I will be completely honest: I have not yet seen the film “Bohemian Rhapsody”, the new biopic about singer Freddie Mercury and the band Queen. Having been fortunate enough to have seen Queen in concert during the mid 70’s, I know that my opinion will be clouded by preconceptions and comparisons to the real deal. When I saw them in concert, it was at a relatively small venue that accommodated maybe 500 people as opposed to the later performance venues consisting of football stadiums that could fit 100,00 plus souls. It was a time when Freddie still sported that sexy shag hairdo that gave him the air of a sensuous Persian Prince and not the obnoxious crew cut and mustache which gave him the air of a convenience store employee working the night shift at 711 or a leather cruiser at the Catacomb Club of San Francisco.
But the story I am about to tell, no doubt transpired during this time; Since it was at this performance that Freddie was sporting onstage a fashion confection that was a result of a creative collaboration between himself and another product of London’s early 70’s glam scene: Fashion Designer Zhandra Rhodes.
Now a bit about Dame Zhandra first: She is one of these creative dynamos who moved back and forth seamlessly between the wearable art world and high society fashion. She was a textile artist who first came into the public consciousness by designing the engagement dress of Princess Anne (Charles’ Sister, Prince Harry’s Aunt). This was really quite an accomplishment at the time. Zhandra Rhodes was a product of London’s Swinging 60’s, while the Princess Royal still used her Mother the Queen’s couturier. So her choice of designers for the most important day of her life was nothing short of a youth quake and the result was an ethereal fashion fantasy which still holds up today.
From there Dame Zhandra went on to design costumes for early glam rock stars like Mark Bolan, then for operas, other royalty, celebrities etc etc. On personal note, I had briefly seen Ms Rhodes at an opening night performance of ‘Giocconda’ at the San Francisco Opera in 1979. She was wearing a lampshade on her head and her hair was dyed purple. Really. Quite a sight to behold. I had also seen several years later, her costumes for the San Diego Opera’a ‘The Magic Flute’. Her use of color and texture were a feast for the eyes but in no way upstaged Mozarts beautiful music.
But I digress: thanks to Dame Zhandra’s zig zagging professional trajectory, it was only natural that her path crossed with Freddie Mercury’s. According to her, it all began when the phone rang at her studio. It was Freddie saying that he and Queen guitarist Brian May needed costumes. They met up at her studio later that evening, where she had Freddie and Brian try on a variety of tops, having them moving about to get a feel for how the garments would translate onstage. Freddie was drawn to one particular gown which was meant to be a wedding dress for another client. He loved how the pleated fabric draped on his body as he moved. So Zhandra, in a thunderbolt of inspiration, took a pair of scissors to the waistline and Voila! The gown became a tunic and Freddie said yes to the dress!
Brian May also benefitted from Zhandra Rhodes’ sartorial creativity, she confected a very colorful custom painted tunic whose sleeves we engineered in such a way that it would not interfere with his virtuosic guitar playing. Thinking about this heady collaboration between these two iconic entities, it got me to think why she never collaborated with that other Glam Icon: David Bowie. I did a pretty extensive internet search with no results, so one can only speculate as to what might have been.
So yes, that night in 1976, in that small crowded theater in San Francisco, I was fortunate enough to see Queen make their US debut. It was a blindingly theatrical show featuring strobe lights, special effects and of course, Freddie’s pleated tunic. Freddie had a stage presence almost like Bowie’s. According to Ms Rhodes, the tunic has since been banished into the costume food chain and is now experiencing a second life as a rental piece at an Oklahoma costume warehouse. Considering the way costumes are refurbished at those place, I fear that Freddie’s tunic is only a shadow of its former self and no longer viable.
But, Dame Zhandra did collaborate with “Bohemian Rhapsody” costume designer Julian Day, to reproduce the infamous tunic. She even reproduced several copies to be exhibited in theatre lobbies around the world. So please enjoy these images and perhaps now that I have published this post, I may actually go out and see the movie after all. Pre-conceptions optional!
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We are all familiar with the ubiquitous family of reality TV. But they were not the first set of siblings whose good looks and social connections made them fodder for social commentary and scandal. Back in the 17cc there existed a brood of Franco-Italian cousins and sisters whose comings and going would give the Kardashians a run for their money.
