“A Love Letter to Real People”: ‘In the Heights” Costume Designer On His Inspiration

In the Heights

In an interview with Variety, costume designer Mitchell Travers revealed how he went about dressing the cast of In the Heights Hamilton creator Lin-Manuel Miranda’s vibrant love letter to New York’s Washington Heights and the Latinx community who reside there.

In order to get a feel of how the various residents dress, Travers said that he spent hours photographing people at all times of day to see how their style of dressing changed throughout.

“I would see girls fully styled out and think, ‘There’s Vanessa’ (Melissa Barrera),” he said. “I’d see another kid and think ‘Everything about him could be Usnavi’ Anthony Ramos) and I’d rob these details from real street styles.”

While scouting for looks that can be seen during the musical number at Daniela’s salon (No Me Diga), Travers found his inspiration in an actual Washinton Heights salon.

“In the salon sequence, there was a girl in basketball shorts and Air Force 1s,” he told the publication. “She’s in a little tank top with a sports bra, and that’s a real look ripped from real life.”

Travers had the task of only costuming the main cast of In the Heights, but the hundreds of extras, singers and dancers who make up the community at the corner of 181st St — many of whom were actual locals. The designer’s goal was always to make sure that he was authentically portraying the energy and passion of the residents who make the upper Manhattan enclave so special.

For the scene at Highbridge Park public pool, in which everyone imagines what they might do with the winning lottery ticket that was sold at Usnavi’s bodega (96,000), Travers wanted to ensure that everyone involved felt as confident and comfortable as possible.

“It’s a credit to the Latinx community because they are the most body-positive group,” he said.

The designer has explained before that he feels he can demonstrate how a character is feeling through the clothes he puts them in and that he looks to celebrate the “little choices” and never to “enjoy the imperfection.”

“To polish and perfect a look gives it a dated sensibility that I don’t feel reflects where we are right now,” he said.

Due to the joyous and celebratory nature of In the Heights — which was written and directed by Crazy Rich Asians filmmaker Jon M. Chu — Travers tried to avoid using black where possible, instead gravitating toward bright, saturated colours that perfectly complement the film’s palette.

Another consideration to take into account was the fact that the performers were going to be singing and dancing for hours each day on the real streets of New York, in the middle of summer when temperatures are soaring and the humidity is often unbearable.

“We’d have to think about stretch denim and gussets. We had to have traction on all of the sandals and the sneakers — not all sneakers are meant to dance in,” Traver said. “There’s a lot of consideration that goes into making the costume look beautiful in motion and also support the action of the dancer.”

The end result, according to Travers is “a love letter to real people, styled in a musical way.”

In the Heights lands in Hoyts Cinemas on June 24th.

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