Q&A: De Wayne Kirchner, former Broadway costume designer and now owner of Designs by De Wayne

De Wayne Kirchner, whose resume includes Dollywood and Broadway—particularly Radio City Music Hall—recently opened Designs by De Wayne costume shop at 741 N. Broadway.

Why a costume shop—and why now?

Well, Eddie's Trick Shop closed last year, and the Halloween stores are only open at Halloween. And after eight years and 62 shows at the Oak Ridge Playhouse, my contract was not renewed. This is something I've always wanted to do, and I can still work with the school productions. That's my thing. I never had to work extremely hard getting different jobs; I had many breaks in my professional career and I just wanted to give some of that back, while giving students the feel of what it is like to be in a Broadway show.

How big is the store?

I've basically been very blessed. The dry cleaner I worked with all those years, Paramount U-Li-Ka, they have extra space, and graciously loaned it to me until I get things rounded up and can rent my own building. And right now I'm working with Theatre Knoxville Downtown, designing for shows, and they're giving us stock they don't have the space for.

What about Halloween?

I have probably three large racks of costumes from my years spent in New York, so I can do Halloween rentals.

You let people wear real costumes from Broadway?

Yes. I have some things from Radio City Music Hall, from Guys and Dolls, a national tour of Tommy that I did, Cabaret. And I've collected a lot of vintage pieces.

Vintage meaning...?

Anywhere from the 1980s backward. I have dresses, collections of '30s and '40s and some '50s things. Right now I'm more textiles, but the architectural costumes will come with time because I worked with shows like Beauty and the Beast on Broadway. For the first year or so, my plans are to do what I did in New York City when I first moved there. I worked with Stage Door Manor, the premo theater camp for kids. Those kids would go back to their school productions and they'd be like, "Where are we getting the costumes." They'd call me, I'd go out and work with them, within their budget, making and constructing any garments. Most of the time I wouldn't get salary but would get to keep the clothing—that's why I have so much stock.

What inspired you to leave New York for Knoxville?

One of the reasons I left is I was just too busy. In '98 I did 45 of my own shows and still did shows with Walt Disney and Radio City. I also sent out two national tours and I was just like, "Okay, I can't keep doing this." As you get older, you kind of go, "Hmmm, money is great, but I want to have a life." A friend had retired and started working for Dollywood, and I would shop for stuff in New York and bring it here. The entertainment person at Dollywood that I had worked with in New York, too, said, "You need to come down here." When I wanted a life change, I did. I worked Dollywood for four years.

What's the story behind this photo of you and Dolly?

Dollywood was always most fun whenever Dolly's around. I love her to death. They started doing Festival of Nations shortly after I got there, and they always picked a different country for her to represent. This time they wanted something Egyptian, and I designed Dolly as Cleopatra, and because it was for the in-park parade, I also designed these guys as slaves—she came across carried by all these men.

What's the longest fitting you've ever done?

Probably some of the Rockettes. There, a fitting could be an hour because of all the clothing they have to go through. The wooden soldier pants are really a pain—they're starched so much it's hard to get the hem right. When I was first a costume assistant there, my boss was also new, and we hemmed each Rockette's green-felt snowflake costume. When they got out to kick, we could see each hem was a totally different length! Now I know that to make them even, you have to make them all the same length measuring from the bottom of the floor up. So all the Rockette skirts and pants are different lengths. At that time the tallest Rockette was reaching 6 feet, and we had to cut her heels down and hem her skirt by far the shortest, but on stage you can't see it.

Do you ever get sick of sequins?

No. It's so funny you say that. For me, the easiest costumes are over the top and glitzy—the hardest are the ones that look real.

For more information: designsbydewayne.com