The old adage “clothes make the man” is certainly true for Emilio Sosa.
The costume designer, whose fascination with clothing began as an adolescent growing up in the South Bronx and Dominican Republic, has become one of the most in-demand designers in recent memory, designing an astounding seven Broadway shows in the span of 18 months since the COVID-19 pandemic: Trouble in Mind, Skeleton Crews, 1776, Ain't No Mo', A Beautiful Noise, Sweeney Todd, and Good Night, Oscar.
With five of those shows occurring in the same season, Sosa is one of the most prolific designers on Broadway. To top it off, he received two Tony nominations in the same category this season, receiving double Best Costume Design of a Play nominations for Ain't No Mo' and Good Night, Oscar.
Below, watch Sosa flip through a Playbill Binder, filled with Playbills from different Broadway and Off-Broadway shows he has designed (and his stint on Project Runway). Learn more about how Sosa didn't know much about Sweeney Todd before he signed on to design it and how he discovered that Billie Holiday actually wore wedges (not heels).
“I always say that theatre chose me,” Sosa smiles, his energy warm and grounded at the center of his whirlwind season. “I didn't choose it. I was an artist from a very, very young age. So I knew I was gonna have a career in the arts, but I had no idea what it would be or how it would manifest.” Sosa first fell in love with fashion, pursuing a degree in fashion design at the Pratt Institute, where a summer job at Grace Costumes (a theatrical costume shop) hooked him for life into theatre design.
Sosa started at the bottom as a shopper, “the person who literally shops for thread, fabric, notions, whatever was needed to be able to make the costume.” From there, he quickly rose through the ranks, designing the costumes for the touring Alvin Ailey dance company, learning the practical realities of designing clothing for the wear and tear of performing night after night. His ethos: “I want my designs to look amazing from the day I design them until the end of the run.”
A chance encounter with 15-time Tony nominee George C. Wolfe brought Sosa to Broadway in 2002 with Suzan-Lori Parks’ Topdog/Underdog. After that, it was another 10 years before he returned to the Broadway boards, where he designed The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess, Lady Day at Emerson's Bar and Grill, and On Your Feet!
Throughout it all, Sosa's friendly demeanor and work ethic have helped him establish working relationships that continue to blossom over the decades, including with Suzan-Lori Parks, Audra McDonald, and Charles Randolph-Wright. As Sosa jokes, there are "three people on Broadway," which makes kindness and connections all the more valuable, alongside his talent.
Out of all the Broadway shows he’s done, Sosa considers Motown the Musical, which he designed in both its 2014 and 2016 iterations, to be particularly close to his heart. “Motown's influence, not just as a music genre, but as a fashion movement, is incredible. It was a cultural revolution. Berry Gordy was presenting people of color in an elevated way, and that was something that hadn't happened before.” Sosa took the job interview for the show as an opportunity to thank Gordy for his impact, explaining extemporaneously how Gordy's legacy went further than the music industry. Sosa’s sweet words got him the gig, but to him, “the fact that I was able to tell Mr. Gordy how I felt about his work transcends everything.”
Sosa admits that his professional highlights have come later in his career, particularly with this milestone season. But he's grateful because, "now I have that to compare it to."