Behind the Design: Soyon An's Costumes for 'Awakening' at Wynn Las Vegas

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Wynn Las Vegas

Last week, I got the opportunity to hang out with the Wynn Las Vegas for the opening of their new show Awakening. Conceived and created by a world-renowned team of talent (Baz Halpin, Bernie Yuman and Michael Curry), Awakening features the voice of two-time Academy Award winner Anthony Hopkins, and comes to life through a combination of dramatic choreography, technology, and fantastic creatures.The performance takes place across a 60-foot prismatic stage, complete with a state-of-the-art sound system and more than 300 haute couture inspired costumes.

From a costume standpoint, I didn’t really know what was in store with Awakening as this is quite literally a brand new show. From the pictures I’d seen, I imagined it would be “Disney-esque.” Boy was I in for a journey! 

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Because this isn’t a “traditional” show in the sense that there's interactive dialogue between its characters (it’s narrated by Anthony Hopkins), the visuals are what tells the story, and that includes the costumes, which were created by three-time Emmy Award winning costume designer Soyon An.

An’s previous costume work has included credits such as So You Think You Can Dance, The Hobbit: Kingdoms of Middle-earth - Dance Battle, and Step Up All In, to name a few, and we spoke with the designer to learn more about this project, and what else in store for the future.

ONE37pm:  Hi Soyon! It’s great to be chatting with you! Let’s first start by talking about your journey with Awakening thus far. How did you come to be a part of the project?

An: I was involved from the very beginning! I worked closely with the Director Baz Halpin on developing the characters. My costumes really influenced the development of the story, as well. Baz would come to me with ideas and I just started creating and designing the costumes and characters. As pioneers of this concept, we along the way gathered some amazing creatives to help this come to life, like Producer Bernie Yuman, the incredible Michael Curry, and Kelly Sue DeConnick.

ONE37pm: We saw a little bit of everything from streetwear to tribal, and even ballroom when it came to the costumes. What inspired that?

An: When us creatives were initially talking about Awakening, I always imagined the costumes would be over-the-top, haute couture, avant-garde. I really wanted to bring the fashion one would see on an international runway in Paris, Milan, New York… right here to Vegas! Go big or go home -- especially when in Vegas!! And you'll see this vision in Awakening. I drew inspiration from so many magnificent things from fashion, to underwater creatures, to the beauty of the body for the air realm, art for the earth realm.

And I have a fun story about inspiration for the fire realm. We actually went to the composer Brian Tyler’s music studio where he played us a sample of the track he created for fire. Immediately when I heard that, I visualized the costumes, the movement of the type of costumes I wanted to design, and also the colors. I was able to see it all come together when I was sitting there listening to his music.  

ONE37pm: How did you create with the dancers/movements in mind?

An: When I first started working on Awakening, Baz gave me some YouTube video references of what he was imagining for each of the realms. Based on these, I started my design process. I pushed my imagination when creating the costumes for Awakening, but my design is always rooted in the anatomy and function of the costumes. This was especially important for Awakening because of how the story mostly relies on movement to tell the story. 

Once we started working with the choreographers and dancers, those designs evolved to withstand the needs for the full performance and show. I got to closely collaborate with the dancers when building the costumes. Every fitting and rehearsal, I asked them for honest feedback – on what they could and couldn’t do in the costumes – and adjusted accordingly.

Obviously we made sure to maintain the integrity of the character and costume design, but it was a lot of trial and error, and more importantly coming up with creative solutions! I had to come up with a lot of creative ways to keep the “outer shell” of the design to the illustration; and even the choreographers and dancers had to come up with innovative ways to utilize and move the fabrics and materials we landed on with the costumes. 

ONE37pm: Were there any obstacles you encountered while in the process of creating the costumes?

An: There were all types of challenges – physical, mental, emotional – but that comes with the territory! We are doing something that has never been done before! The physical challenge was actually building the costumes. The funny thing is when people initially saw my designs and illustrations they said "wow these are amazing...but what are they actually going to look like??" [laughs] For me in all of my work, I strive to bring what I put down to paper straight to life, and you'll see that in the show. The characters literally walk off the page, it feels like the illustrations themselves came to life. It was an incredible challenge as a designer, as well as challenging for all my collaborators.

Specifically the costume shops I worked with. There had to be a lot of trust on both sides. They had to trust my suggestions and ideas, and there was a ton of research and development to make sure the concept and materials would work. In the end, I'm so happy we pushed the boundaries of what we could do because it contributes to the overall show incredibly. I’d like to thank all the costume shops on Awakening: Limelight, Jerard Studios, Parsons Meares, Asher Levine, Marco Marco, Curry Studios, Costume Armor, Leduca Shoes, Pin Cushion, The Wynn Costume Shop.

As for the mental and emotional challenge, you know we developed this show during COVID! This was a giant hurdle we had to overcome and it's something we are very proud of!

ONE37pm: Last but not least, what else is in the works for you?

An: Currently working on some upcoming projects that I am unable to speak about yet. But more to come!

You can continue to keep up with Soyon on Instagram, and you can also follow all Awakening Updates here.

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