way that’s really strong. And we were attempting to merge so many thoughts.”

It’s more than just finding the right look for a character or a particular time period. It’s about creating a theatrical experience.

“You’re always trying to be accurate. Whether it’s historical or contemporary, you must elevate it at the same time,” she says.

Most people don’t realize how much Moxley has influenced culture in Boise, says curator Jacqueline Crist, who worked with Moxley to put together the show together.

“It’s such a pleasure to bring this colorful artist — in literal and metaphorical ways — to people’s attention,” Crist says. “I’ve known her since the 1970s when she wore nothing but purple.”

Moxley’s history with the Shakespeare Festival goes back to its origins. She designed costumes and baked cherry tarts, dressed as the Tart Wench and sold them at intermission.

Moxley also was part of the core group that started a little fair on 13th Street in Hyde Park that grew to become the Hyde Park Street Fair. From 1985 to 2008 she owned The Costume Shop in Garden City. It was the go-to place for any event, and if you were smart, it was the best place to buy accessories and makeup.

“She’s been there in so many ways, getting culture off the ground and making Boise a more interesting place to live,” Crist says.

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