Adventures in Costuming; Juliet – Romeo & Juliet

I consider much of my childhood of very classical one, raised listening to Swan Lake, watching Masterpiece Theatre, being told fairy tales and operas by my mother. I knew the story of Aida at 4, my earliest idol was Cleopatra. I came to identify with the female character who chose death over disgrace. Possibly not the greatest role models for a young girl, and my feminist ideals are forever at odds with my adoration for tragic courtly love, the writings of Tennyson and art of the Pre-Raphalites, the Antigones, Aidas, Juliets taking their lives within the dim confines of a crypt.

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We all have those films that made an impact on us as a child. I had those from the sci-fi classics that many of my friends grew up with, Star Trek, Star Wars, Indiana Jones, however some of the most influential films for me were the costumed dramas of the 1940s, 50s, & 60s. I remember watching the Taylor and Burton version of Cleopatra with my mother. Gone with the Wind, Camelot, but the film that always stood out the most to me was Franco Zeffirelli’s Romeo and Juliet.

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Before the days of the play being the popular thing to hate on by thirty somethings who totally unabashedly loved the Luhrmann version when they were 12, or high schoolers forced to read it in ninth grade English, my mother introduced me to Romeo and Juliet. There was something about the vaguely claustrophobic nature of the play, the quiet isolation, two people thrown into a world of chaos and hatred finding sanctuary in one another.

I used to know the entire play line for line. I still know every line in the Zeffirelli film, which was dramatically cut. So when people want to repost memes about how it wasn’t a love story, it was about two teenagers who caused the deaths of seven people, signed anyone who read the play, keep posting your bitterness because it was assigned reading in high school English and you didn’t understand the language so you thought it would be cool later in life to deride it.

But they were two teenagers who killed themselves over a crush.

Shakespeare wrote Romeo and Juliet as fated to be together, destined to fall in love despite all odds and to die in order to end the strife between their families. Whether or not their love was ‘true’ by conventional means is irrelevant. Like many stories and myths of love, it was something that was out of their control. So ‘love at first sight’ doesn’t exist. Then all the writings of the poets should be similarly derided. This one gets hated on because people think it makes them edgy, and we all love mocking teenagers, right, much like the older generation loves mocking Millennials.

It also gets rather victim blame-y, which makes me want to give all of the side-eye. Really? Let’s blame a pair of teenagers for a feud that the adults around them keep fueling.

All too often I see people want to place the blame on Romeo, as if he were single handedly responsible for the tragedy when all he ever wanted was to love and be loved in return. Perhaps it’s a fanciful aspiration, but in a world where there is so much hate, to want above all else to love, how can one belittle or demonize that?

He fucks up. Majorly. He is still only a teenager, rash and emotionally driven. And in those moments of irrationality and blind rage becomes an unwitting participant in the hatred already threatening to consume the love and peace he desires.

He has become the very thing that he detests.

We see a boy, who mere hours before was joyously in love, wishing for death. He accepts that his actions are unforgivable, and that in killing Tybalt he has effectively killed their future and any happiness they might have had together.

Only when he is assured that there is still hope to be found does he accept that there is reason yet to live.

He goes into exile with the promise that he will see Juliet again, that it will all work out for them in the end, that they need to wait, to be patient. No matter how implausible of a notion that might be, it is enough.

We’re witnessing someone who already was right on the cusp of despair loose everything that made life worth living in the span of mere days. The hopelessness of his existence, a boy in love, exiled from his home, haunted by the deaths of his dearest friend and his new wife’s cousin, brought from the brink of suicide by the faint hope that one day he might be able to openly love Juliet as his wife. And within moments the light of that hope is gone, and there is nothing but darkness.

There is no hesitation. No great soliloquy, only the resolve that he will go to her grave and die.

His method is one that is swift, easy. A quiet end. He does not choose a death that would be glorified, he is no Antony dying on his sword, or Tristan dying for the sake of his beloved, but rather one befitting someone tired, weary of the strife and misery that has stolen all of his hope.

It is once again claustrophobic, private, voyeuristic.

