Chicago-based costume designer Uriel Gomez, now celebrating
his first year as a freelancer after working in a costume shop, has an eclectic and colorful portfolio. Highlights include a powder-blue nightgown for a wedding officiant, a flamenco dress sewn from hospital gowns, and a full-body harness with a mesh collar. His signature? An unexpected pop of his favorite color, red.
Gomez, talkative and relaxed over beers, wears a black button-down, sleeves folded over three quarters, in the effortless way only a designer can accomplish, and a handkerchief around his neck. His hair is longer (and in better shape) than mine, and he exudes a comfortable confidence that is rare in young artists.
“I describe my own style as American with an edge,” he says. “And this lived-in, realistic aesthetic translates to my theatre work.”
Gomez’s career has lately blossomed from storefront theatres and drag shows to full Equity productions. Recent credits include Warrior Class with the Comrades, Homos,Or Everyone in America at Pride Films and Plays, and several shows at Teatro Vista, where he is an artistic associate. He also designs for drag queens, including Alexis Bevels, known for her fancy footwork. He once made Bevels a violet roller skating ensemble, with a ’50s-inspired cupcake dress as delicate as tissue paper.
He left the costume shop he used to work in when it began to feel more competitive than collaborative; hours became stricter, and workers began to compare outside gigs. A collaborative spirit is central to Gomez’s work with performers. “If an actor’s not comfortable, I’m not doing my job,” he explains, adding, “Costume designers are the only designers who work directly with actors. I often facilitate problems as a go-between between actors and the production team.”
Gomez is happy with this liaison role, though he understands how tech and previews can get itchy. “It’s a lot of change happening fast, which can be uncomfortable,” he says. “Sometimes it’s the first time a playwright sees the costumes in person, and that can lead to rapid requests for change.”
This frantic feeling Gomez describes isn’t apparent to those who know him. His Teatro Vista colleague, actor/director Sandra Marquez, describes him as “so curious, so open to ideas, and so willing to just play and play.” In 2015, Gomez designed costumes on Marquez’s production of Men on the Verge of a His-Panic Breakdown at Pride Films and Plays. The play required a quick-change shirt for different uses in various scenes. She worried that it was an impossible ask. “But then he came up with this sort of wacky, magical shirt that did everything it needed to,” she recalls. “He just kept trying until he found the solution.”
Marquez has been a kind of mentor to Gomez. So have his parents, both Mexican immigrants who live in Wisconsin. They are semi-retired but still work part-time as mechanical technicians. His mother served for years as a school bus driver, and there is a tailor on her side of the family, so she understands Gomez’s interest in costume design. “My dad has more questions than that,” Gomez lovingly remarks. “But overall they’re old-fashioned people who give a lot of support.”
I ask Gomez about his dreams: He’d love to design for Frantic Assembly in the U.K., a physically driven theatre specializing in contemporary work. And he’d love to design—what else?—Lynn Nottage’s Intimate Apparel.
For now he’s living one aspect of the dream: getting paid. He playfully quotes the actor and drag queen Willam Belli, “If you’ve got a check, I’ve got a talent.” And a pop of red.
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