Let’s look at the similarities first so that we can better understand the comparison: Like the Kardashians these girls and one brother were part of a large extended family. They had a patriarch who enjoyed wearing dresses, although I must point out that the 17cc patriarch’s dresses were more ecclesiastical as opposed to Caitlyn’s designer gowns. Think moreCassocks & Miters as opposed to Dolce & Gabbana. Like the Kardashians, they were ubiquitous in every sense of the word. Their lives were the subject of tabloid gossip, often times re-enacted publicly in commedia dell’arte satires for the masses to enjoy. I am sure that if the videocam had existed back then, at least one of them would have wound up on a home made sex-tape.
The Mazarinettes, with their Southern Italian good looks made for a shift in what was considered a standard of beauty for the 17th cc. The same way that the Kardashian’s dark haired mediterranean beauty and voluptuous physiques created an impact on 21st cc sensibilities. Up until each respective clan made their appearance on the scene, the zeitgeist of both times was the frail/fair slender gamine. This brood made their impact on what was considered aesthetically acceptable centuries apart from the Kardashians. But I think that’s where the similarity ends and for my money, I think that the Mazarinettes story is much more compelling than their reality TV counter parts.
The girls earned their name from their Uncle, Cardinal Jules Mazarin who was the King Regent during the minority of LouisXIV and was later the chief counsel to the King once Louis was all grown up. Such influence made the Cardinal one of the most powerful men in France and as the cliche goes: It’s lonely at the top. So in order to address his need for companionship, the Cardinal decided to bring his family over from Italy and set his nieces up in pivotal positions throughout the royal houses of Europe, thereby increasing his sphere of influence. This was accomplished by arranging important political marriages along with sizable dowries and sometimes just downright pimping them out to important members of the Sun King’s court.
So let’s start out with how this Italian clan got their foothold on one of the most important royal courts of Europe.
Jules Mazarin himself was no slouch;In his early years he studied profusely at university and developed a talent for ingratiating himself to powerful and influential men. One of these being Cardinal Richelieu of France (yes, the same guy in the Monty Python skits). In those days men of modest means but noble lineage were able to climb their way up the social ladder through the church. Following the deaths of Richelieu, then Louis XIII, he proceeded to rule France through the regency of Anne of Austria, Louis XIV’s mother.
The rest, they say, is history. Cardinal Mazarin worked hard to secure his place in the French Court and as mentioned earlier, one of the means to his end was to bring in his comely nieces from Italy. The first batch to arrive were Marie, Hortense and Olympia. Followed by a few years later by Laure, Anne-Marie, Marie-Anne (not a typo) and a distant cousin Philipe-Jules. Thanks to the Cardinal being in good graces with Anne of Austria, the Queen Regent took this young brood under her wing and made sure that they were on equal footing as the Princes of the Blood.
Each one of these individuals has their own unique story but I think that the two most compelling were Hortense and Marie Mancini. For starters, the Mancini clan was able to trace their family lineage back to the Roman Empire via the Consul Lucius Hostilus Mancinus who fought Hannibal in one of the Punic Wars. The girl’s father, Baron Lorenzo Mancini was an alchemist who practiced astrology and necromancy. The mother was the sister of the Cardinal and was the one who requested that her daughters be sent to Versailles following the death of her husband under mysterious circumstances. It brings to mind another dark magician who met a tragic demise: Jack Parsons,but we need to save his story for another blog.
From their portraits one can see that these girls had a light in their eyes that captivates the viewer and undoubtedly had the same effect on the gentleman (and a few ladies) of the court. Marie Mancini’s story is the most poignant for having been the first “girlfriend” of a young Louis XIV. Thanks to her socializing with other Princes of the Blood, she was able to develop a “puppy love” relationship with the young Dauphin. So much so that youngLouis actually wanted to marry her. But neither her uncle the Cardinal nor Louis’ mother, Queen Regent Anne, were going to allow any of that; Both adults were interested in a more politically important alliance with another superpower at the time, so Louis wound up marrying the Infanta Maria Theresa of Spain. No matter that Marie could trace her bloodline back to Ancient Rome! Neither the Queen Regent nor the Cardinal thought that Marie’s lineage was exalted enough to marry the future King of France. And so the cookie crumbles. However, in the end Marie wound up OK. Her uncle had secured a marriage with a guy named the Duke of Colonna who on his wedding night was surprised to find that his bride was still a virgin! It appeared that even though Marie had many admirers, they were all affairs of the mind.
