Saturday, February 6, 2010

Venice Carnival

Do you know what begins today, in a land far far away (from where I stand anyways)? The Venice Carnival! As it stands, it is on my list of things to do at least once in a lifetime.

Venice Carnival is very old. Already in 1094, it had been mentioned in Doge Vital Faliero de Doni's charter. It is also documented in 1269 by the Senate. After being forbidden by Napoleon, the Venice Carnival came back in 1979. Since 1980, it has been held in the way we know it today and tourists come by the hundred thousands every year to share in the festivities.

Masks are an important feature of the Venice Carnival. Once upon a time, the Carnival was the time of year for both nobles and plebs to mix and mingle. Wearing a mask ensured everyone's anonymity and annulling the social classes for a few days. Traditional Venetian Masks are made of leather or Papier Maché. It is an art and the maskmakers or mascherari hold a special status in the society.

Costumes were also worn for the same reason. These evolved quite a lot over the centuries. Although they were patched and worn to look like beggars' clothes in the 16th century, the costumes are usually inspired by the
Comedia dell'Arte. The traditional costume is the bauta, which is made up of three pieces: the tabarro, which is a black cape, the larva or white mask and the tricorne hat. The festival reached its peak in the 18th century, which is probably why styles from that time still hold the most influence over the modern Carnival costumes.

Now if like my Sweetheart you've never seen the costumes worn by Carnival goers, let me show you a few pictures to drool on and then you will know why I want to go.

Note: I choose to show only pictures of costumers wearing full faced masks to respect people's anonymity. As always, if you are in a photo and you want me to either give you the credits you deserve or take the picture off, just e-mail me.

Masquerade ball at the Carnival of Venice, photo from Wikimedia Commons

As soon as I saw that picture, I realised I have most of the materials used for the dress in my stash, that is the red and green taffeta, the green velvet and the gold braid. With the headdress' design, I feel inspired to make an Irish Dance solo dress. Sorry, I know this has nothing to do with the current subject (other maybe that Great Costumers think alike - in terms of fabrics).

Starting here, all the pictures I choose to present came from the 2008 gallery of There were just so many gorgeous ones, I would have wanted to show them all, so I strongly encourage you to visit their photo galleries.

Two Noble Men walking the streets, photo from

Lady of Summer Flowers, photo from

Purple and Yellow couple, photo from

Blue and Gold Lady, photo from

Two Ladies out for a walk, photo from

A Queen at Sunset, photo from

Lady of the Red Rose, photo from

Man of Gold, photo from

Silver and Gold Lady, photo from

There is something almost supernatural in seeing all these expressionless faces, especially paired with impressive dresses.

Can you guess which costumer I admire got to go last year? None other than Trystan! The lucky girl got the trip as a birthday present!

Trystan's Venetian Carnivale Costume

As always, she looked amazing in a Black and Hot Pink Robe à la Française (and yes, if you look closely, that is Sari fabric she used for the stomacher, skirt and engageantes).

By the way, Trystan and her husband Thomas also have website dedicated to another one of their passion, traveling: T&T's Real Travels. There they share their experiences as regular travelers, as well as photos and videos. They sell DVDs of each trip and it just so happens that they just finished editing their Venetian Carnivale experience. You can find it at If you are like me and you don't know when you'll be able to attend the festivities, this is an affordable way to get a taste of the real thing.

In the mean time, you can watch the preview with me:

I can only conclude by saying "I wanna go!!!".

Friday, February 5, 2010

Gypsies and Nobles: Costumes for "Le Tzigane au Croissant d'or"

I thought it was about time I showed you all that I did while I was working with the Fantasia Theatre Troupe. My main project with them was their production of an original play, Le Tzigane au Croissant d'or, a story about Gypsies, French Nobility of the mid 18th century, murder conspiracy and a hidden child. Each actor plays at least two characters, so there were over 90 costumes to make and only two months to do it all. To manage, we reused some pieces that the Troupe already owned, including all the pants, some skirts, a couple bodices, and a few gypsy men's shirts and vests.

I was the Costume Designer, which means I designed all the costumes, but as this is a small troupe with little budget, I also had to measure all the actors, shop for fabric and notions, and sew many of the costumes. Thankfully, I had three talented seamstresses on my team (one of which you know - I hired Nancy-Raven for the project). One of them took on the task of making all the shirts, aprons, coifs and sets of pocket hoops, another made the gypsies' bodices and skirts and the third took care of the noble men's waist coat and jacket. I took care of the noble women's dresses, the servant girls' jackets and the Arabian salesman's costume. For the second year of the production, we needed extra costumes due to some changes in the distribution. I had to make three extra dresses and sets of panniers, one of which I made for a man, something I had never done before.

