Ballroom is first and foremost a community, but it’s also a competition. HBO Max’s Legendary puts both aspects in the spotlight as eight voguing teams, or houses, compete for 0,000. For the uninitiated, the show offers a quick and immersive introduction to the ball scene. First created by queer Black and Latinx folk in the 1970s, balls consist of different categories in which contestants attempt to wow the judges with their dancing, fashion, and overall presentation. In Legendary, the houses of Balmain, Ebony, Escada, Gucci, Lanvin, Ninja, Saint Laurent, and West are critiqued by stylist Law Roach, rapper Megan Thee Stallion, actress Jamila Jamil, and ball icon Leiomy Maldonado, with voguing master Dashaun Wesley standing by as MC.
Each ball, and in this case episode, centers on a different theme, including Circus Berzerkus, Wild Wild West, and Atlantis. The criteria for each ball’s categories may focus on specific aspects of performance, like a certain element of voguing, the type of fashion contestants wear, or even their face or body. To help the houses vogue their way to victory, costume designer Johnny Wujek and his team were on hand to create the contestants’ fashion each week. Having worked with Katy Perry, Mariah Carey, and other stars, Wujek is no stranger to designing stunning looks for the stage (or to reality TV, after having been a creative consultant and judge on America’s Next Top Model). His latest project was no easy feat, however, as he and designer Eric Archibald were tasked with crafting custom looks for over 40 people, working closely with each house to bring their concepts to life–all within just a few short days for each episode.
Now, with the season released and the show gearing up for Season 2, CR speaks with Wujek about the creative madness going on behind-the-scenes, his favorite looks, and what he learned from the ball community.
How familiar were you with ballroom before Legendary?
“I’m from Detroit, Michigan. I’ve been to balls in Detroit, and I’ve been to a couple in LA. So I definitely know ballroom, but trust me, honey, I learned so much more working on this project. I still can’t death drop or do any of those moves because I’ll break something, but the one thing I really did learn about it was the family bond that these kids create with each other. All their stories are so amazing and intense and they’re all there for each other. Sure, they get ballroom on each other, but they love each other. They’re all like a big family, a big Legendary family now.”
In each episode, viewers only get a glimpse of the costuming process. What was going on behind-the-scenes for you?
“We started off with eight houses, five people in each house, and we dressed Leiomy and Dashaun. So, every ball would happen, and the day after the ball was when we would film the on-camera stuff with each house, going over the creative ideas, designing, and hashing everything out. From there, we had two-and-a-half days to the next ball to make 40 plus costumes, which was really exciting and fun, but it was down to the wire. Luckily we had this amazing compound in Stamford, so we had so much room and we had recruited sewers and shoppers. We had so many people in our crew all hustling. Literally, we’d run a costume from one side of the compound all the way to stage day of the show. It was all very quick. But it felt very ballroom scene. The energy was so up the whole time, from day one to wrap.”
What was it like collaborating with each of the houses?
“Each house was different. Balmain had it hashed out to the end–like in the second week of shooting, they knew everything they wanted to do. Others [didn’t], or there was even creative conflict within the house. Sometimes just the mother or father [group leader] spoke for the house. The House of Lanvin, they all had an opinion once it got going. They were so involved, so many ideas that they wanted to keep adding and adding. A lot of people were trying to change concepts to the last minute. There are so many creatives in a house and so much pressure. Their choreography would change or they would want [part of their costume] to rip away or add something on. It was a collaboration the whole time, and we definitely gave our two cents of how we could elevate their ideas and make it really fun.”
What are some of your favorite looks of the season?
“The one that I immediately always think of is Twilight [Escada]’s hat dress. Everyone was so hung up about the spinning element [for that category], but there were no spinning elements on him, it was just him spinning. And he won! But just seeing Law react and the other judges gagging, and seeing Twilight live in that costume. I also love the Ninjas’ opening look. It was really sick. Packrat [Lanvin], she did the body category for Wild West, [her look] was very sexy and simple, but I love it more for the experience. That was actually a shopped item she was wearing, but it was a full long sleeve, long leg leotard, and I told her to put it on and just started cutting on her. Before we knew it, she was like, ‘I feel incredible. I feel so sexy.’ And she won, too, so it was more so her telling me, ‘Thank you for what you did. I got to go up on stage and own it and win.’”
Many of the contestants also had dramatic makeup and hair that would match their costumes. How did you work with the hair and makeup team to create those cohesive looks?
“The schedule was so crazy. On a normal day, a couple houses would be rehearsing in different areas, a couple people would be doing on-camera confessionals, the houses were always doing something. Part of it was hair and makeup getting creative from them, and then we’d get the creative from them. Eventually, we had meetings with the whole group, because the hair, makeup, and costumes are all one. Hair and makeup would see our sketches, get the color ideas. But then it would be like, Carlos [Lanvin] changed his look to blue now, so his hair’s gotta be blue, his this, his that. Then I’d have to run over and give them a new sketch, show them the fabric. You had to work closely even with the guy who did the lights. You have to work with everyone to make sure that it all makes sense on stage.”
There are many on-stage transformations with the costumes, like in Episode 7: Capes & Tights where Jamari’s suit seemingly disappears to reveal his superhero look. What were the challenges with creating those pieces?
“Normally when you’re doing a reveal or rip away, you have time to rehearse. For the most part, these costumes didn’t have time. Zay [Lanvin], for example, had a sheer green thing in that episode. When we rehearsed, it busted right off, but then on stage he did it a different way and it was a little sticky. But Jamari’s was so perfect. He was in front of the video screen wall and one of his teammates was behind there and ripped it from the back, and it was seamless. We rehearsed that and I remember everyone was gagging.”
What’s in store for Season 2?
“I’m ready to go, but we don’t even know when we can start filming due to everything. But I know it’s happening and HBO is stoked on it, and there will be 10 episodes. We’re shooting in LA for this second season, which is amazing. And I’m pushing really hard for an ‘unstitched.’ Like the part two where it’s like after the ball, then you get to see how we make the costumes, the hair and makeup. If not, I’ll just be starting my own YouTube channel.”
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createdAt:Wed, 22 Jul 2020 13:07:24 +0000
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