Louis XIV, having had his lovers crush undone by the grownups, decided to console himself by entering into a romantic relationship with Marie’s sister: Hortense. Now this girl is definitely one for the books! Hortense was a girl of many talents and misadventures. After playing holler back girl to the Dauphin, she then took up with a political refugee from England who was exiled in the French court. A guy named Charles Stuart. Like Marie with Louis, Hortense fell head over heels for this young English swain. But this time her uncle thought that this penniless guy who had no prospects, was unworthy of his niece and so forbade the union. But then the fickle finger of fate saw Charles reinstated on the English throne as Charles II and the cardinal realized he made a mistake. He made a counter offer to Charles along with a handsome dowry if he would take back Hortense. But Charles had moved on, or so it appeared.
The Cardinal continued to drive a hard bargain in the attempts to marry his favorite niece off to other influential heads of Europe but alas, striking out every time. The fact that Hortense was a bit of a party girl who enjoyed flirtations with both men and women did not help to bolster her cause. However, the Cardinal (and Hortense) finally managed to bag an up and coming aristocrat who was also the richest man in Europe. Enter Charles de La Porte de La Meilleraye. This mouthful was not only the richest man in France but he was also a nephew of the late Cardinal Richelieu, Cardinal Mazarin’s first mentor.
So on the surface though it appeared to be a good match, it proved to be anything but. Eight days after her wedding, Uncle Jules died, leaving Hortense a vast chunk of the family fortune, now making HER one of the riches people in France. Unfortunately what would have looked like a fortuitous circumstance would unravel into a nightmare for poor Hortense. That’s because her husband, Armand, was conservative, repressed, reactionary and cruel. Think of someone who was a cross between OJ Simpson and Ted Bundy and you get the picture. He was a total foil to Hortense’s vivacious, popular personality. I am not even going to list here the misogynistic actions of this creep. Just google his name if you want to know more.
But our heroine, Hortense would have none of this and immediately flew into the arms of another-woman. Can you blame her? It was another French aristocrat by the name of Sidonie de Courcelles. They were both only sixteen! So you would think her husband would find this amusing but no, he wound up locking them both up together in a convent where they continued their affair. This time wearing nun’s habits no doubt. Bad move dude on the part of De La Porte if you ask me.
So thus began a convoluted sexual odyssey for our heroine. She escaped from France disguised as a man and would continue to rely on cross dressing whenever she needed to make a quick get away. During her exile in England, she took up again with here old flame, Charles II AND one of his daughters. Anne, Countess of Sussex was her name. Hortense’s relationship with Anne was so volatile that they actually once settled a score with a public fencing match in the middle of St James’ park wearing only their nighties! Much to the delight of the gentlemen strolling through the park. The only comparison I can think of would be if Meghan Markle and Katherine Middleton engaged in a mud wrestling match in the middle of the Serpentine at Kensington Park. That’s the level of scandal we are referring to. Hollywood where are you?
Somewhere along the way she reconnected with her other sister Marie ( who was also miserable in her marriage albeit not as badly as poor Hortense). For awhile the two sisters lived in the court of the Sun King under his protection. The girls began shuttling around between the capitals of Europe in an effort to escape the claws of psycho Hubby Armand. It should be noted that in every city where these girls sought refuge, their homes would be transformed into Salons offering a venue for popular artists and writers of the time. But alas, Mr Personality kept rearing his ugly head and making poor Hortense’s life a living hell.
Later on Hortense would have an affair with Louis I of Monaco (yes, a Grimaldi whose descendant married Grace Kelly) and so on and so on. She lived out the rest of her years in England under the protection of subsequent monarchs and engaging in the profligate lifestyle to which she had become accustomed, until her death in 1699.But as the saying goes, there is no rest for the wicked and upon her death, hubby from hell reappeared and had her body exhumed so that he could take it back to France. So that she could be given a proper burial? Noooo…..boys and girls. So that he could keep the decomposing corpse by his side as he traveled through France. Yep, until royal decree demanded that he finally bury her.
