Rosemarie Umetsu: singing in style Photo by Derek Wong

Rosemarie Umetsu: singing in style

Jenna Simeonov

Based out of her Atelier in Toronto, designer Rosemarie Umetsu has an unique relationship with fashion and the performing arts. Her clients include artists like Joyce Di Donato, Jake Heggie, Gidon Saks, Angela Meade, and Pinchas Zukerman, and Umetsu often hosts salon evenings in her Yorkville studio.

With a long history of dressing opera singers, Umetsu was kind enough to offer some wisdom and advice about choosing flattering and comfortable gowns for stages of all sizes.

When you help singers choose a gown for a performance, what are some criteria that you find unique?

Singers are interesting. There are usually two specific groups, those who like to be cinched in tight so they feel the resistance when they perform, and others who want to be free and easy and not want anyone to notice their diaphragm move. Picking colours and design details that are in keeping with the repertoire they will be performing, and with their personal preferences, is always unique to each.

What do you find works well onstage for concerts or galas?

It really depends on the size of the stage. Bright bold colours and shapes are always great. Also very effective on stage are dresses that have a 3-dimensional quality to them. Textures, layering, fabrics that play in the light are all guaranteed choices for an impactful visual.

Mezzo-soprano Beste Kalender in Rosemarie Umetsu.

What do you find works well on camera, for photo or video shoots?

It depends on where the shoot is being done, outdoors versus indoors, black and white versus colour. My first recommendation for camera are solid colours in strong or bright jewel tones. I would stay away from anything heavily patterned for video.

Do you have any advice for styles or fabrics that travel well?

Not so much styles that travel well but fabrics that travel well. Most fabrics that are a mix of man-made and natural fabrics are best for being wrinkle-free. Also, most fabrics with elastane or, stretch of some sort are also travel friendly. Laces are also good travel companions.

Soprano Isabel Bayrakdarian in Rosemarie Umetsu.

What sorts of dress decisions would you call “faux-pas”?

I think for singers their dresses should reflect the repertoire and fit with the venue they are performing at. Failing to keep this in sight could result in a faux-pas. For example, performing a German Lieder recital wearing a dress that only Carmen could have pulled off would be a faux-pas in my books. Similarly, wearing the big couture gown that was meant to be worn in a large concert hall seating thousands, in a small venue that has a stage as big as your dress.

Also, if you are not sensitive to being age appropriate and body appropriate, could also result in a faux-pas. I also consider wearing bad or no underpinnings when they are necessary a faux-pas.

This also relates to my two biggest pet peeves with singers:

  • Dresses at the wrong length. Seeing you shoes and your gown being well off the floor, when there are no floods in sight, or conversely, a dress that is too long is also distracting, with having to watch someone awkwardly trying to navigate walking across a stage without falling over.

  • Shawls. People fiddling around through a concert trying to cover themselves up. If you cannot have someone look at you without a shawl, you are wearing the wrong clothes for your body and covering up makes it worse. Just wear a dress that fits and takes care of covering up the things you want to hide, and you don’t need the aid of a shawl to do this. Please wear a shawl only if you are freezing.

Soprano Joyce El-Khoury in Rosemarie Umetsu. Photo by Fay Fox.

Are there any gown styles that you think are classic, or fail-safe choices?

Yes, anything classic is generally a safe choice. I think the A-line is usually one of the safest shapes. However, it really depends on the proportions of the person wearing it. This will vary, so what may be considered generally fail-safe for most, may not be for all.

What advice can you give singers for when they are choosing a dress?

Individuality is the heart of style, so whatever your dress choice, it should be made carefully reflecting first of all your personality and your body type. You need to feel mentally and physically comfortable with what you are wearing, so you can pull it off with confidence and perform with confidence. Own your look!

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