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Sewing machines back in action at Wolverhampton costume suppliers

When theatres closed their doors due to Covid, costume makers and suppliers were forced to put away their sewing machines.

Laura Leo runs Leo’s Theatrical Costumiers
Laura Leo runs Leo’s Theatrical Costumiers

But with many professional and amateur productions now back up and running, they are once again getting creative with their needles and thread.

The team at Leo’s Theatrical Costumiers in Wolverhampton is back in the swing of things, helping performers look the part on stage.

From Cats and the Wizard of Oz to Sister Act and Monty Python’s Spamalot, the business, owned by Laura Leo since 2015, has supplied costumes to professional and amateur companies nationwide for musicals, plays, operas, pantomimes, photo shoots, television and film.

It has an ever-growing wardrobe of more than 50,000 individual outfits to choose from and the talented seamstress also designs and hand-crafts bespoke new garments as well as customisations.

“The company is 35 years old and 85 per cent of the costumes have been made here. The rest are vintage suits, dresses, hats and accessories,” explains Laura.

“In a month we will have between eight and 12 sets of costumes going out. Everyone thinks it’s a really big team but there are just three of us making everything. We all work together really well.”

They take great pride in the quality, fit and colour schemes of their costumes and they are constantly adding to their range of shows.

“Many groups want the traditional costumes but they like to make them a bit different like a female wizard in The Wizard of Oz, which keeps us on our toes. But it’s good to make different things because it would get boring if we were just copying the same costume all the time.

“Amateur companies, even though they aren’t doing a 12-week run, still want their costumes to look as professional as they would if it was a production in London’s West End,” Laura says.

One of their biggest projects was creating all 56 of the costumes for a production of West Bromwich Operatic Society’s musical Cats – each one complete with a wig, a pair of legwarmers and accessories.

“It really challenged us but we loved doing it. The costumes are all different and they looked great,” says Laura, who has a BA Honours degree in textile design from the University of Derby.

Her love of musicals on stage and screen started at a young age, with Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, Calamity Jane and Half a Sixpence being among her childhood favourites, as did her passion for being creative. She had been working at the business, which was then known as Stageworld, for around 11 months when the opportunity to take over the reins and make it her own arose. “I was loving it so much, it was a dream come true,” says Laura.

Around three years ago she re-branded Stageworld as Leo’s Theatrical Costumiers in honour of her family name but also as a tribute to her hard-working grandad, Joe Leo, who owned and ran Leo’s Ice Cream, which is still going today, in Wolverhampton.

Little did she know at the time that the businesses would end up sharing the same roof due to the Covid pandemic.

“The last 18 months have challenged us in every way in order to survive. Even before the theatres closed, our work had disappeared. We had no choice but to move but that’s easier said than done with 50,000 costumes to transport.

“It’s not like it’s a small office, there is a lot to move. It took eight of us – my boyfriend, my family and one of my employees – three weeks to move everything, with one Transit van and a few cars, from one side of Wolverhampton to the other and into my family’s business.

“They bought the building 30 years ago and the offices we’re in was unused space. I remember playing in here when I was a kid.

“It is funny when you see Leo’s Ice Cream and Leo’s Theatrical Costumiers side by side, something that wasn’t planned when I changed the name, but it’s a comfort nevertheless.

“I think my grandad will be looking down from heaven and laughing,” Laura tells Weekend.

Now, as rehearsals get back under way, the 31-year-old and her team, who supply costumes to companies all over the country, are also gearing up for pantomime season.

“It’s good to be back, I’ve missed it,” says Laura, who enjoys building every costume and picturing it on stage.

“I love the sewing and putting the costumes all together but I also love visiting the groups to do the measuring up and seeing the dress rehearsals. They are always excited about seeing their costumes and performing. We want them to feel good and love their costumes.

“I do get nervous about whether they are going to like it. I know I love it but I’ve not got to wear it so that makes me nervous. We want to make sure they’re happy and excited to wear their costume.”

“Every time I visit a group and see them all excited, it reminds me why I love doing this,” she explains.

See leostheatricalcostumiers.co.uk or facebook.com/Leostheatricalcostumiers

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