Costume designer to the stars, Zaldy has worked with some of the biggest music and performance starts in the world, helping to create some of their most iconic looks. The artist sat down with Fennec and Friends to unpack his expansive career, give insights into some of his most beloved clients and share his hopes for the future of high-tech costuming.
What was your first experience with fashion?
“My first experience in fashion I would say was when I took all the sheets out of the linen closet and started to drape gowns on myself! I was maybe 8 years old. I would also take bathrobes and turn them backwards and roll the collars inward to create shoulders and then belt them. It was such an innocent, freedom of expression because I didn’t really know what I was doing, meaning I didn’t know I was draping gowns I was just having a creative fun time! But some of them were really quite good!”
What inspired you to enter the world of costume design?
“Costume really entered my world and brought me into it! I went to Parsons and FIT to become a fashion designer, and that was my focus. However when I was a child I would watch the Cher show with my grandmother and we would both appreciate the work of Bob Mackie, we would watch old movies and I would imagine myself as a new type of designer not unlike Edith Head who also designed red carpet looks for her stars as well as their costumes for film. When I was creating my earlier collections, I was still doing costume work with RuPaul and a lot of musicians, but at the time costume design took a back seat to fashion and I didn’t really talk about it to not confuse people who looked at me as a fashion designer.”
“It was those early 2000’s when people still didn’t understand multi-tasking and wearing different hats. People wanted you to appear “focused”, now it’s weird if you don’t have multiple talents!”
What have been some of your favourite costumes you have designed?
“My favourites that come to mind seem to all be golden! I love the gold armour look I designed for Katy Perry’s opening number for the Witness Tour. I have created many custom vacuum-formed armours over the years, and I feel like this one was the most fully resolved in form and function.”
“I love the custom metallic yellow gold leather and chromed gold studded Egyptian outfit designed for Lady Gaga’s first Monster Ball Tour. It was an exciting look to see on a new star whose fame grew and grew by the second!
“I also love the gold laser cut Amazon look RuPaul wore for the All-Stars 3 promo, with the golden set and the lioness hair it all came together for me and created an iconic image.”
How do you meld your own aesthetic with the needs of your different clients?
“People tell me I have a “look” to my work which is a really nice compliment! I think clients are asking me for my point of view on concepts from the creative decks which inevitably has my look to it. Most everything is a collaborative effort because there are so many people involved: the artist, creative directors, lighting directors, riggers, the list goes on!”
“Let’s take Katy Perry’s opening outfit for the Witness Tour: I knew the song she was going to sing; I knew she would arrive in a neon star vehicle flying out from the iris of a seventy-five-foot EYE. I knew what her hair would look like, the mood of the first act and the mood of the following acts and the overall image for this particular tour. All I had to do was design the most appropriate outfit that would work within these parameters!”
Are there any clients you have a particularly strong relationship with?
“I have a very special creative collaboration with RuPaul that began when we did the video for Supermodel together. Along with hair and makeup artist Mathu Andersen, we created the archetype for ‘RuPaul’. The image is so alive and strongly defined that it allowed Ru and I to create almost telepathically rather than traditionally with only sketches and swatches. It’s like we both understand what the needs are for each performance and the trust so deep it allows us to instinctively know what to do!”
How do the physical requirements of your different clients influence your creative process?
“Every artist has particular needs, which is most evident in the physical performances of the athletes I work with at Cirque du Soleil. Each discipline and really each artist whether Swiss Rings or Parkour has specific needs and boundaries that we consider while always trying to push the design to the limit. So even if twenty feet of trailing ombre chiffon might look incredible flying forward on the rings, it would all get caught up in the lines flying backwards! So you learn not to compromise but how to design within the parameters and how far you can push the parameters.”
What has been a highlight of your career so far?
“Winning two Emmys and a Costume Designers Guild Award were all really special for me. I never thought about winning awards, so they came as a surprise. Knowing that my peers, people who work as hard as I do and share the same passions for design as I do, voted for me is both touching and humbling. I am so thankful to feel like I am part of a creative family.”
What has been a low light from your career? How did you overcome this?
“I’ve been to some low places! But it’s all part of the experience and drives you to make choices to move forward. I would say the biggest low for me came when I was working with Michael Jackson for the first time for his This Is It concert series at the 02 Arena London. There was such a global excitement that was only matched and exceeded by the global mourning for his passing right before heading to the UK. We were all on such a high and to lose your client suddenly to death was maybe the deepest sorrow I have felt. You couldn’t escape the public tears or his music playing from cars, the newspapers and channels…I didn’t know if there would be anyone as inspiring to work with which was kind of a downer!”
“Then a few months later a new voice came into my realm to inspire and muse…Lady Gaga really came around at the right moment, so a big thank you to her!”
What are some of your future career aspirations?
“I have so many! In costume design, I look forward to designing the right film for me…a great historical costume drama or an epic sci-fi fantasy feature. I am also dying to design an Olympic Opening or Closing Ceremony. I’ve come close but still waiting!”