A Conversation with Alex Jaeger, Costume Designer of “She Loves Me”

Beth Fhaner
 | Jan 24, 2020
Alex Jaeger and Costume Renderings
Costume designer Alex Jaeger and some of his renderings for She Loves Me.

For the nostalgic Broadway musical, She Loves Me, costume designer Alex Jaeger had to define the look of 1930s Europe, style-wise, for the characters’ wardrobes. The Los Angeles-based designer admits that this project required him to create a hybrid of what people actually were wearing in the ’30s, combined with the glamorous escapism that was being produced by the entertainment industry at the time. She Loves Me—with its charming characters and beautiful music—was a world that Jaeger enjoyed living in while he worked on the play’s sartorial splendor.

After graduating from the Massachusetts College of Art and Design, Jaeger earned an MFA in costume design at University of California, Los Angeles. His background includes working in the performing arts and film, where he’s contributed his artistry to more than 100 productions. Learn more about Jaeger in this Q&A including his process of creating the ​chic fashions for She Loves Me.

Georg Costume Rendering
Georg costume design by Alex Jaeger.
Ilona Costume Rendering
​Ilona costume design by Alex Jaeger.

What was your design inspiration for She Loves Me?

Well, She Loves Me is such a perfectly constructed musical with a lovely score. The idea was just to support that. Make it pretty and romantic and not try to reinvent the wheel. No need to fix something that isn’t broken.

Since the play is set in Europe in the 1930s, what kind of research did you need to do regarding the fashion during that time?

The ’30s were an interesting time, style-wise. There were so many things happening globally with war, economic struggles and politics.

America was experiencing the Great Depression. Europe was also experiencing economic challenges and the rise of Hitler. In response, filmmakers and theater creatives were producing the most glamorous escapism imaginable. Think Busby Berkeley, Greta Garbo, Marlene Dietrich, etc. Researching the period is tricky, because of the divide between the reality of what most people were wearing and the glamour that was created by the entertainment industry. Even though this musical was created at a later date, it really evokes that time. What I’m trying to do with my designs is create a hybrid that will appear “real” while providing high style and glamour that is appropriate to this jewel box of a play.

What’s the best part—and the biggest challenges—about working on costumes for this show?

The play is so rich. It’s fun to live in the world with these characters and this beautiful music. The styles are very chic and a musical by its very nature gives you license to push the envelope with color, line and character. I think that the biggest challenge is creating a cohesive look by combining pieces that we can build with rentals and modern purchases. A lot of the available costumes from this period are “dust bowl” and not at all what I want for this show.

What initially piqued your interest about She Loves Me and made you want to be involved with this production?

I have always loved this musical. It’s charming and romantic without being sappy. I’ve never designed it before, so that was a plus. Also, [SCR Artistic Director] David Ivers is one of my favorite directors, as well as one of my favorite people. He always puts together amazing casts and design teams, so it was a no-brainer to say “yes” to this production. The cherry on top is that SCR is producing. I’ve done many shows here and am happy to be back with all the fantastic artists behind the scenes who support me and bring my designs to life on the stage.

Tell us about your background. What do you enjoy most about being a costume designer?

It’s a bit of a journey. I grew up in a family involved in the high fashion industry. As with most children, I wanted nothing to do with it. I studied performance. Acting, singing and dance. That wasn’t the best choice for me. I finally realized that I could combine my love of theatre with my inborn knowledge of design. I went back to school and got a degree in costume design. It was the best decision I ever made. I love my work. The thing I enjoy most is that every day brings a different challenge, new people and unexpected opportunities for creativity.

What advice do you have for someone interested in a career as a costume designer?

I think that most people have the impression that costume design is mostly shopping at fancy stores and going to red carpet events. My advice is that you have to need a passion for costume design. You have to love history and people and characters. It’s not about making pretty dresses. It’s about telling a story. If it speaks to your soul, it’s right. If you’re not afraid of long hours and hard work, it’s right.

What are some of your favorite productions that you’ve designed costumes for?

Wow—that’s a tough question. One of the things I love best about my job is that I get to do all different sorts of things. It is equally rewarding to create an exquisitely beautiful gown as it is to design rags that tell the history and experience of the character. That said, for me, it’s more about the total experience and collaboration with the actors, director and other designers. With those parameters, I'd say that Arcadia by Tom Stoppard; Mr. Burns, A Post-Electric Play; and Grey Gardens are at the top of my list.

What’s next for you?

Designers in this country need to work on many productions at once to make a living, so there are many! I am currently designing a production of Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing in Cleveland that will tour to Boise, Idaho, and Lake Tahoe, Calif.; a production of The Wedding Singer in Seattle; and a play with music about Rosemary Clooney called Tenderly in Santa Barbara, Calif. You can follow my work on my website: alexjaegerdesign.com

Learn more about She Loves Me and buy tickets.