In 1959, after a decade of research, Dupont scientist Joseph Shivers is credited with mixing a combination of polyester and polyurethane and creating what we all know now as Lycra. Spandex, Lycra or Elastane are all interchangeable terms, but only INVISTA produces authentic LYCRA® brand fibers, so you can look for the trademark to ensure you’re getting true Lycra®.
Enter, Willa Kim
In 1971, Willa was the first costume designer to switch from heavy, woolly nylon to lightweight Lycra fabrics for dancers’ costumes, and also to paint designs on those new fabrics, featuring them in Margo Sappington’s ballet, “Weewis.”
As an aside,
I was in the Parsons-Meares costume shop getting a fitting for my costumes for “Phantom of the Opera,” and my friend Ethan Stiefel, Principal dancer with American Ballet Theater, was also getting a costume fitting, by none other than Miss Kim.
When she briefly left the room, Ethan told me she was the ‘mother of Lycra,’ and I should show her the new designs from my fledgling dancewear line, to see what she thought.
Not really knowing who she was, but trusting Ethan implicitly, I shyly brought out some unitards from my dancebag as she worked steadily, pinning Ethan’s stunning “Swan Lake” tunic.
She dropped her work and carefully looked over every seam and feature, and then patted me on the arm and told me to try it on and show her how it fit.
There I was … standing in my own unitard creation, right in front of the designer who had won Tony Awards for her work in “Sophisticated Ladies” and “The Will Rogers Follies,” an Emmy Award for San Francisco Ballet’s “The Tempest,” as well as designing “Dancin’,” Tommy Tune Tonight,” and “Victor Victoria!”
She motioned for me to come closer to her and took the hang tag in her hand, carefully reading the first of my marketing materials bearing the then-brand name BYMARISA. With one smooth gesture, without so much as a pick in the fabric, she ripped the tag off and stowed it away in her purse and said, “Very nice work. I’ll keep a lookout for you, ByMarisa!”
-Willa passed away in 2016 at the well-lived age of 99. I think of her often, and the science behind the fabric and the creative use she put it to. Without them both, I wouldn’t have a career that I love!