As a feminist don’t you think Juliet’s suicide is off-putting?

Juliet is a type of feminist. She is a girl who takes her fate into her own hands, she sees an unappealing future with a man twice her age, life as a countess, and wife to Paris, and says no. Juliet sees a boy who cares not for the wealth she is born into, and suddenly she has a way out, a say in her future, and instigates the idea of marriage. While Romeo pursues her initially, she is the driving force behind their relationship, the one calling the shots, setting the boundaries.

Juliet is written as the most mature, collected, and strongest of all the play’s characters. She is cunning, driven. Her undoing is when all her carefully calculated plans, her risks, her strength is for naught. She is not yet 14, widowed, her options are to leave and become a nun as there is no place for her left in this world, or to die. And while that in itself is very problematic, one must remember that this a girl living in the Renaissance, she has very little voice of her own, her role in society is to be pretty and talented and witty and demure, a lady of refinement with little agency. In the play her husband is dead and her unwanted betrothed has been killed. And so Juliet takes her own life.

It has always been telling to me that Shakespeare gave Juliet the ‘noble death’. Of all the play’s characters, Juliet dies a classical death. As the play’s bravest character, it is only befitting that her death is one that classically would have been considered the most honourable.

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But the play romanticizes suicide.

I never saw their deaths as something to be envied. They were senseless, and avoidable. Something that could have been prevented if any of the adults around them had taken the time to have the same courage, compassion, or clarity that Juliet possessed. Throughout the play they are failed by those who they should have been able to rely on. Juliet’s Nurse betrays her trust the moment she fears she might be implicated in her involvement. Happy to play a role in their tryst until it became complicated. The same can be said of Friar Laurence abandoning Juliet in the crypt, unwilling to answer for his part once their plans were undone.

And so Juliet left alone, confused and heartbroken over why the boy she has given up everything to start a new life with is now dead, the finality of being confronted with the true end of all her hope and love and dreams, abandoned by all she trusted, she accepts that she will have the final say in her fate, and chooses death.

Their deaths were less about being unable to live without one another, and more that the only thing that was left that held meaning to them was suddenly, irrevocably taken away. There is a hopelessness there that anyone can experience. There is never a moment where they decide together that death is the answer. This is more of a modern misconception that they agree to some suicide pact in order to be united in death. They do not conspire to die to be together, they conspire to live together, they dream of a future that cannot ever be and then strive until the bitter end to make it work, that perhaps fate will finally be in their favour.

While the lovers do follow the more classical traditions of choosing death over the alternative–to quote Horatio, ‘I am more Roman than Dane.’–one must remember that our lovers were likely presumed to be Catholic, which would have made the prospect of them being reunited in death a rather uncertain thing. Where Juliet’s death is a sudden rash solution to an otherwise unappealing prospect, Romeo has hours to contemplate his demise, knowing full well the supposed sin of suicide, and still finds it a better alternative to living in a world without hope. Even in the crypt, Romeo questions his decision, distraught over his wife’s continued beauty in death, he is not enamoured with the idea of death, but believes that there is nothing left that is worth living for. If he is condemned to a life without love and hope, then he would rather risk the uncertainty of death.

The resulting peace is too little far, far too late. There is no salvation, no redemption, the surviving players are left with their guilt, their grief. There is finally peace, but at too great a price.

Why this essay on Romeo and Juliet? Because this play meant a great deal to me when I was younger, and even now, nearly 32, in a stable rather nonvolatile marriage, never having experienced the melodrama of young love, I still love it as much as I ever did.

It, along with a few other films, had a huge impact on me at an early age, helping instill my love for costuming, for history, for the arts.

We all have that thing that we have some inexplicable love for. I’m the person who has seen the story performed on stage in various settings, Prokofiev’s ballet, have tickets to Gounod’s Romeo et Juliette at The Met in January. This is my Phantom of the Opera.

