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Lady Violette

The Romantic Lifestyle

Snowed In & Sewing Today! What is in my mind’s eye as a costume designer?

February 25th, 2011 by violette

The Amazing Vintage 60's Giant Paisley Print Silk Fabric

It is dark and ominous out, cold skies, crows circling, dustings of snow occurred during the night.  The roads are deserted. It is weirdly overly quiet and still. A big snow is predicted! It snowed about 3″ during the night. So the rooftops are white and the grass lawns are white, but, so far, the roads are still black, and we have been getting only flurries …

But something is coming … it feels spooky… so I got prepared, last night, to stay home and sew all day! Now we are waiting for the storm to begin…

A huge black crow just swooped past my window…It is cold and drafty… awful… and I am happy to be inside!

But I wonder if he is spying on me! Does he know what I am doing in here? They always seem to be watching! They are everywhere! Maybe they have a bird’s eye view of the design process! I went to the fabirc store yesterday and they were circling around above the parking lot when I left! What is it with these huge black birds? I feel like I’m in a Hitchcock movie!

I am currently working on two costumes for, Princess WOW! to wear in upcoming  concerts. I have decided to document my design process, as if to give a telescopic view of how a costume for a performer evolves.

I want to describe and show what happens, in my mind’s eye and in my imagination as a designer, when I conceive of a design and execute a costume.

This one began with discussion of Princess WOW’s current work. She described how she is dressing in bright colors and styles reminiscent of the flower children of the late 60’s because these costumes instantly charm  people and make them happy. She explained that she uses the hippie styles and bright colors, to get people’s attention, get them to stop, take notice, then interact with her. Her entertaining and colorful costumes get them to smile,  then stop and listen to what she has to say and ultimately join in her efforts. These efforts are, ultimately, to make the world a better, happier, more functional place. These are the same ideals that propelled people in the late 60’s and early 70’s at the height of the hippie movement. The flower children of 1968 wanted the same thing for the world. They were idealists.

As Princess WOW! described her work I remembered that I had this amazing vintage 60’s giant paisley silk fabric pictured above. I have had it, packed away, just waiting for the right project for years! The colors are bright & beautiful. The paisleys are huge about 9″ to 13″ in length. The weight and drape of the silk is right for a costume of the sort she would like to wear. I could picture the entire thing in my mind’s eye, as they say, as she described her needs. I also just happened, luckily, to have quite a lot of this amazing fabric!

I could envision a long empire waisted , flower child/ princess gown with huge beautiful billowing ecclesiastical sleeves,  ~ part Elizabethan, part Chinese, part Penelope Tree 1968 fantasy flower child in a David Bailey photo shoot perched precariously on a Himalayan mountain peak, and part fairy tale princess.

I could instantly imagine people saying WOW! when they saw the giant silk paisley print pictured above as the long gathered skirt and the full sleeves of this amazing concoction combined with a strong, acid bright and highly textured magenta silk shantung crossed over in the front for the bodice. Then the whole dress lined and accented in a softer slightly lighter shade of magenta crepe de chine that would show here and there, now and then. I could imagine the inside of the gown as secretly beautiful and unusual as the outside! I say secretly so, because only the designer and the wearer of the finished gown will see the lining, and  the way the costume is structured and executed on the inside. And the way it is decorated, on the inside, just for them, with ribbons and tiny flowers made of ribbons.

The way a gown is made and how it is put together is extremely important in achieving the end result.  It gives it structure and body support for the figure within and makes a world of difference in the finished and final effect. I often add special touches that only the designer and the wearer will ever consciously realize are there. The wearer/performer gains confidence and self assurance from these details. She must be able to slip into her dress and go onto the stage without any further concerns as to how the dress may fit or move or look during her performance. She must be able to forget about all of that and simply concentrate on her music or her dancing or her acting …As a dancer I wore many performance costumes myself and became very aware of what was needed. As a performer one must be able to forget her costume when she is wearing it. It has to become a natural part of her.

I knew, in my mind, as described above, exactly what I wanted to do! This further included;

the addition of a giant obi sash/belt to be tied at the empire waist just under the bust, in a soft bias cut yellow ochre fabric with long trailing sashes,

making an optional use sequined silk organza overlay for the skirt (which will essentially easily create a second version of the costume that looks completely different from the first version) and can be used during concert to achieve an alternate effect easily,

outlining (and thereby enhancing the shimmering effect from the stage lights) the giant paisleys pictured above with tiny beads and sequins which I would have to sew on one by one by hand,

accenting that magical glittering effect even further, by strategically hand applying more of  sequins on the top layer of the organza overskirt.

Well, It is snowing today, and I am working on the costume!

And – at the end of the day, – when I look at the photo, again, of the paisley fabric I can also see large colorful Japanese carp swimming in a pond with bright flowers floating in it. And a beautiful crested bird. All of these images will influence  the formal final version of the dress when it is finished.

In this case,the concert costume designs arose from  discussion about what the flower children wore in 1968 and tangential associations I made between my experiences and the needs of the client, Princess WOW!


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