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Behind The ClothIng On “The Voice”: Head Costume Designer Erin Hirsh

By: Marjorie Galas

No material, or the unusual sources she acquires it from, are off limits to costume designer Erin Hirsh. She’s utilized everything from bullet casings found at an Army Navy surplus store to lightening technology, designed in conjunction with NASA engineers, that she worked into the illuminated jacket and sunglasses Kanye West wore during his Grammy performance of “Stronger.” The jacket was such a marvel that it has since been acquired by the Grammy Museum for its permanent collection.

“It’s all game,” said Hirsh. “I like to take things out of context, like going into a Home Depot and grabbing hardware and other material I can work into a design.”

Currently, Hirsh is gearing up for some unique costume designs fans will soon see on the return of the Emmy winning competition show “The Voice.” Heading into its ninth season, Hirsh has been head costume designer for every episode (with the exception of the fifth season.) She’s also worked on commercials (Covergirl, Absolut), print campaigns, music videos and live performances by West, Ceelo Green, and Rihanna, to name a few. However, costume design was not her first passion; she was a modern dancer from her teens into her twenties. During her mid-twenties, she began choreographing routines, and found she had a desire to create the dancer’s wardrobe.

“I was a little naïve when I began designing clothing for the dancers (I was choreographing),” said Hirsh. “My grandmother had been a textile designer in the 30s. I spoke with her about colors and lighting, and I just kind of fell into it.”

As Hirsh became increasingly interested in costume design, she began reaching out for opportunities where she could develop her skills. A lucky break came when she connected with the team supporting rapper Eve, who was just beginning to erupt in the music world. Hirsh remained Eve’s stylist for several years, where she began infusing her knowledge of the human figure in movement with material that drapes, accentuates and elevates a performer’s presence on stage.

“My dance background helped me more with defining a silloutte,” said Hirsh. “I understood what they needed to look and feel their best when performing.”

When Hirsh stepped into her role as head costume designer on “The Voice,” she encountered the need to learn about the contestants prior to their first meeting. Two to three weeks before arriving onto the show, Hirsh and her team send the individuals style sheets. The sheets help informed Hirsh of the contestant’s favorite colors, styles, tastes and overall aesthetic sensibilities. Using this information, along with the contestant’s measurements, she generally has a week to put together what they will be wearing on stage.

Her tight timeline doesn’t always allow her to build each outfit. However, she always alters the pieces she acquires, using a wide variety of material to accent and enhance the look. Frequenting shops throughout Greater Los Angeles she looks for fun fabric or objects that will work as trim and embellishments, enhancing the performer while not interfering with the camera or audio. While she quickly learned that nylon and linen hold up poorly on camera, finding the right type of jewelry or elements that enhance the costumes that don’t disrupt sound quality remains an ongoing path of discovery.

“Jewelry, material that rustles or rattles, any sort of noise presents a battle for the sound engineers,” said Hirsh.

Instead of being deterred from using particular metals or material, she stays “ahead of the game” by sharing it with the audio engineers to determine if it will be problematic well in advance of using it. Most of the designs created on a weekly basis, once the show is in its live phase, require quick thinking and working on the fly. Whenever possible, the team will repurpose material or even specific pieces, such as a leather jacket they’ve altered and changed from season to season.

While it’s hard for Hirsh to pin point a particular costume or creation from the past seasons that she would call her “favorite”, she does cherish the opportunities she has working with plus size contestants. While there are a number of companies that design plus sized fashions, there are few that create the types of styles contestants feel define their on stage personas.

“There was a contestant who was a larger man who was very stylish,” recalled Hirsh. “There was no brand, especially for men, that came to mind when it came down to outfits (for him to wear during the competition.) I really like working with them, to create things they feel great in.”

While the majority of the coaches on the show have their own stylists who outfit them from show to show, Hirsh has been able to provide the styles Blake Shelton wears each episode. “He’s more traditional – he has an established look so I’m not trying to recreate him,” said Hirsh. “He’s just a great guy, I really enjoy working with him.” As to what we can expect to see the contestants wearing this season, Hirsh says, “Stay tuned.”

As the season progresses, fans can expect to see many unique items incorporated into the contestants’ costumes.  One element that Hirsh has not yet been able to explore, but would love to play around with,  is 3D printing.

“It’s costly at this point in time, but I think it would be a great can of worms to open,” said Hirsh.

To learn more about “The Voice,” please visit: http://www.nbc.com/the-voice