Early life and education
Long was born in Seaboard, North Carolina on August 30, 1947 to William Ivey Long, Sr., a Winthrop University professor and stage director, and his wife Mary, who was a high school theatre teacher, actress and playwright. His father was the founder of the Winthrop University theatre department. William grew up in Manteo, North Carolina and Rock Hill, South Carolina.
Upon graduation from high school Long attended the College of William and Mary where he studied history and graduated in 1969, after spending many of his high school and undergraduate summers with his family at Manteo, North Carolina, where Mary, William, Robert, and Laura worked for Paul Green's outdoor drama, The Lost Colony. He then attended the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill to pursue a Ph.D. in art history. At Chapel Hill he met visiting professor Betty Smith who suggested he apply to the design program at Yale University. He left UNC and went to the Yale School of Drama to study set design. It was here that he met Sigourney Weaver (his roommate at the time), Wendy Wasserstein, Meryl Streep, Christopher Durang, and Paul Rudnick, who were all also students at the university. While at Yale he studied under designer Ming Cho Lee, whom he has credited with being a major influence on his work.
Upon his graduation from Yale in 1975, he moved to New York City where he worked for couturier Charles James as an unpaid apprentice until James's death in 1978. A friend of his from Yale, Karen Schulz, who was the set designer for a Broadway revival of Nikolai Gogol's The Inspector General, suggested that Long be hired to do costume designs for the show. This marked Long's first Broadway production; he has since designed for over 60 Broadway shows.
He has been nominated for thirteen Tony Awards, winning six (for Nine, Crazy for You, The Producers, Hairspray, Grey Gardens, and Cinderella). He has also won the Drama Desk Award for outstanding costume design for Hairspray, The Producers, Guys and Dolls, Lend Me a Tenor, and Nine. Other recent credits include Young Frankenstein, The Ritz, Chicago, and Curtains.
The principal characters of The Lost Colony outdoor drama from the 2008 production. Costumes and scenery designed by William Ivey Long
In 2000 Long was chosen by the National Theatre Conference as its "Person of the Year" and was honored with the "Legend of Fashion" Award by the Art Institute of Chicago in 2003. He was inducted into the American Theater Hall of Fame for 2005.
He remains active in many local activities throughout the state of North Carolina including working with Paul Green's The Lost Colony Outdoor Drama in Manteo, North Carolina which he and his family have been a part of since he was a young child. The Cameron Art Museum in Wilmington, North Carolina featured an exhibition of Long's designs titled "Between Taste and Travesty: Costume Designs by William Ivey Long."
"Long's creations have had a tendency to become as much of a celebrity as the people who wear them," wrote Encore Magazine's art columnist, Lauren Hodges. "His pieces are so lively that they seem to have personalities on their own. The movements the costumes were made for seem to reflect in the fabric. Each detail is lovingly stitched for the characters of the stage and speaks of the story itself, giving the viewer a little taste of the spectacle that is Broadway."
Long has also costumed for Siegfried & Roy at the Mirage Hotel, Leonard Bernstein's operas A Quiet Place and Trouble in Tahiti, and ballets at the New York City Ballet for Peter Martins, Paul Taylor and Twyla Tharp.
In June 2012, he was elected Chair of The American Theatre Wing. He is the first working theatre artist to hold this position since Helen Hayes.