Toronto designer Rosemarie Umetsu is doing everything she can to make sure a fine concert looks as good as it sounds.
Umetsu is about to celebrate her ascent to the top rung of the world’s best-dresser list with the imminent announcement that Chinese piano superstar Lang Lang has chosen to wear her designs for all of his public appearances.
It means her couture brand joins the ranks of Lang’s other favourites, such as Rolex, Adidas (which produced a limited-edition Lang Lang sneaker a couple of years ago) and Steinway (which makes a Lang Lang-branded line of pianos for sale in China).
The designer, a certified music lover, is just back from New York, where she received Lang’s personal blessing.
“We met while he was in Toronto last November,” Umetsu recalls. “He approached me and asked if I would consider dressing him.”
It’s possible the pianist was inspired by his longtime professional collaborator, Toronto Symphony Orchestra music director Peter Oundjian, who has been wearing Umetsu designs on the podium for several seasons (including a flattering black shirt-jacket that reveals a slash of dramatic purple in the back centre seam whenever the conductor’s hands are in the air).
Earlier this week, Umetsu presented Lang and his management with fabric samples and sketches for “a capsule of clothing” representing 18 pieces and seven different looks. “They loved the idea,” she enthuses.
An official unveiling is still several months off, but Umetsu is already the toast of many a stage.
Umetsu has dressed nearly every younger Canadian diva in her couture, from Karina Gauvin and Isabel Bayrakdarian to Measha Brueggergosman. International stars Joyce Di Donato, Frederica von Stade and Nicole Cabell count among her high-profile fans.
Her first male client was bass-baritone Gidon Saks. Conductor Nicholas McGegan is a customer. Local tenors wearing Umetsu designs are Colin Ainsworth and Lawrence Wiliford.
This is not just about vanity, Umetsu will be the first to argue. She loves classical music and opera, and believes the passionate expression of a live performance needs to have a visual equivalent.
The designer says she doesn’t have synesthesia (which includes seeing colours while hearing sounds), but listens to her performer clients while working, deriving inspiration for colours and shapes from their music.
Torontonians can experience the full extent of the relationship between music and the cut and colour of a dress tomorrow (Sunday) at 3 p.m., at the Glenn Gould Studio.
That’s when the Amici Chamber Ensemble presents a special programme called “Fashionista — Fashion as Art.”
The musicians — including violinist Lara St. John — will perform onstage alongside Ford Agency runway models in a mix of music and couture.
The musical programme is exciting enough, including Ernest Chausson’s rich and expressive Concert for string quintet (St. John with the all-female Cecilia String Quartet) and piano (Serouj Kradjian) as well as the premiere of Alice Ping Yee Ho‘s Breath of Fire, for clarinet (Joaquin Valdepeñas), cello (David Heatherington) and accordion (Joseph Petric).
Umetsu originally became involved to design something for Breath of Fire, and the project grew to involve the whole programme.
The designer met with Ho during the composition process. Umetsu describes the resulting designs for Breath of Fire as “very urban, and they depict the constant fight between the positive and the chaotic.”
The three dresses being shown during the music, “represent mind, body and soul, or spirit, breath and air,” Umetsu explains. “There colours are red, purple and green — the colours you see in a flame.”
In the programme notes, Ho writes:
The title “Breath of Fire” signifies “vital energy”. This idea is inspired by the Chinese notion of “Qi” which deals the mysterious vital force that sustains life. In a poetic sense, the music symbolizes energy flows through “breath” (clarinet), “air” (accordion), and “spirit” (cello). The patterns of “flows” and special energy are dramatized in the composition in four stages: deliberation, effervescence, deviation, and transcendence
The composition is built primarily on a mosaic of three contrasting elements: stillness (slow ascending lines), brightness (capricious motifs) verses darkness (sound mass created by rapid moving block chords or still clusters). When listening to the music, one can envision the geometric design of patterns and contrasting color schemes in contemporary urban design. In a similar way, the “tone” or “language” of the piece echo fashion designer Rosemarie Umetsu’s concern for “structures” and “colors”, contemporary “chic”/stylized elements are represented by rhythmic motif and at times nostalgic reference to oriental flavors.
There will be at least eight dresses, all created specially for this event, shown at tomorrow’s concert, introduced by Globe and Mail fashion writer Deirdre Kelly. The pieces will then be included in Umetsu’s spring collection.
For full concert details, click here.
Here are two samples of music from tomorrow’s programme: Galina Ustvokskaya’s Trio for violin, clariet and piano (from 1949), performed by clarinettist Pierre Woudenberg, Joe Puglia, violin and pianist Pauline Post in Amserdam last year, followed by the opening movement of the Chausson Concert, performed by six gifted students at the Astona International music academy in Switzerland last summer.