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Costume Designer Marco Marco Talks Designing VMA ‘Black Widow’ Looks and That Controversial Selena Gomez Bollywood Outfit

Image: Getty

Image: Getty Images

The VMAs have come and gone, but while everyone was impatiently waiting to see what type of antics would go down on the big night, Marco Marco was trying to get the performers dressed for the affair. The costumer and underwear designer was tapped to create the looks for Iggy Azalea and Rita Ora‘s “Black Widow” performance, making this the second time he’s conceived looks to go with that particular song. He also created the jumpsuits the girls wear in the Kill Bill-themed music video, so naturally, he was the perfect choice to once again help bring the tune to life.

Marco’s had a slew of notable looks throughout his career. He’s the brain behind Katy Perry’s famous “California Gurls” cupcake boob look, Nicki Minaj‘s stuffed animal dress (the one she wore appearing in Willow Smith‘s music video for “Fireball”) and Selena Gomez‘s controversial Bollywood-inspired stage look at last year’s MTV Movie Awards. He’s also devised looks for both American Idol and for RuPaul‘s Drag Race. Beyond that, he’s got a men’s underwear line that is so stylish, even women are trying to get their hands on his product. Needless to say, the guy knows how to create a moment through his clothes.

Marco’s looks always make such a statement that we were curious to hear from the man behind some of pop music’s most memorable stage looks. We caught up with the designer to chat about his business, creating looks for the VMAs, some of the more controversial outfits he’s designed as well as swimsuit slings.

theFashionSpot: Let’s begin at the beginning. How did you start out?

Marco Marco: You mean in the early 1900s? [laughing] Ultimately, a lot of what we do is a means of survival. In the beginning, we just had a little shop in Hollywood. It was doing alright, but it started to get slow and we didn’t have an answer for that. Making custom pieces was already something I was deeply involved in — I liked doing that the most, more than being in the store. It just took off from there. We started working on American Idol, doing alterations and making things on the spot. In college, I started a little business with a friend where we would bring fabric up to the cafeteria, lay it on the floor, bring in a sewing machine. You could pick the fabric and we’d make you a tank top or a dress. We called it “Fast Fashion” (ha). That’s really the seed of everything. From there, I was able to make pieces for American Idol. Artists would want me on set if they didn’t know what they were going to wear or they knew there was a possibility something would pop up immediately. That’s how we ultimately got involved with the music industry, and we’ve been married ever since.

Iggy Azalea and Rita Ora perform "Black Widow" at the MTV Video Music Awards 2014

Iggy Azalea and Rita Ora perform “Black Widow” at the MTV Video Music Awards 2014; Image: Getty

tFS: Tell us a little bit about what it was like working with Rita and Iggy for the VMAs this year.

MM: Working with Iggy and Rita was fantastic. They are really both fierce performers with great personalities and solid work ethics. I love them both, and their teams. Iggy’s stylist, Alejandra, is an awesome collaborator and a passionate artist.

tFS: What was the most challenging part about designing their looks?

MM: The cut-outs that created the spiderweb illusion were tedious and time-consuming, as was the custom gradient that was created with crystals on an all-black base. Each stone was meticulously placed by hand in order to ensure a smooth transition from jet black to crystal.

tFS: You did Selena Gomez’s look for the 2013 MTV Movie Awards. That outfit caused quite a stir and had a lot of people accusing Selena of cultural appropriation. What do you, as the designer, have to say about that?

MM: I think we actually made that dress for the music video, and then she wound up wearing it again. It was something very different from what we normally do. It was chiffon and macramé, and we tend to do more kind of sportswear-inspired pieces that are more body conscious. I think that it was a valid point, but you know, these artists are inspired by things that are beautiful. And I don’t think they’re necessarily always thinking, “I’m going to steal this from a culture.” You know, they’re kids. Selena Gomez is 21, 22 years old. She’s looking and she’s seeing an incredibly beautiful Indian woman who’s got an incredible sari on and she says, “This is what I love. I want to do this for myself. I would look great in this.” And it’s not like she’s doing anything new — designers like Gaultier, he’s taken inspiration from different cultures around the world. Gwen Stefani wore bindis on her head. People get angry about appropriation, but sometimes I think it’s OK to look at stuff as more of an homage. 

Selena Gomez onstage during the 2013 MTV Movie Awards; Image: Getty Images

Selena Gomez onstage during the 2013 MTV Movie Awards; Image: Getty

tFS: Fair. But of course, there are ways to do an homage tastefully.

MM: I think it’s important, though, for people to speak their minds in cases where they feel it’s appropriation. My opinion is no more or less important than anyone else’s. Things that I find insulting, other people don’t. Sometimes I change my mind about stuff later in life, sometimes I don’t. I think the only real way to grow socially as a people is to have these kinds of discussions. Even if someone does something without malintent, it’s important for someone to say, “Hey, this hurt my feelings.” Like you said, it’s a fine line, but as artists we’re always trying to find a new way to push boundaries creating ourselves. Sometimes everyone loves it, sometimes only half the people love it. 

tFS: What are some of your favorite outfits you designed? 

MM: I tend to be the most tied to whatever it was I did last. I put a lot of myself into making sure that my clients are happy with what they get from me, and it’s really important that they feel comfortable in what they’re wearing, and that I’m doing the best job I can with taking this stressful thing off their plate. People forget how terrifying it must be to sing and dance live in front of millions of people. I get nervous talking in a room of 20! Regardless of how many times you do it, it’s always an issue. Especially when you know there’s going to be Internet trolls looking for absolutely anything that’s wrong with your performance or fashion. People are going to blow that image up and make it a huge deal. It’s all very scary. They’re people too, with feelings and insecurities. Fashion is one of those places where it’s easy to be vulnerable.