Some relationships are hard to shake but this is ridiculous!
The rest of the “Mazarinettes” lived flamboyant lifestyles and also caused scandal throughout the courts of Europe. But their antics paled in comparison to those of Hortense and Marie. Thanks to their Uncle’s machinations and the sizable dowries he bequethed, the girls were able to secure some good catches. Their husband’s names reads like a history book of who’s who in the 17cc. I focused mainly on the two Mancini sisters because their lives were so unbelievable. Being that this is a costume blog, I also wanted to focus one the court costumes of Hortense. Since she was the one with the high profile lifestyle, she became a bit of a Fashion Plate and this sensibility was obviously reflected in her style of dressing as shown in the pictures posted here.
The Early Baroque/Restoration period was a transitional one in every sense of the word. Almost every costume conceit imaginable was represented on the style of dress. And you can see the transitory nature of this period in the different styles of dress worn by Hortense. In her earlier portraits you can see here trussed up in ribbons from the late Italian Renaissance and from there she goes to exposing a nipple which was a typical conceit of the French Mannerist painting style. In Louis’ court you see her in a very elaborate riding gear ready to engage in ‘La Chase’ with the Sun King. Finally there are the later ’swooning gowns’ of the Restoration court of Charles II. These dresses gave the wearer a ‘disheveled’ appearance with the bodice pulled down to almost exposing a nipple. Yes, these gowns were engineered to fall right off the body at a moments notice in order to facilitate an intimate trust with his majesty whoever he or she may be.
Another highlight of my visit to the David Bowie Is exhibit was the fact that the Brooklyn Museum is also home to the iconic installation by Judy Chicago called ‘The Dinner Party’. This groundbreaking example of feminist art had been on my bucket list since its debut in 1979. Since it’s premiere, the art piece made the rounds of all the famous museums of the world and somehow I would always keep missing it. In 2002, the installation finally found a permanent home at the Brooklyn Museum, so being that it coincided with the DBI exhibition I was doubly motivated to attend.
This is one of those installations that is so spiritual and so moving, it felt like I was visiting the Sistine Chapel or some other holy place of great importance. The story of this work is virtual dinner party attended by important women who had been overlooked by history. Each setting represented one of these women and on the tiled floor where written in swirling letters the names of other women who were somehow related to the invitee. For example below the place setting for the author Mary Wollstonecraft was the name of her daughter Mary Shelley.
Although Judy Chicago was a classically trained artist with an MFA from UCLA, she desired that this particular work of art be created using materials and techniques traditionally and condescendingly referred to as “Women’s Work”. Sewing, embroidery, pottery, weaving were used to create each place setting in a beautiful presentation. Ironically, these skills are still looked down upon by the patriarchal mindset of the art world and it is something that I have personally experienced in my career as a designer. Its always been my opinion that if women were mechanics and men were seamstresses, a pair of jeans would set you back 30k while an automobile would be sold for clearance at Walmart for $19.99! So kudos to Judy for elevating these skills to a high art form that is respected and appreciated. The irony was not lost on me as I took in the exhibit that in another room in the same building they were honoring the costume makers who helped to create the persona of David Bowie.
This opus started as a labor of love for Judy, she was inspired to create art that would not only honor the memory of these forgotten women but to also, as mentioned previously, elevate women’s skills that had been relegated to the category of ‘crafts’, to the realm of fine art. It was a process that took years to create, thanks to the efforts of 400 volunteers who worked tirelessly to create this epic. When it finally premiered in 1979, it was universally panned: one misogynistic wind bag (who also happened to be a well known art critic whose name will not be mentioned) crudely dismissed it as “vaginas on a plate”. After the show closed she was $30,000 in debt and the laughing stock of the art world. But out of every crucifixion comes a great resurrection and over time the installation began to tour all over the world to mounting critical acclaim. Until it finally found a permanent home at the Brooklyn Museum.
Each dinner setting features the name of the guest and her plate is in the shape of a vulva. Like the vulva, each plate is unique and no two are alike as are the richly embroidered table cloths underneath. The guests include actual historical figures like Eleanor of Aquitaine and Margaret Sanger, but also mythical ones such as the Primordial Goddess and Kali. I honestly wish that I could show pictures of each and every one of those place settings because of their unique beauty and detail, but alas, after my altercation with the security guards and the Bowie exhibit, I was trying to stay on my best behavior.
