Costume-ology on the First Week of Bonnie and Clyde

Good grief I have become so lazy… This last week, I was getting up at 6:00am in order to join a carpool to work at 8:00, whereupon I’d work until 4:30pm, then carpool back home.

And I am so tired. Ha! No good excuses, except to explain that I have developed some horrible habits since my job at my former university ended, and screwing up my sleeping habits was high among them! By the time this last Friday came around, I was so tired at work my coffee was no longer effective, my eyes were watering, and it was all I could do just to keep quiet as I continually yawned…

But I have to say, I am having a blast!! I love this experience so far! The small group of people that I am working with on La Jolla Playhouse’s Bonnie and Clyde are really great–there were 6 costume technicians sewing in the shop–and we laugh and joke and debate together but we don’t waste time. Every one of us truly loves what we’re doing, and it’s fun to make things together, but we know we must remain diligent and on task. It’s truly a professional group of folk that can have fun and still get things done.

I’ve been hired as a Stitcher. In costume-shop-terms, that’s the member of a “cutting team” who is responsible for actually sewing the garments that have been previously patterned and cut out by other people. I assemble whatever pieces of the costumes I’m told to, as well as help complete the myriad of alterations that are needed on clothing already built.

Usually, a cutting team involves a Cutter/Draper as the leader. She translates the designer’s picture into reality, developing the pattern and cutting it out of craft paper. Then this person hands off the pattern to her assistant, also known as a First Hand who cuts the pattern out of the chosen fabric as well as all the linings & interfacings and such. Then it gets handed to me (the stitcher), and I assemble those pieces under their supervision. There may be several stitchers or first hands on a team, depending on how many costumes are assigned to it and the nature of the construction.

My experience in this shop is unique, since there are so few of us that there is really only one team. This week, we did mostly alterations, but toward the end we cut out some of the garments from the fabric that had arrived for us from New York City, chosen by the designer and his assistants who are selecting it from the plethora of options there in NYC’s fabric district.

At this point in the process of Bonnie and Clyde, the designer has already conceptualized what the costumes look like, drawn pictures, and had fittings with the actors using “mockups” (cheap versions of the costumes, usually out of muslin) that were altered and adjusted as needed. Now, the patterns have been tweeked and we’re actually assembling the garments for real out of real fabric.

The Costume Shop.  Sorry for the blurriness...

The Costume Shop. Sorry for the blurriness...

We have a lot to do… I’m not sure of the exact number of garments we have to build, but it’s somewhere between 9 to 11 different dresses and several miscellaneous pieces in about 3 weeks… All of them are period representations of 1930’s dust bowl fashion–charming and simple on the surface, but complicated and precise when you scratch under the surface. The colors chosen by the designer are in the sage greens, dusty roses, and rich browns that lend themselves to the antique feel of yesteryear. It’s going to be quite beautiful when it’s all done!

And so we press forward! This week, I helped repair several men’s suits from a rental house that were literally rotting away and in horrible shape, switched out a decrepit vest back for a new one, significantly altered a thick wool vest completely bound in knit ribbing, helped cut out two dresses (one of which was a linen-look asymmetrical plaid that was cut on the bias–ugh–which sadly had to be done twice because I messed up the first time), and assembled some mockup slips.

And I’ve listened to “The Lost Symbol” by Dan Brown on audiobook, as well as falling in love with the completely and totally enchanting “Inkheart” By Cornelia Funke (& read by Lynn Redgrave) that I am in the middle of and can’t recommend enough for bed-time storytelling to young girls. Any other suggestions for good audiobooks? Hard to find one on sewing…hehe…

And so. This coming week will be another adventure, and I will update you all on what I’m doing, with some pics and such. Relished Artistry is still coming along–not much to say on that front. I have to earn money to buy some lining to move onto my next projects. I am trying to figure out what I can make that’s more in the “affordable” range–$10-20, but haven’t hit upon anything yet. Perhaps I will stumble upon something soon.

Take care! Talk with ya soon! Live life with Relish!!

Brain Melt

I’ve had a busy, mindful couple of days. “Mindful?” you ask. Yep. My mind is full! I’ve had a lot of juicy conversations with a lot of folks all week long, and my brain is buzzing so much it’s tired.

I’ve had email exchanges with smart, savvy entrepreneurs (shout out to Michelle Sholund of By the Bay Botanicals), and received more comments on my blog than I ever have before (thanks Sister Diane, Gwen, and Michelle)! I’ve also been lurking around the Etsy forums commenting and picking the brains of different shop owners there. I joined the local San Diego Etsy team, and now have dozens of local etsy shops and blogs to go explore in my copious spare time (!).

