Costume design is part of Raquel Adorno's DNA.
The Glendale Heights native hails from a family of seamstresses, including her mother and both grandmothers. Adorno has sewed, knitted and embroidered since she was a youngster. At Glenbard East High School in Lombard, she redesigned the madrigal costumes. At the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana, where she studied music and theater, she costumed, did makeup and worked on the technical crew for several student productions.
But for all that, the 32-year-old never intended to work as a designer. Armed with bachelor's and master's degrees in vocal performance, Adorno pursued a career in front of the footlights until several years ago, when a neck injury forced her to quit.
"That's when I started designing," said Adorno, who has been drawing since she was a child. "I love it even better (than singing), which was an incredible surprise."
She took a job with Anthropologie, a national retail chain offering apparel, accessories and housewares. The experience was invaluable, said Adorno, who learned design fundamentals that have helped further her career.
In 2010, a director friend invited the onetime stylist and personal shopper to costume a show. She's worked steadily ever since.
"My whole career as a designer has been so full of surprises," she said. "I'm along for the ride, wherever the wind takes me."
Conscious of the actors' feelings, Adorno tries to put them in costumes that serve the character, but still flatter the performer.
"The actors have to feel amazing," she says, and that can't happen if they're worried their hips looks large.
While she's a fan of lavish, period costumes, Adorno prefers designing for contemporary plays. Her current projects include "The BenchMark," opening in September at Step Up Productions at The Athenaeum Theatre in Chicago, and "In God's Hat," in previews at Profiles Theatre in Chicago, where Adorno costumed five productions, including the company's 2012 revival of "Hellcab," which required designing for 34 characters.
"We knew that was incredibly ambitious for a costume designer," said Profiles artistic director Joe Jahraus, who praised Adorno's creativity, frugality and her ability to "think outside the box" to create costumes that make a "a broader visual statement."
"She's a great collaborator in that she goes with the director's artistic vision, but comes up with her own unique ideas that help you see the character in a way you didn't see the character before," Jahraus said of Adorno, who last year became an artistic associate, the first costume designer in Profiles' 25-year history.
Indeed, collaboration is one of the things about the job she finds most rewarding.
In Profiles' "In The Company of Men," Adorno wanted the actress to wear a hot pink dress. Under the lights, the dress looked fluorescent. Lighting designer Mike May made it work.
"Artists can be really giving," she said. " They want to make a beautiful thing together."