I have highlighted some of guests who resonated with me personally. But I encourage all of those reading this to take the time to see this exhibit and bring a daughter, a sister, a mother. They will thank you for it. In the mean time you can find out more about the exhibit by clicking the link here.
A few more guests:
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Finally made to the Holy Grail for all Bowie fans. The closing week of the ‘David Bowie Is’ exhibition at the Brooklyn Museum. This all encompassing exhibit has been touring the world since its premiere at the Victoria & Albert Museum 5 years ago. The fact that it only made two pit stops in the United States speaks volumes to The Thin White Duke’s worldwide appeal. This particular blog entry is of such a deeply personal nature, that I have procrastinated forever in posting this.
In spite of the fact that the presentation was disorganized and overcrowded, it was the content of the exhibit that overcame any drawbacks resulting from the ineptitude of the Brooklyn Museum. After all, we are talking Bowie here, and we all know that he was a ‘Mortal with potential of a Superman’. And I don’t want to totally trash the museum either; to their credit they did resolve some of my concerns. But according to one of my sources at the museum, even they acknowledged that they had gotten in over their heads with this exhibit.
David surrounded himself with the best talent: the best designers, the best directors, the best musicians. Talent that matched, but never surpassed his own. The show was a comprehensive overview of his collaborations as a performer, artist, writer, painter. Bowie the Artist. The shear breadth of his artistic accomplishments is overwhelming. Since this is a costume blog, the main focus will be his costumes. However I am including samples of his other facets because otherwise it would not do him justice.
I should start out with this caveat: there where no photos allowed in the exhibit so these pictures where taken clandestinely and at great personal risk. My apologies in advance for the poor quality of some of the images. In fact at one point when I was attempting to take a picture, a hand appeared in front of the lens belonging to an angry security guard who demanded that I stop on pain of banishment from the museum and confiscation of my pictures. So there was A LOT I could not capture: His costume from when he appeared on Broadway in “Elephant Man”, the Bauhaus costume from his “Saturday Night Live” appearance, the Kabuki cape designed by Kansai Yamamoto. And so on.
My attempt here is to present his costumes and how they would have been worn within the context of his performance. As mentioned earlier, David collaborated with the top creative talent and as a costumer and technician myself, I was in awe over the beauty and detail of his clothing. The delicacy of the tailoring conceits and the detail of the embellishments are incredible. It’s hard to believe that the enormity of the effort that went into creating a garment that was often times intended to be worn only once.
The first time I saw Bowie perform was in the “1980 Floor Show” which was broadcast in the USA on the “Midnight Special” TV series. It was a Rock’n’Roll cabaret with dancers, costumes, a guest appearance by singer Marianne Faithful and everyone’s favorite trans model Amanda Lear, who took time away from her duties as Salvador Dali’s muse in order to serve as MC for the show. Not a bad line up.
This production was the most blindingly theatrical presentation that my 16 year old eyes had ever seen. The originality of the costumes inspired me to grab a pencil and sketch pad. Aladdin Sane’s Thunderbolt of Enlightenment struck my brain causing a deluge of creative juices to start flowing and as I result I was sketching costumes furiously through the entire show. How’s that for inspiration?
The costumes for this show were showcased in their own particular vitrine. They now only had David’s costume but the one worn by guitarist Mick Ronson. Mick is often overshadowed by Bowie’s supernova, but let’s not forget that he had a hand in the creation of the man, before Ziggy broke up the band.
The first time I actually saw Bowie perform live onstage, in the flesh, was for the ’Thin White Duke Tour’ also called the ‘Isolar Tour’ on February 6, 1976 in San Francisco. To say that it was an out of body experience would be an understatement because I was completely consumed byhis presence. I am not the first person to say this. The energy and charisma he exuded onstage was something every performer can only dream of achieving. It was a true out of body experience. Un-psychotropically enhanced.
