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We’ve seen her on red carpets, we’ve seen her fill stadiums, we’ve seen her on The Voice—and now we’re seeing her in Vegas. With her new residency at Voltaire at the Venetian running through March 2, the one-and-only Christina Aguilera reinvents herself once again, this time in an intimate lounge environment that allows her voice to shine and lets fans get closer than ever. So, when you’ve been famous since appearing on The All New Mickey Mouse Club as a young teen, and have grown up and changed again and again (and again, and again) before our very eyes, how do you keep your image fresh?
We caught up with Aguilera’s stylist Chris Horan for an inside peek at the fashion magic behind her new show. His secret? Nothing short of dirrty.
Tell me about your background with Christina Aguilera.
I’ve been styling Christina for about two years, and the first thing we did was an Elle México cover that the magazine had booked me for. It went really well, and she was super happy. The first project I did was L.A. Pride, and ever since then I’ve been doing everything for her, but this residency is the first thing we’ve done that isn’t a festival or a one-off.
How do you even begin to costume a residency like this?
We had dozens of creative meetings at her place to come up with ideas. This has probably been my most creatively fulfilling project yet. She was super involved in all aspects. People know that she has one of the best voices of all time, but she is also musically a genius at putting different arrangements together, and she was super involved as far as the costumes go, with figuring out what should go where.
What is the concept?
She came up with this idea of “good versus evil.” There are animations that speak to this girl being tempted by good and evil.
The giant red dress that opens the show is stunning!
We always wanted to start with this big red dress reveal as the opening. Then she sings “Your Body,” and I thought it would be amazing to have this naked vibe. We had Anthony Canney from Georgia make this corset and line the outside with this nude sequin mesh, and he did all this amazing satin trim around it, and that became our base. Later on in the show, she wears a very similar corset to that, and it’s kind of referencing the good and evil inside all of us. That concept continues to the rose coat. We wanted everything to have this balance of good and evil, so the roses on that coat are all hand-done, but they go from crimson to black in this ombré.
What was the trickiest detail to get right?
Definitely that opening red dress. It’s more of a prop than a dress, because there are just so many yards of fabric. There were probably 30 or so yards of this silk charmeuse. And we worked with Dawna Oak, who does these big theater shows, to help us get it right. We were all scared after Christmas that we hadn’t nailed the illusion quite yet, and the illusion of the big red dress getting ripped off was the whole point of the opening; but Donna is a genius and she figured out how to layer panels on top of the dress, to make it look like all the fabric is meshed together instead of this straight line across.
Do you have a favorite piece from the show?
This custom Mugler look which is based off their newest runway collection. Casey Cadwallader, their creative director, was nervous about doing a jumpsuit, because Christina is so petite and we had to get the lines right to make it look like the runway one. They were pushing us to do a dress, but we kept thinking that we didn’t want this to be a dress show. That ended up taking three or four fittings to get right. And in that jumpsuit itself, each panel of fabric has these round sequins—but they’re not typical sequins, they’re like these 3-D printed plastic pieces, and each one is individually sewn on. So it was a true technical feat for our tailor, because she had to undo every single one just to make the slightest adjustments.
I’m curious what you mean by “didn’t want this to be a dress show.”
Christina and I didn’t want it to be the gown show. Not in a bad way, but I really wanted to make a mixture of both [dresses and other outfits]. We didn’t want it to be like any other show that already exists. Obviously, we have some of those grand moments, but I didn’t want the show to be just these old-school lounge-y vibes.
The word on everyone’s lips over the last year is eras. I’m curious, with someone like Christina—who has had such a long, vibrant, and varied career—do you find yourself referencing her past eras? Or did you try to create something new?
The hardest thing about working with Christina is that she’s done so much, and she never wants to keep doing the same. That’s the biggest challenge. I’m always thinking, What can we do that she hasn’t done yet? Especially as this is Vegas and she sings some songs from [her 2010 movie] Burlesque, we never want it to feel too directly “showgirl.” There needs to be a twist. That’s why for one dress that’s all crystal, we added these black leather boots and black leather gloves and sunglasses, to make it feel not so classic. It’s more about trying to not reference things sometimes.
I’m always curious about backstage setups, and how much “stuff” it takes to actually pull off costuming a production.
She has an insane number of changes. And the amount of fishnet tights we go through is crazy. Even if you’re doing a quick change and being efficient, things get snagged. Same things with underpinnings and tights—the amount of those we have stocked! I always have 20 on hand, because I’m afraid something is going to happen. And the amount of times you have to think about where to put her microphone pack with all these changes is tricky, and our longest change is only two minutes long. Dancers-wise, we’ve already replaced a few pairs of latex pants and we’ve only done two shows!
Any other tricks of the trade you learned from costuming a show like this?
We also try to have duplicates of all the shoes. Shoes are so important to a production like this, because she has to feel grounded and super comfortable. She gets on and off a bed; she walks down the runway several times. We get every shoe rubberized and reinforced with those little metal bars in the heel, so they don’t snap.
What did costuming this show teach you about styling, and the way you work?
When you’re doing a show like this, it’s so much easier to start something from the beginning to be quick-change friendly. We told every designer to not put zippers into the pieces, and put our own no. 5 zippers in—they’re really thick, never jam, and are really easy to zip up. So we reverse-designed everything, and that saved us so much time in alterations.
Also, I always strive to treat everyone really nicely, even if we’re always stressed. Panicking or stressing or spreading that anxiety doesn’t help anybody. We had a few days off for Christmas, but we were all-hands-on-deck working until right up before the show. It’s so important to maintain that atmosphere, because it helps everyone have confidence.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
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