The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts Presents The Wondrous Willa Kim: Costume Designs for Actors and Dancers

This first-of-its-kind exhibition celebrating the work and legacy of the costume designer Willa Kim opens February 23 through August 19, 2023

Press contact: Alex Teplitzky,

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January 23, 2023 — The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts at Lincoln Center celebrates the long and colorful career of costume designer Willa Kim in her first-ever major retrospective exhibition, The Wondrous Willa Kim: Costume Designs for Actors and Dancers. Kim’s archive was acquired by the Library in 2017. The show features an assortment of designs and costumes from her long and prolific career, including work from productions like Duke Ellington’s Sophisticated Ladies, The Will Rogers Follies, and her final Broadway show, Victor/Victoria starring Julie Andrews.

From her earliest designs to her very last production, Kim demonstrated her gift for creating whimsical costumes by using extraordinary combinations of color and texture. Born in 1917 to Korean immigrant parents, Kim began her professional life as a painter in Los Angeles, California, where she grew up. After studying at what would later become CalArts, she found a job as an assistant to Barbara Karinska, working under Raoul Pène du Bois, who was designing costumes for the Ginger Rogers 1944 film Lady in the Dark.

Following her mentors to New York, Kim began designing costumes for Broadway and off-Broadway productions, such as The Red Eye of Love, and Goodtime Charley, Song & Dance, Dancin’, Tommy Tune Tonite! She designed costumes for some of the leading choreographers and dancers, like Eliot Feld and Michael Smuin, and production companies like Ballet Hispánico and American Ballet Theatre, as well as opera performances, figure skaters, and even some film and TV productions. She even designed salad-themed dresses for a commercial that aired during the Super Bowl.

The Wondrous Willa Kim is curated by Bobbi Owen, professor emerita of dramatic art at the University North Carolina at Chapel Hill where she taught costume design and history, and author of a monograph of Kim’s work published in 2005. The exhibition will feature designs alongside some of the costumes that showcase her extraordinary range and ingenuity. The show also features: 

  • Costume and set designs from Eliot Feld’s Papillon, including a reproduction of the full-scale spider web
  • The pasta salad costume from Regina Wine Vinegar’s Super Bowl commercial
  • One of Judith Jamison’s costumes in Sophisticated Ladies

Kim never designed costumes without first watching the movements of the performers in rehearsals, so that her costumes both fit and moved in syncopation with their bodies. The exhibition includes photographs and video clips, all from the Library’s collections, in which Willa Kim talks about her career and demonstrates how her costumes flowed and moved exactly as she intended.

Kim was nominated six times for a Tony Award, and first won the Award in 1981 for Sophisticated Ladies. She won again in 1991 for The Will Rogers Follies—Frank Rich, in a review for The New York Times called the costumes “breathtaking.” She received Drama Desk Awards for The Screens (1971-72), and both Promenade and Operation Sidewinder (1969-70). She also received Obie Awards for The Old Glory (1964-65) and Woman Before a Glass (2005), and Emmy Awards for The Tempest (1981) and A Song for Dead Warriors (1984). She died in 2016 at age 99.

The Wondrous Willa Kim is made possible by the generosity of the Estate of Willa Kim. 

The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts gratefully acknowledges the leadership support of Dorothy and Lewis B. Cullman. Additional support for exhibitions has been provided by Judy R. and Alfred A. Rosenberg and the Miriam and Harold Steinberg Foundation.

About the Library for the Performing Arts
The Library for the Performing Arts is dedicated to enhancing access to its rich archives of dance, theatre, music, and recorded sound—to amplify all voices and support the creative process. As one of The New York Public Library’s renowned research centers—and one of the world’s largest collections solely focused on the performing arts—our mission is to amplify all voices and all of our holdings. At present, the collection at the Library for the Performing Arts includes upwards of 8 million items, notable for their extraordinary range and diversity—from 11th-century music, to 20th-century manuscripts to contemporary hip-hop dance. The Library also is well known for documenting live theatre, dance and music and is home to the Theatre on Film and Tape Archive, which houses over 8,000 recordings of live Broadway and Off-Broadway productions.


Media Contacts

Alex Teplitzky -