Costume Designer Enda Kenny talks us through his process for A Streetcar Named Desire

What is the process you go through when approaching the design process?
I always start with reading the play without focusing too much on the details of the text. I am usually trying to get a feel for the piece and the detail follows later. I then spend a few weeks looking for inspiration in whatever form that may be. I like to look at paintings, fashion magazines, photographs and movies of the era of the piece. Once I have my ideas in place I try to settle on a colour palette and experiment with shape and styles of garments. Then I start drawing and figuring out which ideas are appropriate for each scene.

Where did your inspiration come from?
I love the paintings of Edward Hopper, in particular his use of colour which was a big influence when designing a lot of Blanche’s costumes. I looked at a lot of street scenes of New Orleans and have tried to create this atmosphere through the use of colour in my designs. I looked at femme fatale figures and tried to capture some of their essence in Blanche’s designs. I did extensive research into 1940s/50s clothing without getting too bogged down in detail or historical accuracy. I tried to avoid watching previous productions of Streetcar so as not to be influenced by other designer’s ideas.

What is the biggest challenge you faced in the design process?
As this play is well loved by so many people I found myself questioning a lot more of my decisions / designs because I realise people have very definite ideas about how the characters are portrayed. Another challenge was in styling the piece in the period it was set in but trying to create a more contemporary aesthetic with my colour choices and uses of specific garments.

Which piece was your favourite to design?
I really enjoyed designing all the costumes for Blanche. She is such an interesting character who creates her own reality through her delusions and lies. I liked her feeling of separateness from the rest of the characters around her.

What symbolism can audiences expect?
Within the text Williams makes several references to butterflies and moths. At one stage an early draft of the play was titled ‘The Moth’. I used the symbol of the moth many times in creating Blanche’s costumes. The lapels of Blanche’s first jacket create a moth shape and this is echoed throughout the piece through jewellery and choices of transparent delicate fabrics emulating butterfly wings. I also use moth inspiration in Blanche’s birthday dress and for her drunken scene. I love the moth as a symbol of beauty and fragility, the doomed nature of the moth and flame, the delicacy of the wings which if touched disintegrate. For Blanche’s final costume we are creating a hand painted blouse with falconry gloves with captive birds. Blanche’s Della Robbia blue jacket is symbolic of a bird cage capturing the bird inside while the colour has religious relevance as a symbol of purity and possible martyrdom.

How does the colour palette you’ve chosen link to the play’s setting?
I tried to help create the atmosphere and the intense heat of New Orleans within the colour palette. There is an acidic quality to some of the tones I have used and the costumes will have a ‘sweated into’ feel to them. Blanche’s tones of colour are very separate from the world around her. Her colours are very clean and strong with inner luminescence like precious jewels. The other tones of dirty yellows / oranges and burnt pinks are muddier in quality and lie comfortably next to each other unlike Blanche’s cleaner colder hues.

Find out more about A Streetcar Named Desire here.