The inspiration behind the costumes of Cirque du Soleil's 'OVO'

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An infestation of human-sized insects hatches tonight on the Santa Monica Pier. It’s Cirque du Soleil’s show, "Ovo," which means “egg” in Portuguese. These human insects work, eat, crawl, flutter, play, fight and look for love.

Apart from the music and choreography, "Ovo" is known for its extraordinary costumes, conceived and constructed by French fashion designer Liz Vandal. She has designed costumes for opera and film and for the Backstreet Boys. But her insect costumes designs are quite different from what a popular boy band would wear.

“I’ve been studying insects all my life since I was small,” Vandal said. As a kid she would place rocks all around her parent’s backyard so that she could observe them.

So when Cirque producers approached her for the project four years ago, Vandal thought someone was playing a joke on her.

In addition to her passion for insects, futuristic superheroes and the suits of armor and bodies of knights from the Renaissance and other eras also inspired Vandal’s costume designs, which she calls “organic origami.”

According to Vandal, finding the right material for the costumes was quite a challenge. She wanted to make sure the fabric she chose would evoke the movements of insects in a very organic way. After testing other fabrics, she decided to go with stretchy polyester.

“It has a lot of qualities, even though it’s not so hip wearing polyester. It’s extraordinary the way we can transform that material for coloring, for certain methods and for applying certain coatings.”

As for bringing her creations to life, Vandal said her work methods are similar to that of fellow pioneering French designer Coco Chanel.

“I don’t really draw a lot. I make a quick sketch to see where we’re going. And then, right away, I go to the manikin and build the costume in 3D.”

Vandal went on to say that “to present the work was a challenge for everybody to understand.” The folks at Cirque were a bit confused by her methods, but she made it work and they liked it.

Ovo opens Friday under the big top – or Grand Chapiteau – at the Santa Monica Pier.

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