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Costume design

The Challenge

Please ensure that these elements are in your final research and designs:

  • Produce a sketchbook that shows initial and final sketches of your costume designs for three characters.

Your research should show your personal – as well as artistic – response to the themes and context of the opera or ballet. This should include an exploration of the issues raised in the opera and how the production you are working on reflects them.

  • Construct a costume that could be worn by one of these characters in a scene.

Your final design may be delivered as a full-size or a quarter-size garment on a model. You should also explain why you have chosen this scene and how your costume relates to the character and the scene.

Director's Visions

The close collaboration and full understanding between a director and a designer is an essential part of every production and crucially important to the successful execution of the conceptual vision of the director.

The design can and should be very much another protagonist within the story, not remaining in the background as something merely aesthetic but enabling, enhancing and facilitating the narrative in its chosen structure. It provides the space in which the story unfolds, the distances and hiding places where the characters make their choices. Remember that visual aids help us understand psychological situations and changes; in which case the set is the most important visual aid we have. Everything on a stage should be there for a reason, to aid the story. Often, less can be more. Giving room to imagination is a gift to the audience and keeps them involved as the story unfolds.

Please download the Director's Visions for 2017/18 here. Choose one of the four Director’s Visions to focus your design ideas.

In your final design you will need to show concrete knowledge of the production and of opera or ballet as an art form, with a clear demonstration of how this knowledge informs your design ideas.

Research questions

The following list is a research guide:

What is opera, and how does it affect costume design and construction?
What is the story and how does costume aid the plot and setting?
How does design and types of materials aid the telling of the story?
Who are the main characters and how does costume provide information and clues about them?
What practicalities do you need to think about when designing a costume for an opera singer?
How is the costume affected by the time of day, period, season, and mood?
How do your material choices react under stage lighting?

Useful resources

Understanding your client:

Royal Opera House website
FILM: What we do -  the Royal Opera House
IMAGES: the Royal Opera House Flickr page
The Costume Collection

Costume for opera and ballet:

FILM: Designing Frankenstein
FILM: Designing L'Etoile
FILM: Designing Andrea Chénier - bringing the French Revolution to life
FILM: Designing and creating Donna Anna's dress for Don Giovanni
FILM: Jewels - behind the costumes
FILM: The Sleeping Beauty - behind the costumes
ARTICLE: Backstage with the ROH Costume Department

Submitting entries

Students will need to submit entries to their school or college first for internal judging. Teachers will then submit 1 entry for every 20 students as their finalist(s). Institutions should then send the following materials for each finalist to the Royal Opera House:

  • Three quality photos of the student’s completed design
  • College internal judging notes about the entry, including why they have been selected as a finalist
  • A 90 second video of the student pitching their design. They should use their sketchbooks to help demonstrate how they have responded to the brief and the Directors Vision.

Visit our Winners' page to see details of past winner's work.

 Judging process

Visit our judging page to watch a short video filled with advice from past judges.

Design Challenge receives generous philanthropic support from the Paul Hamlyn Education Fund.