When Kanye West’s short film “Runaway” debuted on MTV over the weekend, one element that had nothing to do with music became the focal point of the movie: the glorious wings that transformed model Selita Ebanks into a phoenix. They were so striking, for their beauty and intricate detail, that we found we couldn’t take our eyes off of them. The man behind those wings is costume designer Martin Izquierdo, who is acclaimed for his work in the theater, and who you may know as the designer of the Victoria’s Secret wings. We caught up with Martin today to find out the whole story behind the wings, starting from Kanye’s vision and ending with the film you saw. Find out everything about the wings from Martin Izquierdo himself, below.
Who got in touch with you for this project/how did it come to be?
Kanye called. He wanted to talk to me about the wings. He had visions of what he wanted, and we went through three or four different variations before we arrived at what was filmed.
What were the earlier versions like?
Earlier versions had more to do with color. Because [Kanye] had wanted different colorways, we made samples of different colorways. And, with Phillip [Lim]’s help, we arrived at the colors that we got. Originally, he wanted turquoise and teal and touches of yellow. So, with Phillip’s help, we toned it down to be more fashion and less contrast.
Wing designer Martin Izquierdo.
Photo: Courtesy of Izquierdo Studio
Do you sketch out the wingspan first?
How is the frame of the wings created so the wings stay up?
We mold this material around a model’s figure, and then that supported the wings. It’s a heat-manipulated thermoplastic material. With this, it’s able to bend it and bend it so it’s the right shape. I had to do the structure in sections so it would be able to articulate, so she was able to curve her back and sit down and twist.
How was her wingspan (seen best in the banquet scene) created?
There were extensions made [for the original structure], and then the wings were manipulated by puppeteers. We made them with rods inside, so then they could use other rods and control them without being seen. It needed two puppeteers — one per wing. Or, I suggested three puppeteers — I thought one should be behind her back to support her, while one on each side moved the wings.
How did the wings stay on her body?
These were just able to be taped on to her body, so there were no straps on her body. They were wig taped — it’s what men use to glue their toupees on, or in the theater, it’s what you use to put on beards and mustaches.
How heavy is the entire piece?
Not very heavy — not more than 5 pounds.
What type of feathers were used? How were they dyed?
We custom-dyed all of the feathers — coque feathers, pheasant feathers, goose feathers. The white pheasant feathers are 3 or 4 feet long, and we gold-leafed some of the tops. That means putting an adhesive and using thin sheets of imitation gold on top of it.
How many feathers were used?
In feather terms, by the time we cut away the parts that aren’t used, we used 15 pounds of feathers. We only use the tips of them, and most of the feather was discarded.
Did you create her feather outfit as well?
We sent feathers so the makeup person could glue them onto her body. I made a structure that cupped just below her breasts, and I wanted the feathers to cover her body. Rather than having a hard shape there, I wanted feathers to cover. In our conversations, I mentioned to Kanye how it would be great to have the breasts and her private areas covered with feathers.
How long did it take to create the wings?
After we got the design down, it took two weeks.
How closely did you work together with Kanye West?
We worked very closely. He was here at least twice a week — he always wanted to be involved every step of the way.
Were you on set during filming to tend to the costume?
I wasn’t there for the filming because they shot in Europe.
What were your favorite shots of the wings in ’Runaway’?
I love the shots of the camera looking down on her, and the shots of her face when she was crawling. You could see no visible support of how the wings were on. Usually, there are straps on the shoulder to hold the wings on, but these were all molded and shaped to the curve of her back.
Where are the wings now?
I think that Kanye has them, or his production company.
Had you worked with Selita Ebanks before at Victoria’s Secret?
I used to design with Victoria’s Secret, and we worked together again with this. It was nice to see her in a different world. She added a lot to the film. And she was so open about it all that I was very impressed.
How did you start making wings?
It started when I first designed the wings for the Broadway production Angels in America. That gave me a high-profile introduction to making wings. After the success of that production, I designed wings all over the country for other productions, so I was fortunate. Jeffrey Madoff [director of Victoria’s Secret commercials] — I designed scenery for him, and he introduced me to Victoria’s Secret, and I did the wings for them. I’ve been very fortunate.
Is every pair of wings slightly different?
Yes. It’s always interesting because I don’t want to repeat myself, so I try to do something different every time. Except for the classic wings that are meant to look angelic. I always like to have fun with what I do.
What’s the next project you have coming up?
Halloween is our big time of the year. Right now we’re making costumes for Miss Universe, Miss USA and Heidi Klum.
What’s next, beyond Halloween? Anything more with Kanye?
I look forward to working with Kanye again. I hope he keeps me in mind. We’ll see what happens.