Born in Albuquerque to a single mother, Theresa Blanco, he had a close relationship with her mother, Stella Blanco, an artisan who designed lampshades. “I grew up playing with fabric and fringe and electrical wire, a lot of the things I now deal with on a daily basis,” he said.
He earned a dual degree in oboe and history at Oberlin College’s conservatory program. While studying abroad in 2004, he saw an exhibit at London’s Victoria and Albert Museum called “Black British Style.” “It was the first time that I’d ever thought about the stories that clothing can tell,” he said.
In graduate school at Brown University, he worked toward a master’s degree in public humanities, exploring he said, “the black experience through clothing.” He figured he’d eventually look for work in a museum, but in his last semester he stumbled into a set design class. On his second try, and now focusing on costumes, he got into Yale School of Drama.
The director Lileana Blain-Cruz met him there. They worked together on Branden Jacobs-Jenkins’s “War,” and Ms. Blain-Cruz was immediately struck by “how he dealt with contemporary clothes in a heightened way,” she said. “He thinks about color and palette like a visual artist does.”
A few years later, during an Off Broadway run of “The Death of the Last Black Man in the Whole Entire World,” he would tell her that the character Queen Hatshepsut absolutely needed watermelon fingernail polish. “And I was like, ‘Yes. Yes, she does.’ ”
Mr. Blanco’s job, as he sees it, is “to figure out how best to tell the story and how to make it beautiful.” After reading a script, he’ll begin to visualize a character, often with just a single garment or accessory, like the blue-green motorcycle jacket for Eddie Van Halen in the Atlantic Theater Company’s current production of “Eddie and Dave.”
He isn’t much of a tailor. “Nobody wants me to be doing a hem,” he said. Instead he’s a conceptualist who approaches clothing as adornment, as artifact, as potential signifiers of ambition, anxiety, desire.