As such, I had been planning for years now to recreate one of Juliet’s costumes. And while there is no age limit on cosplay, where Juliet is concerned, I fear I’m getting a bit too old to accurately portray a 14 year old girl as played by a 16 year old. When I made the decision to attend DragonCon this year I was trying to figure out what costumes I wanted to make with the limited time afforded me.

While my favourite of all the costumes Olivia Hussey wore as Juliet was the one she died in, the amount of detail work that would have required made it unfeasible with the given time constraints. The obvious choice was the dress worn during the ‘balcony scene’.

Arguably the least accurate of all the costumes worn by Olivia in the film, it has always been one of my favourites. I always figured it was supposed to be a type of undergarment, a 15th century negligee, but it was exquisite in its simplicity. We had only seen Juliet prior to this bedecked in yards of velvet.

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There have been some exhibitions featuring the costumes from the Zeffirelli film–many which have faded over time–I have never seen this particular costume on display. Perhaps it went the way of the infamous Princess Leia costume, lost to someone’s attic after a mishap at a fancy dress party. This made determining the colour of the dress rather difficult. Given that the scene was shot at night, the colour ranges from ivory, to a pale golden colour, to a soft peach. The material is also a bit of mystery. It seems to be obviously silk, and to me has always looked like dupioni, but again given the lighting, the age of the film, and the lack of reference photos that one cannot be for certain. I ultimately decided on a dupioni silk in buttercreme from Silk Baron.

The bodice in the film is embroidered with a gold thread. Given that I wasn’t going to be hand embroidering anything that close to DragonCon, but needing the fabric to match up, I used a gold Alencon lace overlay.

The pattern for the bodice was extremely modified from an old Renaissance Faire wench costume pattern I had stashed away. The skirt was essentially 2.5 yards of fabric gathered into cartridge pleats and stitched onto the bodice. The dress laces up the back with hand bound eyelets and cord.

I sewed the entire costume in about 4 hours one Friday night.

Wanting to match all the tiny details, I accessorized with a vintage gold chain bracelet and made a gold leather and rhinestone headband using Swarovski crystals. The wig was ordered from Wig is Fashion and the hair line was plucked to remove the widow’s peak lest I look like Morticia Addams instead.

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Realizing that I had around 2.5 weeks to work on costumes now that Juliet was finished, I began plotting to make Romeo for my friend and cosplay partner, Crystal.

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Who wore it better, Leonard Whiting or my cat, Baldwin?

I want to make some minor alterations and adjustments on her costume before we wear these again–Costume College 2017 is 1960’s themed–as I bought cotton velvet for it on the Saturday afternoon 6 days before I flew out for DragonCon and drafted and sewed that entire costume in a few hours. It was acceptable for DragonCon, but I want it to be perfect before Costume College.

Now if only I didn’t feel like an old hag while wearing Juliet. I never realized how gaunt I was until I wore a long straight wig for a few hours.

I’m going to end this whole costuming blog post that turned into a dissertation on the play by mentioning that my favourite character is Tybalt.

Wait, what?

Yes, the Prince of Cats is my favourite Shakespearean character. Why? I relate to him. Most productions only portray Tybalt as the antagonist, the perpetrator of the violence that ultimately leads to everyone’s demise. However, Juliet’s Nurse refers to him as the best friend she had, so we’re only see a small aspect of his personality in the play. As someone whose default settings are either chill as all fuck or I will burn everything you love to the ground I sort of empathize with him. Maybe it’s just me. Fine.

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Photography by Robby Idol Photography and Joseph Chi Lin.

Adventures in Costuming; Evolve, Stop Complaining, or Step Aside.

Every couple of months someone decides to post an article attempting to further the rift between an older generation of ‘costumers’ and people they perceive as fame hungry, Japanophiles who have so many resources from fabric, to themaplastics, and 3-D printers, to heaven forbid the internet full of screen shots and reference images, detailed exhibits and interviews with costumer designers wanting to share their technique and vision that they’re somehow cheating and ruining the costuming of yore.

