In conversation with Marrit en Pilo

Between trying on clothes and puzzling with wigs, there is some time to drink a cup of coffee together. Costume designer Marrit van der Burgt and wig designer Pilo Pilkes have often worked together and rely on each other. We speak each other’s language, we read each other’s handwriting.’

How does that work, designing for an opera like Orphée aux Enfers?

Marrit: ‘In this case, the decor was already there, so I adapted to it. The decor is very colorful and a lot, that’s why I keep the costumes calm. I got my inspiration from those white Greek images, mixed with red carpet-like dresses of the Hollywood stars – a bit like the gods of today. And so I arrived at the Empire style, neoclassicism, which in turn is inspired by the classical antiquity of the Greeks. Actually, I bring in all the times of history and the colors provide the line; the gods are white, the people wear color – natural – and the devils are more blackish.” Pilo: ‘I also started with the Greek statues of the gods, then I will see if I can make it more personal or better suited to what we are going to tell. So the inspiration for the wigs might as well come from everywhere.” Marrit: ‘That’s the nice thing about this piece; you can do anything with it!” Pilo: ‘That is also a pitfall, isn’t it, that anything is possible. Because it has to be correct and clear. If it’s too many lines; a little bit of Empire, a little bit of this and a little bit of that, you don’t know where you are anymore. At such a moment we really need each other to create order.” Marrit: ‘Yes, sometimes you pull the costumes and I pull the hair and that’s all allowed. Because everything passes through our hands, it does become one whole. We have been working together for a long time, so [at the same time] we speak the same language (Marrit) we can read each other’s handwriting (Pilo).’ Marrit: ‘We have to, because we already work improvising. So you have your designs and lines to follow, but if the final picture is not right, you have to fix it.” Pilo nods in agreement: ‘Yes, sometimes you have to put on a dozen wigs to see if it fits with the rest and with the person who has to wear the wig.’ Pilo continues: ‘That is the most challenging, but also the great thing about our profession. That we have to continuously adapt, move along, improvise.’ Marrit: ‘That is indeed exciting, but also a lot of fun. It really is an ongoing process, you keep fine-tuning until the premiere. Every production brings new challenges. But that’s why we love this profession.’

Just like the design process, the conversation between the two designers is a bit chaotic and organic. That fits, it turns out…

Pilo: ‘The play itself is quite chaotic; all the characters meddle in everything, Offenbach also makes all kinds of jokes and quotes from other music…But it’s up to us – and the others of the artistic team – to make it as clear as possible. Although it remains an exuberant whole, that has to be in Orphée aux Enfers.’ Marrit: ‘Yes, do people understand everything…? But that’s okay. You feel it, it goes through your heart.’ Pilo laughs: ‘That’s a nice ending to this conversation: it enters your heart.’

Interview: Kyra Bertram