Fashion has been a labor of love for NYC stylist, LJ Wright. To gain hands on experience, Wright took an internship and worked as a designer’s assistant for many years before finally landing her dream job as a Broadway dresser. When she’s not donning the stars of Disney’s Aladdin the Musical, she’s styling her A-list clientele for fashion editorials, music videos and public appearances. I got to chat with the trendsetting fashionista recently about her passion for fashion, the costume designs that leave her feeling inspired and how she dresses herself when she’s not making others look and feel fabulous.
At what age did your love for fashion & design begin?
I have loved fashion and design for as long as I can remember. My favorite childhood toy was the Barbie Fashion Design Kit. Growing up, I was very interested in drawing and painting so I debated getting an art degree in college. But high school is where I first fell in love with theatre, and ultimately decided on a musical theatre major with a concentration on costume design. When I first moved to NYC, I actually started out in the fashion world as an assistant to a designer and began dressing runway models. Those quick changes were nuts! The first few years I worked as much as possible [mostly for free] to make any theatre connections. I also did some film work until I finally booked my first Broadway show. Getting to this point was always the dream.
As you mentioned you booked Aladdin the Musical on Broadway. Congratulations! What does a dresser do at the show?
It consists of me getting to the New Amsterdam 1 1/2 hours before the show begins each day. I start by going up to the wardrobe floor to sign in and check if any of my costumes are being worked on. Next, I go to laundry to get what we need for the day and then head to my actors dressing room. I then have time to do my presets, fill water bottles, do repairs, and set out jewelry and crowns. Throughout the show I have various cues and quick changes on deck and in the bunker under the stage. At the end of the show I normally get my actress out of costume, grab laundry to sort up in the laundry room, and take any costume repairs up to the 7th floor. I go gather my things, and always end up staying late chatting with other dressers and actors before heading out for the night.
Who do you dress in the show?
The fabulous Courtney [Reed], who plays Princess Jasmine in our show. She is an absolute dream to dress as well as a dear friend, so it hardly seems like work. Our show has two numbers, “Friend Like Me” and “Prince Ali”, that are particularly quick change heavy so the principal dressers come down to dress the ensemble during those scenes. I also dress the lovely Khori [Petinaud] in those numbers and assist in getting the genie dressed in his special rigged costume for “Prince Ali” during intermission.
Have you had any costume or wardrobe malfunctions occur?
OH, ABSOLUTELY. Too many to count. One of the worst mistakes I have made was when I dressed the male ensemble at Aladdin. “Prince Ali” is basically a costume parade so the boys have about three layers of costumes on that tearaway throughout the number. I didn’t get his pants on securely enough during the quick change part so my poor dancer had to be fierce onstage with pants around his ankles. Its the worst feeling in the world. Most of the funny stories happen backstage though completely out of audience sight. I’ve definitely had actresses run in to the wings because their costumes unzipped, or had to pry feet out of shoes, or run after performers because they’ve forgotten pieces. It’s all just part of the gig and it’s what keeps life fun and fresh in live performance. Anything can happen!
Which costume designs for any current [or past] Broadway productions leave you in complete awe?
My mind immediately jumps to Beauty and the Beast, because it was one of the first shows that I had ever seen where the costumes changed my life. Recently though the costumes in Cinderella, Hedwig, and Hamilton were all spectacular. Anastasia looks gorgeous as well, and so was War Paint for this upcoming season. I know I am biased but the first time I saw all the hand beading and sparkles in Gregg Barnes’ designs for Aladdin, I was speechless. They are gorgeous, it’s truly a dream show.
How did your company [Style by LJ] come into fruition?
My styling career is actually one of the most organic, beautiful surprises of my life. Throughout the years of dressing and befriending actors, I sort of fell into a lot of style work for friends. Since I dressed them, people would always ask me to come along to headshot sessions or random photoshoots they were doing. It began to build until about a year ago, a photographer asked me for my business card at the end of the shoot. I was completely taken aback because I never thought of myself as a real stylist, but that spurred me on to create my style page and website and get a portfolio organized. Styling is truly a passion of mine and I do it for the love of making people look beautiful and feel great. I predominately work on photoshoots as they typically fit into my schedule easily, but I have styled music videos and appearances as well. It is the perfect side hustle because it is flexible and I can chose to say yes or no to projects as they fit in with my 8 show a week Broadway schedule.
How would you describe your own personal style?
This is always a hard question to answer, but I would say I have a very urban, edgy, boho style. I’m inspired by a lot of the street wear of NYC – so give me black, studs, and leather any day. I am also obsessed with bright and ever-changing hair colors and attracted to more bohemian silhouettes. Even though I work and am inspired by theatrical looks, I definitely gravitate toward a more laid-back personal look.
What advice would you give to someone who wants to get into the business?
Never be afraid of hard work. The job may look very glamorous but there is A LOT of sacrifice and work behind the scenes. Always be on time. Make a good impression on EVERYONE, no matter how famous or important they are. Be kind and generous and a person that everyone wants to work with.
And you have your own line of fashion chokers. Please tell us about the brand.
Gagged Chokers is a handmade accessories line that was created by Courtney Reed [Aladdin], Teale Dvornik, Abby DePhillips, and myself. It really started as a passion project for us. We had no idea what we were getting ourselves in or how successful it would be. We just made these chokers that we loved and the whole thing really caught on. We are coming off the heels of the huge Princess Collection (that was featured in People Magazine, Allure, More, Refinery29 and Cosmo), and launching a Spring mini collection on March 29th! Lots of exciting things happening. We work hard but love every minute of it!
To read more adventures of a Broadway dresser, please checkout The Backstage Blonde’s page here.