When it comes to colorful celebrity costumes with a touch of humor, Heather Picchiottino is your gal. In her most recent project, the Australian costume designer found herself in LA, creating a number of kaleidoscopic looks for the queen of camp herself: Katy Perry. Designing especially for Perry’s Las Vegas residency named PLAY, Picchiottino even had the chance to work alongside other expert costume designers like Johnny Wujek and Zaldy.
Take one look at Picchiottino’s designs and you’ll fall for her camp styling choices. For the stage show, she put Perry in a light-up bubble coat with two-toned gogo boots, as well as a turban hat that accompanies a matching embellished towel dress. These larger-than-life designs couldn’t be more perfect for Perry. After all, the star’s impressive career is filled with playful sartorial choices; one memorable example being the chandelier gown she rocked at the camp-themed Met Gala in 2019.
To learn more about Picchiottino’s experience designing for Perry’s Las Vegas stint, we hopped onto a Zoom call to discuss the designer’s creative process, what it’s like working with Perry, and the amazing creatives she collaborated with along the way.
To begin, it has been an absolute joy to look at your designs for Katy Perry’s Las Vegas residency. For anyone who’s not familiar with your work, tell us a little bit about your job and how you’d describe your creative style.
I work as a costume designer and a stylist with a background in editorial styling. In the past 10 years, my focus has shifted to creating custom looks for music artists. I’ll create a look from scratch, sketch it, and then start the process of producing it. I’d call my style “camp-punk” through a runway lens; that means there’s a lot of vinyl and feather involved. I also try to achieve something that has a real high style aesthetic as well.
Your “camp-punk” style makes perfect sense as you seem to have an affinity for bold colors, prints, and also synthetic fabrics. When designing, how do you decide what colors and fabrics you like to use?
A lot of what I do is for the stage. If someone’s performing on stage and there’s a band behind them and massive screens, you’ve gotta think about how you can make the artist stand out. I’m also working with artists that have a great message, so you need to build a creative world that matches the strength of the message they’re trying to convey to their audience. I’m really inspired by the history of how music meets fashion with artists like David Bowie, Cher, and Prince. It’s really fun to take audiences into a hyper-real visual world with the look of the artist as well as the music.
Your sense of style also meshes really well with Perry’s colorful creative identity. Since this isn’t the first time you’ve worked with the star, how did this creative relationship begin?
I got the chance to do a job for her dancers back in 2017; it was when she was doing her “Swish Swish” promo. She was also preparing her Witness tour, so after creating the initial look, she asked me to come onboard and design for her band and dancers for the tour. I did about 80 looks in total. From that moment on, I started doing more and more custom looks for her.
Since you designed Perry’s Las Vegas looks specifically for the stage, did you come across any obstacles when bringing these designs to life?
Yeah, the biggest obstacle was probably the bubble coat. In total, that took about 350 hours of work to put together. It was my first full light-up costume, so I worked with Tom Talmon Studio — the go-to company for bespoke lighting — who are incredible. I wanted to create a bubble effect on the coat that was clear and iridescent, but it also had to light up in a way where you couldn’t see any of the electronic wiring underneath. It took us eight gos in total to create a clear bubble effect that hid all the wiring!
I’d love to know — because you created such bold costumes like the bubble coat — what were the fittings like for the show, and how did Perry react to the pieces you’d made?
Well, the fittings aren’t really a surprise for Perry because she is so involved in the process from the beginning. She had a really strong vision for the tour, working hand-in-hand with her creative directors The Squared Division who created the world. She approves everything, from every sketch to every color of nail on the dancers, down to the shade of pink that we did on the frog costume. She’s so involved that when we get to the fitting stage she already knows where each look is going. I love working with her because of that as the vision really begins with her.
What’s more, you didn’t just work with Perry and her creative directors, but you also collaborated with a lot of different creatives along the way. What was that collaborative process like?
I did three looks for PLAY as well as Perry’s promo look, which was a really fun Elvis-inspired costume; I also did 80 looks for the dancers. Overall, I probably had a team of about 25 people. Normally, it would start with me sketching the look, sourcing all the fabrics, and then sitting down with the team to work out the best way to get each look made.
I collaborated with Disco Daddy Studio, who has this amazing aesthetic; he’s really the rhinestone king! He did a lot of the Swarovski elements for the show. Then, I worked with tailor Samuel Ososki and designer Lacey Dalimonte on the bubble coat and dress. For Act Five, I collaborated with a maker called Killer who did a lot of the Victoria’s Secret wings for their runways. She designed these really beautiful showgirl backpacks which are a real high point of Perry’s whole show.
What about the dancers? Did creating their costumes differ from designing for Perry?
Well, Perry moves just as much as the dancers do in this show, so all her stuff has to function as much as theirs do. But, for the dancers, everything has to work with the set while complementing whatever Perry is wearing. In a way, the dancers are the visual candy of the show as they carry a lot of the emotion and energy through what they do on stage. There’s one part in Act Four where they’re all dressed up as fashion-food-trash. We had a Latte Queen wearing a boa made out of lattes and a candy wrapper outfit — more extravagant than your typical dancer costumes.
As we’ve not touched upon it yet, could you tell us more about the amazing towel dress you designed?
Yeah! So, Perry wanted a mixture of humor and glamour for Act Two. There’s a bathroom scene where the whole act is staged as a hyper-real bathroom, which is a bit Alice and Wonderland in its proportions. She wanted to wear a towel dress so we constructed a dress out of real towel material, but the whole inside is corseted because a towel is a tricky fabric to get right. I wanted to make sure the under structure was fully cinched in and glamorous.
I also worked with Chrishabana (an amazing jeweler) on these custom Lucite bubbles with Swarovski crystals on them for the towel dress trim. We also wanted to bring in the classic look of black and white bathroom tiling into the vinyl gloves and vinyl boots, making them both two-tone.
I see! I also noticed that the style elements like the vinyl gogo boots and the mini-length pieces gave your looks a very swinging ’60s feel. Does the past inspire you at all?
Definitely. Perry and the creative directors wanted the whole concept to have a throwback feel, hence why it was really specific that my designs were late ‘60s. Before I started sketching, I went deep into research at specific research libraries to find everything I could about the late ‘60s. We were also looking at late ‘60s game show elements, so I’m glad that you noticed the retro element to it. It took a lot of work to nail it. For some of the dancer costumes we changed the font five or six times until we got a specific ’60s look; everything had to be from that era.
I’m sure you had a blast designing each of the costumes, but which look did you find most memorable to create and why?
The bubble coat because I just love the moment when those bubbles light up after all the time spent in fittings. And, I really loved the promo Elvis-inspired jumpsuit. I thought that looked beautiful, fun, and was completely camp for Vegas!
Another thing, if I can say something else about the tour: Perry had three costume designers for her looks. Perry got Johnny Wujek on board — the designer who helped her develop the pop, humorous fashion aesthetic she’s known for — to design some of her looks. The other designer was Zaldy who is one of my personal inspirations. It felt really special that she had the three of us all working on her looks.
So, what does the future look like? What kind of projects would you like to work on in 2022?
I just moved to LA. I was back in Sydney during COVID, and I moved in the middle of the build for the show. I’m excited to be in LA and collaborate with a lot of like-minded people. It’s an exciting city to be in and there’s so many talented artists, so I just want to keep doing what I’m doing now.