Pharr native finds success on Broadway’s backstage

BY MATT WILSON
STAFF WRITER

There’s no ordinary day in the life of Wilberth Gonzalez, a Pharr native who’s found success as a costume designer in New York.

On a more average day, 29-year-old Gonzalez might find himself hand painting a shirt for an HBO show or designing costumes for movie stars.

On a wilder day Gonzalez could be putting the finishing touches on a Broadway star’s opening night outfit while she’s being interviewed by Vogue. Or he could have just two days to paint some custom guitar straps for Madonna’s band — specifically requested to match “blue and white Portuguese tile.”

Perhaps his most memorable project was making a fake belly button ring for Jennifer Lopez to wear in the 2019 film “Hustlers”.

“She wasn’t going to pierce her belly button for the movie, but we had to create the illusion that she was wearing it-specifically for the time period when the film was taking place, which was the early 2000s, when it was very popular to have a belly piercing,” Gonzalez said. “We had to cleverly create the illusion that her navel was pierced when it wasn’t.”

Generally though, Gonzalez sticks to more traditional articles of clothing.

“I’m currently an associate designer to Cathy Zuber, so we work on Broadway musicals, specifically costume design,” Gonzalez said. “More specifically, I’m a textile artist, so I do custom paintwork on fabrics for specific TV shows or films.”

Gonzalez says he didn’t consider a career in design until late in high school.

“Sometimes, when you’re in the Valley, it’s hard to think that you can make a career doing something like this,” he said. “I don’t think we’re very much known for design in the Valley, especially costume design. It’s not something you really see or can get training in.”

According to Gonzalez, participating in orchestra, band and theatre while attending PSJA North High school inspired him to pursue a career in the arts professionally.

“I think they prepared me,” Gonzalez said. “I’ve always been in the arts, in terms of being in the music program and some of the drama programs they had at PSJA north. Through that I made connections, and started seeing it was something I could maybe follow as a career path. Maneuvering myself through different levels of music and theatre, I was just like, ‘I think I could do this professionally.’”

After high school Gonzalez attended the University of Texas before completing a costume apprenticeship at Julliard. He’s worked for renowned designer Cathy Zuber for the past six years, along with doing side projects of his own.

“I’ve been very fortunate that people are happy with the work, and as they get more movies they continue to bring me on,” Gonzalez said.

Gonzalez’s work is featured in many productions, including Broadway shows “Moulin Rouge!”, “My Fair Lady”, “The King and I”, “War Paint” and “Mrs. Doubtfire”, along with many films and TV shows.

“It’s more surreal than anything. I’m glad people appreciate the artwork, the technique and the hours that go into doing something like that,” he said. “It’s been a very interesting road.”