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Set and Costume Design  
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Set and costume design and properties for stage and film are fields that have attracted many talented people, a large percentage of whom have been gay men. In fact, this field in the entertainment industry has often been identified specifically as " work."

While many heterosexuals have also been successful in the area of art direction, set design and decoration for stage and film have a distinctly gay cachet. Perhaps an even "gayer" field is that of costume design.

As William Mann has recently documented, even during the worst periods of repression, Hollywood offered opportunities of creative expression for gay men and lesbians, many of whom were open about their sexual orientation.

Opera and ballet also offered opportunities for gifted homosexuals. The trend here has been for painters to cross over from the fine arts to the applied arts, adding stage design to their range. For many notable stage designers working in this field, their sexual orientation was never an issue in their professional lives.

Among the most significant gay and lesbian artists who are distinguished for their work as set designers are Charles Ricketts, Duncan Grant, Erté (Romain de Tirtoff), Pavel Tchelitchew, Oliver Messel, Cecil Beaton, Léonor Fini, George James Hopkins, Robert Colquhoun, Robert MacBryde, Franco Zeffirelli, David Hockney, Derek Jarman, and Keith Haring.

Many gay artists of Hollywood's golden age were extremely versatile, but openly gay men became especially associated with costume design. In some cases, Hollywood costume designers were considered on a par with world class couturiers and fashion designers and had a palpable influence on public taste. Among these designers, Howard Greer, Travis Banton, Adrian (Adrian Adolph Greenberg), Orry Kelly, and Walter Plunkett are best known.

Set Designers

In the first decades of the twentieth century two significant factors influenced the development of stage and set design, making it central rather than peripheral. The first was the massive impact of Sergei Diaghilev's lavish productions for the Ballets Russes. In particular, Leon Bakst's bold designs helped audiences appreciate the way color could be used to integrate an entire production.

The second factor that altered the development of stage and set design was the impact of Robert Wiene's German Expressionist film The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1919), which set a precedent for using sets to express mood and theme.

The film employs fantastic, stylized sets to capture the subjective perceptions of the main character. This cinematic innovation raised the status of sets to an importance comparable to characterization and narrative. Hence, it gave set designers a new prestige as significant collaborators in film and stage productions.

Charles Ricketts

Although more famous as creator-owner of the Vale Press and as a book illustrator, Charles Ricketts (1866-1931) also designed abstract, non-realistic sets for the London stage. He designed costumes for George Bernard Shaw's early comedies.

Ricketts first made a name as a set designer with Herbert Trench's production of King Lear (1909). He designed Shaw's St Joan (1924) and Gilbert and Sullivan's The Mikado (1926) and The Gondoliers (1929). As a specialist in Japanese art, he was the perfect choice to design The Mikado, while his knowledge of Venetian art allowed him to give a distinctly authentic flavor to The Gondoliers.

Duncan Grant

Bloomsbury artist Duncan Grant (1885-1978) was probably the most famous British painter in the 1920s and 1930s. Although mainly preoccupied with painting and interior décor, Grant often designed for the theater.

He was invited to Paris to design an adaptation of Twelfth Night, La Nuit des rois (1913), by Theodore Lascaris. His abilities as a costume designer were also in evidence in Pelléas et Mélisande (1917) for Jacques Copeau, co-founder with André Gide of the journal la Nouvelle Revue Française.

During the 1920s he designed for C. B. Cochran Revues, including The Pleasure Garden (1924). He also designed a ballet, The Enchanted Grove, for Rupert Doone, with music by Ravel. He regretted that he never had the opportunity to design a ballet for his idol, Vaslav Nijinsky.


One of the most innovative and enduring designers of the twentieth century, Erté, or Romain de Tirtoff (1892-1990), earned fame for his sinuous and sophisticated Art Deco fashion designs, frequently featured on the covers of Harper's Bazaar; but he also designed sets and costumes for opera, theater, and ballet productions.

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