Designer Christopher Larson has a penchant for the extreme.
Christopher Larson recalls his first encounter with costume design during the Utah Shakespeare Festival. The infamous weird sisters of Macbeth had no idea how potent their spell was that season. It may have brought down Macbeth and his lady, but it also inspired a costume designer. Larson was 8 years old.
“My family went to [the Utah Shakespeare Festival] every year,” Larson says. “I was fascinated by the costumes. Even if I was bored with the play, the costumes were what I watched. I would think about what I would change in their designs.”
In the Cedar City production that year, the witches were anything but crones. Basic hag black was traded for exuberant red, purple and green wire-cage costumes. Cascading dreadlocks replaced pointed hats.
“It was a fantastic interpretation,” Larson, now 31, remembers. “I was entranced by the witches. For years after, I was going around in school mumbling, ‘Double-double, toil and trouble.’”
Larson’s first foray into his own costume design came a few years later when his family traveled to the ghost town of Grafton near Zion National Park. His father, an amateur photographer, wanted to take pictures of the family amid the 19th Century buildings. Larson, 11, worked with his mother to sew period costumes for the outing. “I had been collecting vintage clothes and sewing patterns,” he says. “I was fascinated with hoop skirts.”
What followed was a lifelong passion. Larson has created costumes for SB Dance, Ballet West, Repertory Dance Theatre and stage and dance productions at the University of Utah. Besides his studies at the U of U and Salt Lake’s Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising, Larson has worked in interior design, window display and fashion—including creating events for the now-defunct Black Chandelier boutique. He once costumed roller-skating models, called “crash-test monsters,” in foam outfits. “It was dangerous to say the least,” he remembers.
Larson loves the problem-solving aspect of costuming for dance. “Modern dance requires interpreting what the choreographer wants. I bring a lot of creativity to the process, and I bring my eye to it,” he says. “The design has to accentuate the dance. It has to create movement.”
At rehearsals last year for Stephen Brown’s Of Meat and Marrow, Larson anxiously watched as a female dancer’s wispy, rag-like shift began to tear as she gymnastically interacted with other dancers moving a massive stainless-steel cross beam. When the sequence ended, Larson immediately rushed out to fuss over the costume and devise a fix. “It has to move and look like rags,” he said, but disintegrating into rags was not an option.
While he avoids most creative differences with choreographers through constant dialog, Larson has a philosophy to avoid collisions with inflexible choreographers. “I don’t work with difficult choreographers. The money isn’t worth it,” Larson says. “I just say no.”