Designer creates magic through costumes

Have you ever stopped to think about how important clothes are? Have you ever wondered what causes someone to wear a certain sweater or dress? What would you wear when spending the day with someone special? These are just a few questions that costume designers think of when creating the looks for characters we see on stage.

Friday, March 9, Corduroy, a play about a teddy bear named Corduroy who searches a department store for his missing button, made its world premiere at the Children’s Theater Company. Leading up to the debut, the MSR was able to catch up with Trevor Bowen, the show’s costume designer.

Bowen hails from Oklahoma, and came to the Twin Cities to work as a design assistant with the Guthrie Theater about five years ago. His original plan was to stay for the nine-month season. But he stayed to take on his first run as designer with Pillsbury Theatre’s production of The Road Weeps, The Well Runs Dry, directed by local theater veteran Marion McClinton.

Ileri Okikiolu as Lisa in Corduroy Photo by Dan Norman

After taking that critical step in his career, Bowen began to develop more relationships and sharpen his craft. “Especially with Marion,” he says, “it wasn’t just about doing this play together. We were learning so much — I think from each other — and I learned a ton from him…about how to tell the story, how to put it together.”

It’s that very trait that Bowen brings to the production of Corduroy. Without giving away too many behind-the-scenes tricks, Bowen explained how the Night Watchman’s outfit is the hidden gem within the production.

“The idea [of the Watchman] is that you have someone that’s super fastidious, and has been working at the department store for 25 years, but tonight it’s crazy,” Bowen explains. “He’s falling apart as all [of] this mayhem is happening.”

So, it is this approach that Bowen brings to the story. While the audience will see the “mayhem” taking place on stage from the famed little teddy bear looking for his lost button, Bowen’s designs show the transformation of the Watchman’s wardrobe. Throughout the show, the Watchman’s outfit will literally fall apart piece by piece, just as the department store is falling apart.

“I think one thing that I feel is my responsibility is to provide some context for people; sometimes what the audience needs is some clarity,” Bowen explains. “Sometimes what the audience needs [is] a visual representation of something — whether it be a feeling, or an idea, or a mentality, and that happens through the clothes.

“Sometimes that needs to happen before the actor says something, and then it just needs to support what they’re doing physically on stage. Or it’s the complete opposite and we’re trying to mess with somebody.”

To help draw inspiration for Lisa, the little girl who wants Corduroy, Bowen visited Jefferson Elementary and simply observed the students and their fashion. He noticed that they didn’t care about matching.

Trevor Bowen with costumes Photo by Khymyle Mims

While sitting in one class, Bowen found inspiration in one little girl whom he says was “brilliant but really quiet.” That day she was wearing leggings, weird socks, a skirt, a hoodie, a hat, and a lanyard with keys. “Well, who are you dressing for? A lot of kids are dressing for themselves [and] a lot of adults are dressing for someone else,” he says.

Bowen not only found inspiration from this girl, but designed one of Lisa’s outfits after her. He says that’s the nice part about working on a world premiere — he has the freedom to create the look without any prior expectations. “I’m laying out, in a way, rules that can be changed, and a guide for the shop and for the team,” he says. “Everything we do…is about teamwork.”

Following the interview with Bowen, the MSR was able to go behind the scenes where all the magic happens and meet this team that Bowen speaks of. We also got to see Bowen’s sketches turned into reality.

“I haven’t done this yet, but I have this idea that if I ever see someone on the street [and] I have enough petty cash on me, [I’ll ask them] ‘can I get that sweater?’” Bowen says with a laugh. He says he’ll sweeten the deal by inviting the person to see the show.


If you’d like to keep up with Trevor Bowen you can follow him on Instagram at @trvrbowen. Find ticket information about Corduroy by going to or calling 612-874-0400.


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