Costumes by award-winning costume designer Sean De Freitas are on display in the Cornell Art Museum in downtown Delray Beach, running through the summer.
Filling two galleries with nine original and ornate costumes, this is an opportunity and respite from the year of COVID-19, says Cornell Art Museum director and curator Melanie Johanson.
“His over-the-top designs bring the gallery to life,” she says. “His costumes are a true escape from the year 2020 and a departure from real life.”
When she was introduced to De Freitas through a mutual friend, she was struck by his beautiful, elaborate and larger-than-life costumes.
“These beautiful, colorful and lavish costumes will feed your soul,” says Johanson. “And, we hope this will be the first of many of Sean’s exhibits at the Cornell.”
On display are Hummingbird, an ornate sequin and jewel-encrusted costume in colors of saturated blues and greens, with cascading feathers in deep pinks and purples, designed for a show at the Broward Center for the Performing Arts; the Gala costume, a show-stopping, billowing red dress with a velvet bodice from the opening of The Mint Museum in Charlotte, N.C.; and Geisha, a piece De Freitas created for Event Solutions Magazine’s Spotlight Awards.
“I am excited and honored to have the opportunity to showcase my work at the Cornell,” says De Freitas, 55. “It’s accessible to everyone and people of all ages can come downtown to this unique space to experience it.”
Since the age of 11, De Freitas knew he wanted to be a costume designer. Growing up on the small island of Trinidad and Tobago, the annual fête of Carnival was a major influence in his personal and professional life.
When he was crowned National Junior Carnival King at 11, he knew this would be his life’s work.
In another 11 years, De Freitas became in 1988 the youngest person in his country to design, make and wear his own costume titled The Visitor, influenced by the 1977 film Close Encounters of the Third Kind, and take home the National King of Carnival award.
A pivotal moment in his life, the student who suffered from ADD and dyslexia in school, found his voice and an outlet for his creativity.
Competing against friends and mentors with other family and friends watching in the wings of the stage, De Freitas experienced what he calls a “complete experience.”
“Nothing I accomplished after that that is as precious, fulfilling or pure as that moment in my life,” he remembers.
For him, it was not so much the winning he valued, but the vision, creating, wearing and performing in a costume of his own making.
He counts Russian artist and designer Erté, late fashion designer Alexander McQueen and Tony Award-winning costume designer Julie Taymor as influences.
After relocating to Florida where he attended the Art Institute in Fort Lauderdale and began designing costumes for the annual boat parade, De Freitas had his breakthrough moment when he joined the event planning company Parties by Neil (Goldberg) and never looked back.
To date, he has designed for more than 1,500 events both nationally and globally, including events in Ireland, Brazil, Australia and Iceland and for companies including Universal Studios, SeaWorld, Carnival and Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines, among others.
In 1994 De Freitas opened his own Fort Lauderdale-based company, Designs by Sean, where he designed costumes for Cirque du Soleil, Cirque Dreams and Disney.
“Most companies provided props,” he recalls, “but my costumes came to life and interacted with the viewers. They added a new dimension to the event.”
For more than 20 years he designed costumes for the annual Key West Fantasy Fest and solidified his voice in their grand costume contest, Pretenders in Paradise.
Since the start of COVID-19, De Freitas has expanded his vision to create art using found objects to create sculptures.
Still on his bucket list are designing costumes for performance art, collaborating with Lady Gaga (“both our styles are over the top”) and working with kids.
“As a creative person, I’m always searching for a creative outlet,” he says. “I don’t draw or paint, but in my mind I have visions that I want to bring to life.”
“One thing I’d love to do as a way of giving back is to work with kids and teach them what I’ve learned about costume design and possibly change a life as mine was changed through the world of costume design,” he says.
The De Freitas costume exhibit is on view through Aug. 1 at the Old School Square Cornell Art Museum, 51 N. Swinton Ave. Also on display are works by Peter Max, Marc Quin, Robert Indiana, Takashi Murakami, Roy Lichtenstein, Alexander Semeonovitch Liberman, Ian Francis and Andy Warhol, among others. Visit cornellartmuseum.org for more information.