Warning: this post contains lots of pictures!

Le Tzigane au Croissant d'or by the Fantasia Theatre Troupe

Cédric de la Rivière and Ben Bedaine

I love both of these costumes. The butler's outfit is all in blue tones. As his name is de la Rivière (river). I was especially proud with my fabric find for his jacket as it closely resembles something worn by the character of King Louis in Sacha Guitry's movie Si Paris nous était conté (1956). As for the Arabian salesman, I was once again influenced by fabric. He wears a very square shaped coat (with hidden pockets for all the stuff he has to sell), a white belted tunic and a fez hat (which I made myself, although not in the traditional manner).

(By the way I loved his striped coat fabric so much, I bought myself enough to make myself a dress similar to the ones I'm about to show you. It is one of my projects for this year.)

To save money, considering the number of new pieces that needed to be made, we reused many of the fabrics leftover in the troupe's costume store. People who had been there awhile were impressed to recognize the material from a costume they had worn before used in a whole new manner. I was told later on that it was probably the nicest costumes they had ever had and yet it was one of the lowest totals for that department.

All of the Noble women's dresses were made using leftovers.

Duchesse Marie de la Gemmeraie

That is one of my favourite dresses.

Comtesse Béraude de Roussignac - 2007

This actress didn't really like the colour of her dress (I thought it looked nice - I especially loved the layered engageantes - and made the red in her hair come out), so when I had to make another plus size dress for an extra in 2008, we gave the extra the green and orange dress and I made her a new one which she adored. I even let her help me pick the fabrics.

Comtesse Béraude de Roussignac - 2008

See how much happier she looks?

Dame Barbe de la Rochelière

This is another favourite of mine. Can you believe I found this gorgeous fabric in their stash, unused? After the premiere, this actress came to me a said that in her 25 years career, this was the nicest costume she had ever worn. I was extremely touched and proud.

Chevalier Gontrand de Roussignac and Agnès de la Dauversière

Every story needs romance; this is the couple of lovers of this one. This white dress is the only one with a separate skirt. All the other ones have a faux-underskirt front panel to make changing from noble woman to gypsy easier, but in her case as she is the star of the show, her skirt was fancier to begin with, so in the two minutes she had to change from gypsy to noble, we just ripped off the bodice and shirt, drop the dress over her head and put her in a set of panniers (all the panniers were sewn on an elastic waist band to once again make changes easier on everyone).

Some noble women for the ball:

Marquise Anne de la Petite Bretagne

Princesse Margarita Castafiore

Dame Flavie de Lionne

Damoiselle Mathilde D'Aubray de Castellar

Damoiselle Cunégonde Loiseleur de Chasteuil

Some of the girls were so nervous in the weeks before the premiere that they lost weight, so much so that we had to take in some of the dresses bodice the night before.

Damoiselles Adélaïde and Françoise de Roussignac

As these two are supposed to be sisters, I decided it would be cute to have both of them wear the same main colour for their dresses. Besides, we had so much of that lilac satin!

Young Gontrand and his sister, Damoiselle Françoise de Roussignac

Kids in period clothing: they are so cute, and yet they felt so weird wearing these fancy costumes.

Now on to some more masculine clothes:

Comte Napoléon de Touraine

Prince Paolo di Conti

Marquis Germain De la Haye

Cadéland Barthomiat, Sieur de la Grande

Sieur Geoffroy de Montargis

Abélard Jobin

He is the evil apothecary. We used dark grey Ultrasuede for his jacket so he would look dusty. Inside, he has rows of small pockets where he can hide his bottles.

As for the maids, I was very happy to make them bedgowns, a typical 18th century coat especially popular with the lower classes.

Isabeau de Poulaillon

Gervaise de Poulaillon

Antoinette du Chanteclair

Finally, we get to the gypsies. Instead of a historical look, I went for a more Ren Faire style because I wanted to really differentiate them from the maids and this is a fairytale after all.

Rachel and Louloudji

Livia the Gypsy

I don't want to sell the punch, but Livia and Agnès are one and the same.

Roustido the Magician


So what does it all look like once the show begins? See for yourself!

The Murder Conspiracy

The Ball

The Fat Lady Sings

Prince Paolo di Conti and his wife, the Princess Margarita Castafiore

In 2008, the role of the Castafiore (in reference to the Opéra singer in Tintin) went to a man who happens to be an amazing Soprano singer (you can hear him sing on YouTube). I had to make him a dress that not only matched the personality of the character, but was also as low cut as the other women's dresses without making him shave his chest (hence the lace shawl), and equipped with a fake bosom. It was an interesting challenge, but it as also fun, and I believe he loved his dress.

