When Renee Fleming appears Sept. 15 with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra for the BSO's Gala Celebration, the appeal will be both sound and sight. The world-renowned soprano is famous not just for her voice, but for her gowns, designed for her by the likes of Gianfranco Ferre, John Galliano for Dior, Karl Lagerfeld, Christian Lacroix, Oscar de la Renta, Douglas Hannant and Angel Sanchez. We chatted with her about some of her favorites.
Is it fun to play dress-up in a way most of us just dream about?
Oh, yes. It's fun for designers, too, I think. It also sparks their imagination because of the legend of the diva onstage — and diva is the word because it means goddess. It's something that is always accompanied by some visual aspect that sparks the audience's imagination as well. It can be over the top.
Do you find that there is a certain standard that people expect you to top every time?
Absolutely. I'm lucky. ... I've gotten to work with such amazing people. ... The other thing I have to balance it with is that I have to travel with these gowns, and that can be very challenging sometimes. Just like everyone else, I'm subject to the same weight restrictions and luggage restrictions. And the days of showing up with five trunks and 18 small bags for opera singers are really over.
When I sang for the Queen [Elizabeth II's Diamond] Jubilee, the [Oscar de la Renta] dress was so huge that I had to find somebody who was flying there [to transport it]. A close friend of mine was flying there in a private plane. Otherwise, I probably would have had to purchase a seat for the dress.
A quote from somewhere referred to a dress as a meringue. That's what came to mind with that dress.
Yeah, I call it a confection. I say this is a birthday cake, this dress.
Do you have some all-time favorite dresses or gowns that you've worn?
It's too hard. There are just too many. ... Vera Wang is a friend of mine. I got married a year ago, and she said, "Don't even think about wearing anything but me. I'm dressing you." She did an amazing job. I was going to go buy something off the rack. In the end, I had Sanchez — who designed a beautiful dress for me for the family event — and Vera Wang, who designed a gorgeous floor-length dress.
No. They're just the current dresses I have right now. If I'm going to change gowns, it's always the same designer, so I can credit them. It also gives a continuity to the look. I think that's important. Even if the dresses are really different, it's the same designer.
You are a fashion icon to so many. Who are your fashion icons?
Well, I have to say I've always loved Diane Keaton. It's not for me, but I've always loved the consistency of her look, and the uniqueness of it.
Do your daughters ever get your hand-me-downs?
More than that. All three of us wear the same size shoe. If I'm missing something, I know where to go. ... When I sang "Dark Hope," my rock CD from a couple of years ago, I had a whole new wardrobe for that. And I loved [that] it identified with them, because it was quite young. My youngest daughter is especially into fashion. Bit by bit, she's kind of taken over [those pieces].
What are some of the most common fashion mistakes you see women making?
We've seen people wearing not-appropriate underwear. I believe underwear is everything. ... I would say the foundation is everything. Once you have that in place, then the rest seems to be easier. There's a reason Spanx has become such a big company.