The Limburger, 24 July 2022, by Ronald Colée. Photos: Marcel van Hoorn. Translation: Ineke.Gosia Tarnowski has been taking care of all the clothes for years and is a flower girl with André Rieu's orchestra who really sees everything: 'Not a single detail escapes him'
She designs, sews, washes and irons all the clothes of the Johann Strauss Orchestra, allocates and furnishes all the dressing rooms, is ready with a needle and thread throughout the concert and is André Rieu's flower girl afterwards. Wardrobe manager Gosia Tarnowski is happy that the orchestra leader recruited her 22 years ago. “Otherwise, as an economist, I would now have been sitting behind a desk with paperwork.” It's all hands on deck for Gosia Tarnowski these weeks. If the Polish costume designer and clothing stylist is already busy when she is on tour abroad with André Rieu, when the Johann Strauss Orchestra arrives in Maastricht, she has to push even harder. Not only the orchestra members have to perform perfectly dressed every evening, but also the six soloists, special guest Dorona Alberti, the 150 choristers and the 50 piccolos. And those clothes are all made or taken care of by her. That means sewing, washing and ironing. Al commands fairness to say that she receives assistance from a seamstress and a clothing assistant at the Vrijthof concerts. Tarnowski has been employed by Rieu for twenty-two years after being snatched away by the orchestra leader as an economics student at the University of Bonn. “I had studied economics at the University of Lublin for two years in my home country and then went to Bonn (Germany) for six months, where I signed up for some sort of student employment agency to earn some extra money. There they were looking for a clothing assistant for two André Rieu concerts in Dortmund (Germany). So I've been there all day ironing shirts. Until André came in at one point and asked who had ironed his shirt. When I answered 'I' he said: “you go around the world with me.”She didn't believe it herself. “After six months I would return to Poland and since Poland was not yet part of the European Union at that time, it was very difficult for me to travel around the world. But André wasn't interested in that. 'Arrange it right now' he said to his production manager and now I've been with his orchestra for 22 years. And I even met the love of my life, Richard Bovee.”
Four dresses per person She started as an assistant wardrobe manager, but since 12 years she has been fully responsible for everything related to styling and clothing. And that is a huge job. “What many people don't know is that André travels the world with four sets. Four stages, four sets, but also four sets of clothing. That means that each female orchestra member has four - almost identical - dresses that we ship. Since they all still had a good one when I took over, that means I designed about a hundred new dresses - three per person - in those 12 years.”In the beginning she sewed everything herself, in recent years Gosia has employed an amazing seamstress: Mien Depondt. “I do the design, the fabrics, colours, decorations and the purchasing and Mien does all the technical actions.” With the men it is a bit easier for Gosia. “They always wear a black dress suit with white shirt, white waistcoat and white bow, gold cuff links - very important - and black patent leather shoes. With them it is only a matter of shortening, taking out or extending things and making sure everything is washed and ironed.” Skills she learned herself. “I only attended a private make-up and styling course in Munich. In retrospect, it would have been more convenient if I had completed a fashion course after high school, because everything shows that I am in the right place here, but such a course was less highly regarded in Poland than a medicine or economics degree.”
Long days Although that does mean that she sometimes works long days. “When we are on tour, I get up at a quarter past six in the morning and go to bed at one o'clock at night. Then we usually arrive around eight in the morning in an empty hall, I assign all the rooms, I inform local workmen how many tables and chairs are desired in which place, I set up all changing rooms with clothes racks and mirrors and I clean out the little boxes with personal belongings of the orchestra members, photos of family, but also make-up and deodorant. And I already connect the washing machines. When the orchestra starts, I disconnect those machines again and I clean up the make-up stuff.” During the concert itself, she helps the soloists change clothes and is ready with a needle and thread for accidents. “An orchestra member who has a stain on his jacket, a chorister who rips his pants or a zipper on a dress that breaks. If that happens, we'll have that girl come as inconspicuously as possible backstage, I'll sew up that zipper with big stitches and cut her dress back after the concert so she can take it off. I also always have plasters, paracetamol and ibuprofen in my pocket in case one of the orchestra members is not feeling well, and super glue in case a shoe sole would come off with the men. Because patent leather shoes are actually intended for indoor use and cannot withstand wet weather conditions very well.” Because even with the Johann Strauss Orchestra, the show must always go on. “André is a perfectionist. Not only must the music be top notch, but also the decoration. He has a very good feeling and an unerring eye for that. Medal ribbons of the Mastreechter Staar that are too long, a sleeve that is too short? He sees it right away.”That is also one of the reasons that Gosia has held another position for eighteen years: that of flower girl. “Everywhere he performs, he is offered flowers after the concert. That's a regular part of the show. Nothing is more disturbing if it is forgotten or he is handed flowers from someone who in his eyes is less well suited for it. So he came to me eighteen years ago and he said: “Gosia, I no longer want to kiss strangers every night. From now on you are my flower girl”. So wherever in the world we perform, I hand him the flowers in evening dress, except in Japan. Because it would look very strange there if a non-Asian handed over the flowers. That wouldn't be credible. And as said: not only the music, the whole picture has to be perfect.”