There are few in the industry who can say they’ve sustained a colourful life in costume design like Fleur Thiemeyer. The Melbourne-born designer, who spent 30 years abroad working with Olivia Newton-John, Rod Stewart, Liza Minnelli and Motley Crüe, lives vicariously through the threads she creates for these music icons – and now she’s back. This time she’s adding the gracious touches to Cole Porter’s Anything Goes musical, which opens on July 20 at the Arts Centre’s State Theatre.
Thiemeyer is a walking, talking encyclopaedia of pop-culture information. Blessed with a bubbly and charismatic nature, it’s easy to see how she gets her work. If anybody else dropped the names of as many stars in one sentence you might think they were trying their best to make a fabulous impression, but Thiemeyer has been there and done that and has rubbed shoulders with the industry’s finest, many of them now her friends.
Her career milestones are many, from styling Bette Midler in her duet with Mick Jagger for the Beast of Burden video filmed at the former Peppermint Lounge in New York City to dressing Sheena Easton, Donna Summer, Dusty Springfield and Van Halen – she’s done the ’70s, ’80s and ’90s time and again. Pat Benatar even wore her outfits when she won Grammys in the ’80s and, heck, even Michael Bolton’s ’80s image was tweaked by Thiemeyer.
Since returning to Australia in 1999, Thiemeyer has dedicated her life to live-theatre production, last year working on the stage show Sugar. She has worked with big and small budgets, different time frames and describes her fate as a matter of luck, timing and talent.
“When you do shows like this there’s a lot of boxes you have to tick,” says Thiemeyer of working on Anything Goes. “It’s about what the director wants, what the budget allows. Do you have the personality? You can’t just say ‘yes you can do it’ and off you go. It has to work within the framework of the performance and no matter what your budget, you still want all your costumes to look a million dollars on stage.”
Directed and choreographed by Andrew Hallsworth with Dean Bryant (Next to Normal), Anything Goes is about lovers, liars, gangsters and sailors on board the SS?American as it leaves New York to cross the Atlantic. All up, Thiemeyer has to create more than 30 character costumes, the majority built from scratch. “If I can’t find what I want at fabric stores, I tend to screenprint my own,” she says. “Sometimes finding socks for a certain character means the argyle-printed ones for Todd McKenney’s character will come from England.”
Lord Evelyn Oakleigh (McKenney) is eccentric and Thiemeyer had fun putting his look together. “He’ll be wearing plus fours, argyle socks, a velvet jacket, striped shirt and a bowler hat.”
Thiemeyer says the outfits aren’t specific to a time in the play – there’s a bit of Jessica Rabbit channelled in Amanda Harrison’s character of Reno Sweeney (a cabaret singer), while the dancers in the show wear outfits inspired from the 1920s to 1960s.
“It’s a bit more glamorous than typical. The costumes are in the colours of red, white, blue and sky blue – there is no other colour on the stage, everything is put into a theme, so within staying in that it’s important to keep the look classical. In this kind of job, interpreting line, shape and silhouette is important.”
When working in LA, Thiemeyer only had to go downtown or visit the film studios in the Valley to source items. Now, based in Australia, she travels to Hong Kong for inspiration.
“I find Hong Kong has a mass of fabrics and beadings that is a lot cheaper than sourcing from Los Angeles,” she says. “Sadly, in Melbourne, our garment industry isn’t as big these days, so it’s harder to source fabrics. You just don’t find the volume you would have years ago. It’s all gone overseas.”
Thiemeyer nailed Rod Stewart’s leopard-print look in her 24 years of working with him (they discussed starting a menswear label together), and even made his bright-coloured blazers long before Armani and Versace put them on the catwalk. She worked on Vegas shows for Donna Summer and got flamboyant and glam-savvy with hair-metal acts such as White Snake.
“I was probably one of the only designers around at the time that did what I did,” says Thiemeyer of her illustrious career in design. “In the early days I worked with the Bee Gees and ELO. Then it led to Motley Crue and Ozzy Osbourne and KISS. I would say 80 per cent of the good, the bad and the ugly on MTV in the 1980s were my creation. More hair and make-up than I care to think about now,” she says, laughing.
“I met Olivia Newton-John in 1973 and we started working together, and still do to this day. She was my first and Rod Stewart was my second client, and with their careers taking off as they did, my work steamrolled from there. Timing is everything.”