In memory of Andrew Pfeiffer – Royal New Zealand Ballet’s ‘Master of the Wardrobe’

Senior history curator Claire Regnault pays tribute to New Zealand costumier and ‘Master of the Wardrobe’ at the Royal New Zealand Ballet, Andrew Pfeiffer.

On Friday 3 March, Andrew Pfeiffer passed away at the age of 69 at Mary Potter Hospice in Wellington, surrounded by friends.

Andrew, who was also known as Drew, or simply as ‘Pfeiff’, was the Senior Costumier – or Master of the Wardrobe as I preferred – at the Royal New Zealand Ballet.

He worked for the company for an incredible 30 years, and has contributed a wealth of skill and knowledge to the world of costume design in New Zealand.

He came to the company from the State Opera of South Australia, having started his career as a pattern maker in a clothing store.

In 1987 the job of wardrobe master at the Royal New Zealand Ballet enticed him across the Tasman.

Andrew Pfeiffer standing in front of a rack of costumes

Andrew Pfeiffer, wardrobe master of the Royal New Zealand Ballet. Photograph by Susana Lei’ataua and courtesy of the Royal New Zealand Ballet

While Drew spent most of his career behind the scenes, his work was always centre stage, and will continue to be so each time one of the company’s dancers slips on one of his exquisitely made costumes.

One of Drew’s key responsibilities at the Ballet was to translate designers’ sketches into costumes that could be constructed, danced in, and survive the rigours of such physical activity and multiple performances, while dazzling under stage lighting and coming in on or under budget.

While the costumes bear the designers’ names, Drew’s honed eye and magical touch can be found in all of them.

As Sue Paterson, General Manager of the RNZB from 1999 to 2006, commented at Drew’s funeral:

‘His skills as a milliner and costumier are irreplaceable in this modern world. However, his best attribute was his close working relationship with the designers to bring their fabulous creations to life – Kristian Fredrikson, Tracey Grant Lord, Javier de Frutos and Gary Harris in particular… Kristian’s Swan Lake, A Christmas Carol, Peter Pan and the Nutcracker were standout designs as were Tracy’s Romeo and Juliet, ihi freNZy, The Wedding, Cinderella and of course A Midsummer Nights Dream, not to forget Gary’s Don Quixote and Sleeping Beauty.  The list of creations was endless.’

Two costumes, one colourful and featuring a lot of orange, the other cream

Two of Kristian Fredrikson’s costumes for Swan Lake, 1985 – Neapolitan Dancer and Princess Odette. Photograph courtesy of the Dowse Art Museum

I first met Drew in the early 2000s when I curated an exhibition on Kristian Fredrikson (1940 – 2005) at the Dowse Art Museum as part of the ballet company’s 25th anniversary celebrations.

I worked closely with Drew on selecting costumes and sketches for the exhibition, and the more we talked the more I realised how much he had to do with their successful realisation.

For example, Kristian only sketched with line, so Drew had to extract and fill in the colour and texture through conversation, the exchange of fabric swatches via post, and intuition.

Their working relationship of almost two decades was one founded on mutual respect and absolute trust in each other’s talents.

Drew also helped prep and mount the exhibition, ensuring every garment looked its best, and taught us quite a few tricks of the trade, including using vodka to get rid of odour – a handy hint for those ‘dry clean only’ items (the cheaper the vodka the better, apparently).

Aware of Kristian’s ill-health at the time, Drew was very conscious of preserving Kristian’s legacy in the country of his birth (Kristian had been based in Australia since the early 1960s).

To this end he facilitated the donation of a large collection of Kristian’s costumes and sketches to the Dowse. He had been gathering up the latter from around the Ballet and storing them carefully in one place.

Bev Moon, who was the Collection Manager at the Dowse at the time, recalls:

‘Over the years our relationship with Drew continued. He was super busy with the ballet, but he took time out of his hectic schedule to spend time with the Dowse collections team and interns, talking us through every costume, how they were made, telling us stories of who wore each piece and little tidbits of ballet gossip. He talked about his admiration for Kristian. His gruff exterior belied a man with an incredible knowledge and skill, passion for his craft and a great sense of humour. I can still hear his smoker’s laugh rattling in my ears. I had a big soft spot for Drew and was so saddened to hear of his passing, but happy to imagine he and Kristian are reunited once again.’

Staff at Te Papa have also had the privilege of working with Drew. He was involved in the gifting of a group of costumes worn by Sir Jon Trimmer to Te Papa in 2008.

The last time Drew visited us back of house, it was to take a pattern off this robe designed by Raymond Boyce for Petrouchka as a new one was required.

Although not one for the limelight, Drew would begrudgingly agree to take part in some of our public programmes dedicated to costume, and always gave generously.

Robe designed by Raymond Boyce for the Royal New Zealand Ballet

This costume was designed by Raymond Boyce for the Royal New Zealand Ballet’s 1993 production of Petrouchka. Drew created the pattern and oversaw its creation. Jon Trimmer danced the role of the Charlatan. Te Papa (GH016229/1)

Drew also shared his vast knowledge and skills with costume construction students at Toi Whakaari. He taught Millinery to both first- and second-year students from 2006.

Kaarin Macaulay, Head of Costume at the drama school, recalls Drew as being very patient with the first-year students who had never worked with millinery materials or crafted something to be worn on the head.

‘The students really appreciated his honesty – if it was not up to standard and needed to be redone he would let them know! And they responded by producing finer work. He often lent us his own wooden hat blocks, which are collector’s items these days, and not easy to buy new. He was often called upon to mentor second year students if they were making something specifically for dance, or if it had a challenging millinery component. Working for the Royal New Zealand Ballet also meant that he was someone who would host the students as they were meeting their ‘200 hours of internship’ requirements. Many students have had the opportunity to learn first-hand how a professional dance company costume department operates because of the opportunities Andrew gave them, and several are now regular contractors for the ballet company.’

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As the Royal New Zealand Ballet has said, ‘Andrew (is)… an irreplaceable member of the RNZB family. His artistry and skill was matched only by his wicked sense of humour and generous spirit. He will be missed more than words can say.’

It is true for many.

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