I’ve been at this hobby for a long while. Before I attended my first con, before I knew what cosplay even was, I had been making costumes, dressing up as my favourite characters. I’ve watched cosplay transform from being this secretive hobby that none of us wanted to admit we were taking time off from work to spend a weekend dressing up as fictional, to something that is so in the public eye that when I leave for DragonCon, my boss asks me for photos upon my return.

People look back on the past with nostalgia. I do it, we all do it. I look at the first cons I attended, the first costumes I wore, the way that I could stay in costume for 12 hours and found no discomfort in doing so. These days, I can barely keep a wig on for more than an hour before wanting to claw it off my head. That nostalgia will cloud your memories so you only focus on the good, but this hobby has always had its pettiness, its cattiness, the jealousy, those hungry for fame and happy to ruin the reputation of anyone in their way. While I wasn’t around 40 years ago to participate in costuming events, I can only imagine there was still jealousy and drama because no matter how things evolve people will always have the potential to be awful to one another.

While I do lament the loss of the magic that conventions once held for me when I was younger, I also accept that the hobby as a whole has evolved in ways that many of us could have never imagined. I walk into a con these days and see costuming and builds that are beyond movie quality, the amount of time and effort and passion that people put into what they create is astounding. And yes, you can say that cosplay–or costuming as it were–is being destroyed by those who are in it for fame, those buying likes on Facebook, and flooding their Instagram accounts with scantily clad photos and offering ‘premium content’ for Patreon contributors. However, it has always been an aspect of this hobby, and for every fame driven teenager posting photos of herself in a bra holding a PS4 controller, there are thousands of well adjusted individuals who are creating amazing costumes.

There is this idea that unless you’re young and sexy then you’re going to be unwelcome in cosplay. I’m nearly 32, whatever ‘fame’ I ever had was only enough to have people spread unfounded rumours about me on internet forums a decade ago. I continue to sew costumes, and cosplay at conventions and events because I enjoy it, and if you look beyond the perceived fame, that’s what most of us are doing. We’re making costumes, like the ‘costumers’ of yore because we fucking enjoy doing it. I never made any monetary gains through cosplay, but it did introduce me to many of my friends, my husband, helped me with my own self confidence.

The hobby has evolved, and yes costuming has become more commonly termed cosplay. Does it truly matter in the end? I consider a lot of what I do ‘costuming’ but still am a cosplayer. Continuing to drive this rift over semantics is truly childish, it’s petty. Yes, educate people on the origins of cosplay, tell them about the early days of costume conventions, but in treating ‘cosplayers’ as some blight upon the costuming community at the end of the day makes you part of the problem.

I could never look at the things that people create in a derisive nature and say, ‘Well, back in my day this wouldn’t have been acceptable.’ Evolve, stop complaining, or step aside.

Adventures in Costuming; Princess Daphne – Dragon’s Lair

I was first introduced to Dragon’s Lair at a beach arcade. It was the summer of 1994. I was never very good at the game–seriously, play Dragon’s Lair, it is maddeningly frustrating to this day–but the ridiculousness of Princess Daphne’s character design always stayed with me.

Oh the early days of gaming, the sex farce damsels in distress in their Barbarella worthy attire. I don’t know what it was about Daphne that I always loved, probably the way she was floating around in that bubble in her luminous glittering caftan.

I first debuted this costume at DragonCon 2010 but was never particular happy with it, so I decided that I’d reprise it six years later.

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The body suit is latex and was made by Collective Chaos. They do custom commissions, as well, for a fairly reasonable price, so if you ever need latex, hit them up. I did not go for a custom measured piece due to time constraints, however in retrospect I probably should have or at least sized down to an XS as the halter wasn’t as form fitting as it should have been.

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The crown was made by Theater Didymus and attached to the headband with Worbla. That luminous glittering caftan was made from 4 yards of a black and silver lurex. The wig was an eBay find from when I cosplayed her in 2010.

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A fun costume to wear, though I plan on altering the halter before I wear this again.

Photography by Robby Idol Photography.

