Legendary designer on making Whitney's costumes.
B Michael has designed for quite a few “greats” during his career, including Lena Horne and Cicely Tyson — he’s even designed for the hit TV series Dynasty. But when he was commissioned to create Whitney Houston’s costumes for her role in the upcoming Sparkle (in theaters August 17th), it was a dream come true.
Michael took a break from working on his latest collection for Macy’s — B Michael America Red (also debuting in August) — to talk to ESSENCE.com about dressing Houston in her role as Emma, the boutique owner.
ESSENCE.com: What was your role specifically for the film?
B MICHAEL: I was commissioned to create the overall wardrobe for Whitney’s character, Emma — Sparkle’s mother.
ESSENCE.com: How were you approached about designing costumes for the film?
MICHAEL: Initially, Debra-Martin Chase one of the film’s producers contacted Mark-Anthony my business partner and then Ruth Carter, the film’s costumer who flew into NY to meet with me.
ESSENCE.com: What emotions were you going through — nervousness, excitement?
MICHAEL: I was nervous. In the way that I am always nervous before presenting a new collection, or creating for a special project — it gives me positive, creative energy.
ESSENCE.com: How did you prepare and come up with the inspiration behind Whitney’s looks for the role she played?
MICHAEL: In addition to reading the script, Ruth Carter provided me with specific details such as scenes. Ruth also gave me inspirational storyboards of the era (1960’s) for visual inspiration. Emma, who runs a dress shop in this film, for me, was a cross between Motown and Park Avenue.
ESSENCE.com: What was it like to work with her? Was this your first time?
MICHAEL: Often I have been asked as a designer whom would I like to dress, my answer was usually, “Whitney Houston!” So when Debra called me, it was for me personally, divine order. I enjoyed the process and the professionalism of Whitney as she expressed how she viewed herself as Emma, giving Ruth and I full creativity to build the character’s looks. Whitney was also warm, funny and very giving during our fitting.
ESSENCE.com: What was one memorable moment in particular that stood out while working with her?
MICHAEL: The overall experience was great. Whitney proved true, the greater one’s accomplishments, the kinder and generous one is.
ESSENCE.com: How involved was she in the design process?
MICHAEL: One example: Whitney felt her jacket to be worn to church should have more dramatic sleeves, so when I returned to my NY Atelier we did exactly that!
ESSENCE.com: What was her reaction to the final design with the dramatic sleeves? Was she pleased?
MICHAEL: Whitney loved the dramatic sleeves, she thought they were perfect.
ESSENCE.com: Was there a favorite design of hers? And a favorite of yours?
MICHAEL: Ruth would share with me from time to time, “Whitney loves the dresses.” In one instance she asked Ruth if she could keep a dress.
ESSENCE.com: Which dress was she interested in keeping?
MICHAEL: The blue/black marble silk brocade.
ESSENCE.com: And your favorite design?
MICHAEL: My favorite was the deep plum and berry wool jersey cape worn for Emma’s solo in church with the choir.
ESSENCE.com: What was your greatest challenge working on this film?
MICHAEL: A common challenge: deadlines!
ESSENCE.com: How much time did you have to create all of the looks?
MICHAEL: From sketch to production, one month approximately.
ESSENCE.com: What did you take away from the experience of working with Whitney on Sparkle?
MICHAEL: It was an honor to hear from Whitney that she loved my work. In general I enjoyed the process as a designer creating clothing for a fictional character — I may become Adrian or Edith Head in my next life!
ESSENCE.com: Who’s the next actress on your wish list to design for?
MICHAEL: Queen Latifah.
Check out Whitney Houston wearing B Michael designs in the movie Sparkle on August 17th 2012.
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