Chris March, a fashion and costume designer whose outrageous outfits caught the eye of audiences on Bravo’s hit reality show “Project Runway,” and who went on to create striking clothes for Lady Gaga, Beyoncé, and other stars, died Thursday at a care facility in Stockton, Calif. He was 56.
The cause was a heart attack, his brother Douglas said.
Mr. March’s career as a designer began in earnest during a decade with “Beach Blanket Babylon,” a long-running musical revue in San Francisco known for its elaborate costumes. Mr. March’s contributions included a towering Martha Stewart-themed headpiece complete with a pie, a lobster, a pot of sunflowers, and a copy of Martha Stewart Living.
That over-the-top drag show aesthetic characterized much of Mr. March’s work. He dressed Lady Gaga in a studded ankle-length motorcycle jacket with jutting shoulder pads for a concert in Las Vegas in 2011. He helped realize Thierry Mugler’s superhero designs for Beyoncé’s 2009-10 world tour, including a golden outfit that resembled a futuristic one-piece bathing suit.
But those costumes, eye-catching as they were, were almost pedestrian by Mr. March’s standards. His other designs included “a Mr. Potato Head, a palm tree, a lobster, and a 10-foot martini,” The New York Times reported in 2006.
The occasion for the Times article was a commission that Mr. March had accepted from Wish-Bone, the salad dressing maker, to construct outfits using real and artificial vegetables — lettuce, cabbage, tomatoes, green onions — for a promotional fashion show of sorts at Grand Central Terminal.
“They said, ‘You know, we don’t really know anyone who could do this, but do you think you could make a line of clothing made out of salad and food?’ ” Mr. March was quoted as saying in the article. “I said, sure, it’s one of the easier things I’ve done. I once made a giant 6-foot can of Crisco that a person had to dance in, and that had an Elvis wig on top.”
Mr. March’s designs for “Project Runway,” during the show’s 2007-08 season, its fourth, incorporated human hair in some cases; another entry was a strappy leopard-print halter top with matching hood and sleeves for the WWE wrestler Maria Kanellis. He became a fan favorite, even though, under the show’s competition format, he finished in fourth place at the season’s end.
Mr. March was not afraid to model his more extreme designs himself, proudly appearing beneath colossal wigs as drag versions of Princess Leia or Wonder Woman.
Christopher Andrew March was born on Feb. 25, 1963, in Alameda, Calif., to Carl Allen and Dolores March. He grew up mostly in Northern California, where he liked to design elaborate Halloween costumes before graduating from high school.
A biography on his website said that he had lived in San Francisco for years before settling in New York City. In addition to his brother Douglas, he leaves three other brothers, David, Steven, and Michael, and his mother.
In 2018, Mr. March said in a statement to his fans that he had been put into a medically induced coma after falling and hitting his head in 2017 and emerged partly paralyzed, necessitating physical therapy.
Mr. March designed costumes for Cirque du Soleil and spectacular drag outfits for “Christmas With the Crawfords,” a 2001 show at the Chelsea Playhouse in Manhattan in which he appeared onstage as Shirley Temple. He created, designed, produced, and starred in another holiday show, “Chris March’s The Butt-Cracker Suite!,” a rethinking of Tchaikovsky’s “Nutcracker,” which ran for a month in 2009 at the Lower Manhattan arts center Here. It was billed as a “trailer park ballet.”
In 2011 he hosted his own short-lived reality show on Bravo, “Mad Fashion,” on which he dressed celebrities like Jennifer Coolidge and Chrissy Teigen. He designed a series of Halloween wigs for Target in 2013.
Though his designs were often studies in overstatement, Mr. March could also make elegant clothing, like a slouchy, belted black evening gown that Meryl Streep wore to the Golden Globes ceremony in 2010, and a sleek white one she wore to the Academy Awards the same year.
Anne Bratskeir, a fashion reporter for Newsday, wrote that Streep “looked good, fresh and crisp” in the Oscars gown.