Adventures in Costuming; Fire Keeper – Dark Souls III

When I first saw the promotional video for Dark Souls 3 that featured the Fire Keeper, I was immediately intrigued. Upon release, I put off buying the game for a couple of weeks while I studied for a state exam that was crucial to my career, listening to my friends scream and curse their way through the game. When I finally did download the game onto Steam, I was almost immediately derailed by my sudden decision to make the Fire Keeper for AnimeNext. I had been selected to judge the performance portion of the World Cosplay Summit US Preliminaries and wanted to make a new costume for the event. I was also in the process of planning a trip to Jerusalem, and a short weekend trip, so my time was very limited. This costume would prove to be as maddeningly frustrating to complete as the Dark Souls 3 gameplay itself.

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After some deliberation, I ordered ten yards of a charcoal grey polyester crepe from Mood Fabrics, a package that the USPS immediately delivered to the wrong address. My attempts to intercept it were in vain, and it was ultimately sent back to New Jersey before being redelivered to my address. This set my progress back by at least a week. A portion of the lace that I had ordered for the dress from China was marked as delivered to my address and promptly lost by the USPS.* All attempts to recover the package have failed. I reordered the same lace, paid for EMS shipping, and received the package only days before AnimeNext due to the seller charging me for EMS and sending the package standard.

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Once the charcoal grey polyester fabric was delivered, I began drafting out the costume using a modified Butterick Pattern B4827. I had hoped that I would be able to manipulate the fabric to give it a heat distressed look, and was very successful in doing so by heating the fabric at high temperatures. The hemline of the skirt, cloak, and sleeves were all distressed in this manner. The costume was then airbrushed with various shades of browns and greys to give it a weather, singed, and ash covered appearance. It was perhaps the most fun I’ve had making a costume in years. The chance to make what would have been a beautiful medieval gown and turning it into something tattered and aged. The dress was worn over an altered bodysuit from We Love Colours and airbrushed with a faint lace pattern to replicate the in-game look. The arm wraps are suede lamb skin leather.

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My favourite part of this costume is of course the mask.The base is a Worbla covered foam. Wanting to make the mask as intricate as possible, I used metal instead of Worlba to create the designs, and spray painted silver before giving it an aged patina with acrylics. The mask is inlaid with a Swarovski aquamarine crystal.

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The wig is from Wig Is Fashion and was styled into a loose fishtail braid before being bound with leather.

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I finished this costume almost a week prior to AnimeNext despite all the shipping setbacks and my own travel, making it one of the fastest costumes I’ve completed, and also one of my favourites. While I was only able to wear it around the convention centre for about an hour before I was called into judging, it was pleasantly very well received from a large number of Dark Souls fans, many who asked it they could level up, went through the motions when taking photos, and I was even chased up the escalator by a very charming Solaire cosplayer for a photo. Praise the Sun.

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Photography courtesy of Joseph Chi Lin and PhotoNinja.

* 3 months later we hear a knock at our front door around 11 PM on a Friday night. My husband goes to answer it and there waiting on our doorstep are the two lost packages which had been misdelivered back in late April to the wrong address. I can only figure that they were placed in a vacant mailbox and when the new tenants moved into our building they were kind enough to finally deliver them to our address.

Adventures in Costuming; Open for Commissions

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Starting today I will be opening myself up to a limited number of costume commissions.** I am open to costume recreations as well as original concept designs. My approach to cosplay has always been translating designs from media into beautiful couture inspired pieces. As such I will unfortunately have to be selective on what commissions I accept. There are many talented costumers out there who specialize in comic book costumes, however that is not my style of approach. If you are interested in commissioning a costume from me, please submit the requested info below so that we may discuss pricing and the overall process.

If you are wanting something created exclusively for you, please give a description of what type of costume you would like designed.

I ask for budget because in the era of mass marketed Chinese cosplay pieces, I’ve met too many people who believe they can commission an entire Robe a la Francaise for under $100. The rest of the information is used so that I might accurately begin working out the pricing for materials and fabrics, as well as plan for the amount of fabric needed. More detailed measurements will be required once the commission has been accepted.

Thank you for your interest and time.