At the Dauversière Party

In 2008, the hairdressing department replaced the henchman's ugly blond wig with a turban. Being a SCAdian came in very handy: I had seen men wrapping turbans on their head at Pennsic and read about them while doing research for the Ben Bedaine costume. I was therefore asked to wrap the black turban on the actor's head every night before the show as I was the only one who knew how (and I managed to do it really fast).

Dame Barbe at the Ball

Gypsy Camp

It was a lovely experience. I hope to work again soon as a costumer, whether in theatre, dance, television, movie, or maybe even, at the Cirque du Soleil! I love the creative process, working with beautiful fabrics and seeing the result on stage. I'm crossing my fingers for my dream to come true.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Costumes on the Red Carpet: 52nd Grammy® Awards

I am long over due to talk about the dresses seen at last week-end's 52nd Grammy® Awards. This time, I didn't limit myself only to the Red Carpet as there were original pieces to be found throughout the evening.

So without further ado, here are my favourite (or the ones tat just popped out of the lot).

Carrie Ann Inaba on the Red Carpet of the 52nd Grammy® Awards

This first dress worn by Dancing with the Stars judge Carrie Ann Inaba isn't really a costume, but I loved the display of the current Origami trend. Looks good on her too!

Rihanna on the Red Carpet of the 52nd Grammy® Awards

Also very trendy are feathers and clothes that are meant to drastically change the silhouette. Rihanna pulls it off beautifully. But It does look like she is entering for the Miss Hoth pageant (for those of you who missed it, that was a reference to Star Wars).

Fergie on the Red Carpet of the 52nd Grammy® Awards

Sorry Fergie, I can't help it.

"Beam me up, Scotty!"

Imogen Heap on the Red Carpet of the 52nd Grammy® Awards

Talk about a girl of the 21st century! Imogen Heap's Twitter Dress apparently has a Wi-Fi connection, flashing lights, her necklace lets her tweet with her fans and her purse has an interactive screen. It sort of reminds me of some of the 1930's prediction for fashion (see Fashion Forward: Futuristic looks from the 1930's).

Also, I have to know where she got her umbrella: it is perfect for Sayuri's Winter Dance costume.

Ciara on the Red Carpet of the 52nd Grammy® Awards

Oh Ciara, Cher wants her clothes back!

I didn't really follow the show (Tout le monde en parle was starting again on that night), but one trend for performers is to arrive in one dress, have a costume to sing in (I can understand that), and then a different dress to accept your award in, I'm guessing because it was after their performances and they were then sweaty (I really don't know why, I'm just trying to guess).

For instance, here we have Beyoncé at the beginning of the evening:

Beyoncé on the Red Carpet of the 52nd Grammy® Awards

She is wearing a beautiful dress with Art Deco and Tribal tone on tone prints.

Then she changes for her performance (understandable):

Beyoncé performing at the 52nd Grammy® Awards

Interesting outfit, apparently made of leather and studs.

Finally, she has yet another dress to accept her award in:

Beyoncé accepting an award at the 52nd Grammy® Awards

At first I thought her dress was made of Pop-tabs, but it is actually layers of chains of different sizes. If this is all metal, it was probably heavy! But I've made up my mind: I'm making a Pop-tab dress and I'll see if I can get someone to wear it at an award show!

Speaking of constant costume changes, guess who also did it? My favourite, Lady GaGa of course!

Lady GaGa on the Red Carpet of the 52nd Grammy® Awards

Twinkle, twinkle little star... Unless she is a Cyclone. On thing is for sure, you have to admire anyone who can manage to walk with such shoes on!

Lady GaGa performing at the 52nd Grammy® Awards

It's space age looking, and it's Seafoam!

Lady GaGa with her awards at the 52nd Grammy® Awards

Ice Queen or Ice Capades? Get rid of the hat and this dress could be seen on the ice at the Vancouver Olympics!

Finally, I must mention P!nk's performance costume, if only because I am a huge fan of Bob Mackie's work.

P!nk performing at the 52nd Grammy® Awards

At first she looks like a 21st century Goddess.

P!nk performing Glitter in the Air at the 52nd Grammy® Awards

The she took off the dress, revealing the very revealing bodysuit and she soared up into the air.

Bob Mackie's original sketch for P!nk's "Glitter in the Air" outfit as seen at the 52nd Grammy® Awards

By the way, this is the original sketch by Bob Mackie (from his Facebook page). It looks awesome!

If you would like to see the performance again, just go to YouTube: Pink - Glitter in the Air - Grammy Awards