Tweed & Taffeta: Carmen Alatorre

Tweed & Taffeta is a series from Laura Murray Public Relations that explores costuming in celebrated performances – the varying interpretations from one production to the next and the subtle yet sweeping influence of wardrobe on a show’s overall texture.


For our inaugural interview in Tweed & Taffeta, we spoke with Carmen Alatorre, kick-ass costume designer for ITSAZOO Productions’ site-specific thriller Killer Joe.


Originally from Mexico City, Carmen completed her MFA in Theatre Design at UBC in 2006 and – like so many of us – fell in love with Vancouver’s rich theatre community and decided to stay. Carmen’s worked with such theatre companies as Gateway Theatre, Pi Theatre, Arts Club Theatre, and the SFU Wong Experimental Theatre, just to name a few.


Killer Joe Costume

Killer Joe Cooper, costume design by Carmen Alatorre.

Q: Can you explain your design process? 


The first time I read a script, I try to do it without being in “designer mode,” that is to say with the least information possible and just to grasp what story the play is telling. Then I would usually do some research on context, history, the playwright’s biography, etc. and a second read imagining the design needs. After that, I’d start asking questions to the director: What is the concept, the time period, the play’s aesthetic? Once I get that input, I would put together a collection of reference and inspirational images, movies, both from the Internet and the library.


After several conversations with the director and the other designers, I would do a first set of sketches and if they seem to be right for the play, a final set of renderings. Once the design is approved on paper, its actual execution can start (whether it will be a shopped wardrobe or a built one).


Q: Where did you look for inspiration when designing costumes for Killer Joe


The characters of this play live in a dirty trailer home and they are awfully messed up. So after talking to Director Chelsea Haberlin, the idea was to extend the chaos, clutter and vulgarity of their lives into their costumes, in 1990s style.


I did some research on ‘90s fashion and how that would translate into this redneck kind of world. I also watched Killer Joe the movie as a point of reference. Although Chelsea’s staging ideas are unique, it is always helpful to see what has been done before.


Q: Any favourite Vancouver hot spots when it comes to scouting the perfect item for a character? 


It really depends on the show but I can say with confidence that Value Village is a costume designer’s hub, as well as thrift and vintage stores. Most large theatre companies do costume rentals as well.


Q: Why is it so important to get the costuming for a performance ‘just right’?


I believe a costume can affect or enhance an actor’s performance. The costume is an extension of the character, so if it doesn’t read properly, as an audience member one can sense there is something “off” and it will be distracting. People will possibly be wondering what the reason was for a particular costume choice instead of being immersed in the story, which is what we theatre artists aim for.


Experience Killer Joe from ITSAZOO Productions from April 15 – May 4 at a purpose-built trailer park at the Italian Cultural Centre (3075 Slocan Street).


Tickets are $25 (Students & Seniors: $20) and are available at


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