** I will not be attending Dragon*Con 2016. As such, I am free to take on a limited number of costumes that would be guaranteed finished prior to the convention if received prior to July 5th.

Adventures in Costuming; Mathias Cronqvist – Castlevania: Lament of Innocence

In the words of Psycho Mantis, ‘You like Castlevania, don’t you?’

A few months ago while making plans to attend MAGfest, I decided that I needed to put together vampire Mathias Cronqvist. I had previously made a Mathias costume for ROFcon last March, however the costume lacked that added appeal of being able to wear vampire fangs and vaguely creepy makeup, and so began the task of finally making yet another costume I’d been wanting to make for over a decade.

I spent a few weeks over the winter holidays perusing various silks. Jacquard, devore velvet, several hundred sari fabrics. I ordered a few swatches from B & J Fabrics in NYC, none of which were the right shade or design once they arrived. The in-game design is a little different from the artistic rendering, and so I kept deliberating between going with a dark  brown for the robe or black.

At this same time I finally acquired a copy of Ayami Kojima’s artbook, and for the first time was able to see the colours of this costume without the distortion of having been scanned and the robe looks decidedly darker if not true black, the colours all a bit more vibrant. Pictured below, the scan that is not true to colour.

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The robe was draped from muslin onto my dress form, and patterned out. Due to my petite build, I wanted to keep the robe very slim and fitted through-out, while maintaining the fluid lines of Kojima’s artwork.

The robe is a black devore velvet with emerald green embossed devore velvet as contrast and is lined in a chocolate brown silk fabric to give a little depth to the semi-sheer black devore.

The sleeves are a black silk velvet and accented with custom dyed green silk ribbon and glass pearls. The ribbon was pinned and interwoven together in a diagonal criss-cross pattern on the sleeve before being gathered individually with a needle and thread, and secured with a pearl. This process was extremely time consuming, physically draining, and collectively took 8 hours to complete both sleeves. This process was repeated on the black contrasting lapels.

The robe fastens with hidden hook and eyes, and is accented pewter clasps with antique gold chain.

I wanted to keep the textures interesting and varied, using a coarse raw silk for the faux slashed sleeve accent, and an ivory silk jacquard trimmed in Czech woven ribbon for the sash. I purchased various vintage trims from Etsy to add to the robe, some of which I hand embellished with glass pearls for additional detail.

The cape is 4 yards of black silk velvet lined in dupioni silk and trimmed in black fox.

I wanted to focus on the small details, allow the costume to come to life through textures and accents from the tiny pearls, to the custom chain belt I had commissioned–which I sadly forgot to wear while doing photos at MAGfest. This is why you always look at the reference art before leaving the hotel room no matter how well you think you remember the design. I didn’t realize I’d forgotten to put it on until after our sunset photoshoot when a friend was looking at the all the details on my costume. I was so let down when I realized that I’d left out one of the tiny details because of my own carelessness while putting on the costume.

No one else noticed, no one else would care, or will care, but for me I’m still sort of disappointed in myself whenever I look at my photos.

The wig is an A-Plus Ozone lace front wig in dark brown, and the fangs are custom from Kaos Kustom Fangs, which does mail orders with an extremely fast turn around. I got mine in about two weeks from the day I ordered the dental molding kit and they were delayed a few days by the arrival of Winter Storm Jonas.

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We shot at sunset to take advantage of the lighting, and I’ve always been a fan of the Bram Stoker’s mythos of vampires being able to walk in the daylight though weakened as I prefer my vampires eerily human, evolved into something darker, the subtle flash of fangs behind smiles, that even in daylight no human is entirely safe.

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Overall, I’m pleased with the outcome of this costume, and look forward to shooting it again when I’m not forgetting part of my costume.

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I have such an inexplicable love for this character. A Christian knight with a irreconcilable darkness, driven to madness with the death of his wife, damning himself to become Dracula. Sadly, this may mark the end of my Castlevania costumes, as the series is pretty much dead courtesy of Konami destroying every franchise they held, unless I decide to cosplay Soma Cruz, bringing this whole thing full circle.

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Photography by PhotoNinja.