I’ve been reading some other blogs that have interesting topics that have stretched my mental capacity, and found some wonderful resources I didn’t know existed (I’ll share those with you in the future–gotta explore them some more… hehe…)

I’ve found some websites of different clothing vendors that have made me turn green with envy and planted the seeds of determination, some of them local!! Talk about spurring one on to accomplishment–if they can do it and my stuff is just as good, then why can’t I?!?

On top of that, I’ve had some exchanges with some of my real life friends that have offered me some advice regarding the direction of Relished Artistry, and given me some really good food for thought regarding what I’m making and what I could potentially do with it in the future. Is more of a costume-bent in the future? Hmmm…

My problem now is that my brain is so full, I don’t know what to do next!!homer-simpson-wallpaper-brain

One never ending responsibility is to create more of a body of work, so when I feel myself getting “overwhelmed” with ideas I’ve been retreating back to my studio to concentrate on generating more items to sell. I could literally spend all my time on the internet, zooming around the blogosphere absorbing new thoughts and plans, but at a certain point my gas tank empties and I have to slow down to make a pit stop. My studio is my pit stop. No crew, no tires, no smelly fuel. It is a garage, though!

Now it’s time to DO, not ponder.  Well, at least ponder while I do.  Haha!

So that’s what I’m going to do at this moment: spend time in my studio, simply sewing. I have some projects that I need to complete, and some others that I want to start, and there’s no time like the present. It’s getting cooler in San Diego, and working out in the garage is quite comfy–I’ll eventually have to get space heaters to keep it warm, but I won’t worry about that yet. Right now, it’s crisp and cool and energizing!

So I’m off. To relish my life by enjoying my simple pleasures and add to my stock. And perhaps along the way my brain will sort out the next step. : )

Costuming and Fashion: One of these things is not like the other…

Okay this is bit of a long one. Wow, do I have a mouthful to say tonight! And it’s perfect to start out the new direction of this blog. AND it’s all about the latest episode of Project Runway, which aired Thursday, September 24.

The challenge for the designer/contestants was to create a look for a character in one of several movie genres: Western, Film Noir, Period, Science Fiction/Fantasy, and Action/Adventure. It had to be completed in one day, and they had $150.

When I heard the challenge, I thought “Cool! This is right up my alley!”

And then I saw the results, and I was reminded how frustrating it is to be undervalued as a costume designer in the face of the fashion industry.

Tonight’s blog is about the definition of “Costume”. What is a costume, really? Is it a subset of fashion? Is it a matter of degree? Or is it something altogether completely separate?

No. A costume is fashion. However, a costume is much more overtly defined by a purpose and function that fashion doesn’t have to deal with.

First, a costume has a purpose. In a sense, fashion does as well, but not as explicitly defined as a costume’s. A costume is worn as part of a larger, collaborative effort that has a clear purpose: a performance of some kind, whether it’s to a party or as part of a production that’s filmed or live. A uniform is also considered a costume: it clearly delineates a person as a part of a larger whole separate from everyone else.

Second, a costume (unlike fashion) must support the vision of how that purpose is expressed. That may be focused through the eyes of a particular director or team, a studio, a bride, a choreographer, a corporate executive, or even a government.

Third, the costume must meet the dictates of a host of different “parameters” that are inherent to the nature of the expression. Is it a script? A cultural ritual like graduation or a wedding? Is it the impression desired for a fast food restaurant? Or the functionality of camouflage in a combat setting? How much time, money, and personnel is there to assemble it?

My experience is in theatre. My designs are regulated by a host of logistics that I have little, if any, control over. These include the script, the concept of the piece, and the genre. The purpose of the event dictates how those logistics are dealt with–is it better to get the message of the play across by putting it in period or should we place Arthur Miller’s pilgrims from “The Crucible” on the moon? Does the language have a poetic quality that can be abstracted somehow (putting everyone in foam rubber, for example), or do we need to put everyone in Masterpiece Theatre realism?

Fashion doesn’t deal with these quandaries. Instead of a script, fashion deals with the parameters set down by one’s particular “Style Tribe”.

What’s a style tribe? It’s the difference between what the sorority girls wear and the corporate executives. The movie, “Legally Blonde”, was an exercise in demonstrating conflicting style tribes. Tribes are defined by social class, age, gender, climate, politics, philosophies, occassion, or any number of different factors. And there are subsets: colleges have a wide variety of style tribes, including the artists, the stoners, the business students, the jocks, the science geeks, and the aforementioned sorority girls.

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Each of these tribes comes with a host of what is “appropriate to wear” and what is not. Stepping outside the boundaries of what each tribe has determined as acceptable marks you as “not one of us”. (Incidentally, that’s why clothing can be terribly important to younger folk–fitting in is part of one’s self identity…) New Yorkers dress differently than Southern Californians. The Howells look different from Marianne and Ginger.

