Emilio Sosa, better known as ESosa, is the mastermind behind the stunning costumes on stage at Motown the Musical. With the show arriving at DC’s The National Theater on December 1, we caught up with the artist to discuss his journey to Motown, his vision for the characters, and what eye candy the audience can anticipate.
How did you get into theater? Emilio Sosa: At The Pratt Institute in Brooklyn. I was fortunate to land a job at a costume shop through a teacher of mine. I had no idea what theater was at that point.
How did that lead you to Motown the Musical? ES: I worked [previously] with Charles Randolph-Wright, our Motown director, and I really enjoyed his talent. We became friends. Once he became the director of Motown the Musical, he called us in.
So then you met Berry Gordy, the founder of Motown. ES: I wanted to explain to him how Motown affected fashion for the next 60 years, not only for the people of color, but [also] for the world in general. Once the Motown sound was recorded around the world, it changed people’s perception of African Americans, and that’s a very powerful thing.
How did you research this particular project? ES: You find still photographs where you can see what the color was, but that’s where my fashion knowledge goes into gear. And luckily, there are pieces at the Motown Museum of the actual clothing.
What was your biggest challenge for this show? ES: Some of these people are still alive, so I wanted to capture enough of their essence that with the music and visuals, [audiences] can be transported to where we’re taking them.
Do you have a favorite outfit? ES: [For] the Diana Ross track, we created an amazing beaded gown—it wasn’t like we found beaded fabric and made a dress. As a designer, it’s such a treat visually, but as an artist it’s such a rarity that you can have the time, energy, and resources to create one-of-a-kind pieces.
Is there a look that was especially challenging, to put together or to wear? ES: The Diana Ross character wears a red coat that is about 400 yards of tulle. The idea is to hide it when it comes on stage. We looked into Japanese folding techniques and made it in a way that was like origami—it folds into itself. So when she puts it on, it kind of explodes into a vision of tulle.