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You get the point.

The problem with this week’s challenge on Project Runway was that they asked people to design a costume for a character in a movie genre. What they really wanted was a piece of fashion that was influenced by a movie genre.

Two VERY different things.

How?

Let’s look at some movies that can help… These examples are costumes that were influenced by fashion. (Sometimes it’s helpful to look at the opposite situation.)  Please note that it’s a given in the costume design world that before the mid-1970’s, historical accuracy in film was “optional”. Some of our most beloved films that we regard as “period” are far from it.

For example: “My Fair Lady”. That musical is set in March of 1912. But you couldn’t tell that from the costumes: they’re about as 1960’s as you can get! Eliza’s traveling outfit, her Ascot Races dress, even her ball gown are all heavily influenced by the styles and fashions of 1964.

MyFairLadyDressCompare

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Another example: “Cleopatra”, with Elizabeth Taylor. Are you kidding me? Period accuracy would have warranted an X-rating. No, no, no… There was no such a thing as showing too much skin back in the Egyptian era…

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These examples below use costuming in a more appropriate manner.  These films purposely mix period styles and contemporary influences into a look all their own: Bladerunner, for example. This is a sci-fi movie that is incredibly influenced by the film noir genre, on purpose, as a choice. So much of it was straight out of the 1940’s it could have been filmed in black and white…

FilmNoirCompare

Or how about Moulin Rouge? Those costumes were purposely enhanced from their period-accurate originals to include splashes of bright, garish colors and contrasting textures. They started with research. They made them non-period when they wanted them to be. They purposely blurred the lines between period accurate representation of historical fashion and created their interpretations of it in costume.

Moulin-Rouge-Compre

Today, genre accuracy in costuming is a highly valued skill: Lord of the Rings, Shakespeare in Love, Mad Men, Titanic, Evita, Memoirs of a Geisha, Elizabeth: The Golden Age, Chicago, Milk, Schindler’s List, Dances with Wolves, Star Wars… All of these have their own parameters of what fits and what doesn’t, most of them dictated by what is appropriate historically or as part of the “vision” that makes the purpose of the film/TV program more clearly evident. It doesn’t have to be “real” or historically accurate, it’s what fits the parameters. Working from accuracy to non-accuracy as a choice. On purpose.

So. What did we get on Project Runway? We didn’t get genre accurate costumes.  We didn’t even get historical fashion with elaboration.  We got contemporary fashion inspired by movie genres. Without a real grounding in costume history, there was no way they could accurately represent these genres. Inevitably, they created “versions” of them that were clearly not accurately part of those genres at all…  Here’s a link to the pics of the final results.

Our contemporary sensibility doesn’t read contemporary-fusion into historical accuracy as a choice. It reads it as inaccurate, or wrong. Only when the degree of debarkation from the original period’s style is clearly strong enough to distinguish the difference do we accept it as a “take” or “interpretation” or “stylization” of what is, in our heads, the “real thing”.

There are too many that know too much to get away with faking it anymore.

I’m not advocating simply replicating the past. What’s the point in that? But what I am saying is that on this particular episode, the purpose/function was not made clear. They were designing for genres as style tribes, not as part of a production. They weren’t designing costumes, they were designing fashions that had costume elements.

It really, REALLY disturbs me that costume is somehow denigrated and considered “lesser than” by so-called fashionistas. Being a costume designer is HARD. You actually work with other people’s ideas and collaborate–a runway dress does not have it’s own opinions. An actor does!! Costuming requires a real operating knowledge of costume and fashion history, and the ability to implement it when appropriate, a lot of people skills and a host of other widely varied skills.

“Too costumey” as an insult? I think not. What about the retro movement? What about the up-cycling/second-hand movement? Goth? Punk? Rockabilly? And what about those Prada shoes that one wears to the office? Dressing up as costuming? Hmmm….

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“Costumey” is not synonymous with “inappropriate or overdone fashion”. It is not “too dramatic”, or “fake”. That’s insulting.

What is really at issue is how one personally determines when the degree of “dramatic flair” in one’s fashion sensibility is too much for one’s own taste, situation, etc.

And it’s funny how I look at runway shows today, and all I see is fashion dipping more and more into costuming’s dramatic flair by leaps and bounds, stretching that imaginary line of “appropriateness/too much drama” further and further. Given different defining parameters and purposes and logistics, those clothes would be considered costumes without any changes whatsoever.

It’s all about context.

In a sense, one could say that everything we wear is a costume, and that we pull attire from our closets based on outside parameters every day, depending on what we’re doing, or how we’re feeling, or the weather, or whatever… If anything, it seems to me that fashion is a contemporary subset of costuming, not the other way around.

And that’s my overly long 2¢.

Life life with Relish! And wear that costume well! : )