The concert began with a screening of the surrealist film ‘Un Chien Andalou’. The cinematic collaboration between Salvador Dali and Luis Buñuel best known for the close up of a girl’s eye being sliced open by a razor blade. When this happened the screams of horror from the audience was deafening! As the film came to its conclusion, the projection screen rose and the band began to play the intro to ‘Station to Station’, eventually a spotlight popped on our guy as the sang the lyrics about his return. Not knowing what kind of fashion statement he would make, he was dressed in black and white which went well with the stark fluorescent lighting.
The ‘Thin White Duke Tour’ was the most amazing piece of theatre I had ever seen up until then. Having out done the ‘The 1980 Floor Show’.
Feeling fully recovered from my out of Bowie-body experience, I decided that this concert was something that must be repeated’.So I hoped into my Ford Pinto (don’t laugh, it WAS 1976) and drove down to L.A. to catch the show again at the venerable L.A. Forum. This time I was able to relax and enjoy the show. Gloating with delight hearing the audience’s shrieks when the girl’s eye was slashed in the opening film. No more out of body experiences this time. I was just an observer. As expected Bowie delivered another out of this world performance.
So fast forward to the 80’s and by now I was a college student living in New York. ’Scary Monsters’ was constantly spinning on my turn table (kids, if you don’t know what that is, Google it). The third and last time I saw Bowie perform live was on Broadway in ‘Elephant Man’ and needless to say, it was the most amazing piece of theatre I had seen up until then. Only Bowie can out do Bowie., so all his previous opera.What a performance! He opted out on the prosthetic makeup and chose to use his body language and voice to convey the pathos of the lead character.
My college and my apartment were both located in the Chelsea district of Manhattan and in a stroke of Kafkaesque synchronicity, so was Bowie’s. According to a friend who had it on good authority that our Hero had a loft somewhere south of West 23rd St, so we took it upon ourselves to case every single single building in the vicinity until we came upon one building around West 20th @ 9th avenue that yielded results. We were reading the names on the mailboxes and one of the tenants went by the name: “Bewley Brothers Music”. Ya Think?! Eureka!
We stood in front of the mailbox pondering our next move: Should we ring the door bell? What if he answers? What if he invites us up? What do we say to him? This reverie of ‘what ifs’ was rudely interrupted by the booming voice of a very irate doorman: “Had it ever occurred to you kids that he may be going in and out the back door?!” Well, these two junior stalkers in training made a dash out the door to the back alleyway of the building but to no avail; we were unequivocally asked to leave the premises by the same irate doorman.
I lived in the Chelsea district for several more years and as time passed I became one of those blasé jaded New Yorkers who is not impressed by celebrity. Yes, I did spot him once or twice in passing and my heart would jump ever so slightly. But I was determined to stay in ‘Blasé New Yorker Mode’.To the point where one day I was grocery shopping at the local A&P supermarket and as I was browsing the produce department, I could see out of the corner of my eye that someone was trying to take my shopping cart. Without turning my head I grabbed the cart away from the interloper and shouted in my most nasally Manhattanese “That’s MY cart”. I heard a crisp British accented male voice mutter “Oh sorry” as he slipped away. Yes, The Thin White Duke was a grocery cart thief!
As time progressed, I moved on to other musical styles and to other cities. I hadn’t purchased a Bowie album or even listened to his music in years. I was vaguely amused by my younger relatives fascination with him and was pleasantly surprised to find one of my nieces apartment covered with Bowie poster when I visited her one Thanksgiving. But when I heard the news of his transition on January 10, 2016, it all came flashing back to me. The Stars did look very different after that. Tears would not stop flowing. Every time his name was mentioned, my eyes would water up. In fact I’m in a bit of a ‘Weepy Devotchka’ mode right now as I type this.The impact that he had on my life, my choices and values was something that cannot be quantified. In many ways he saved my life, lifting me out of the mundane and the cruel to a realm that was both sacred and sublime.
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Beautiful Jessica Harper, Miss Hooters of Houston 2018 scores a home run in her sexy costume at the Hooters International Pageant in Charlotte, NC.
Jessica contacted me after she found my website through an organic search. She had just been awarded the Miss Hooters of Houston Title and was all set to go and represent our fair city at the headquarters of the well known sports bar. Jessica already had a great idea that her costume should represent the beauty and resiliency of the city and I am grateful that she let me run with her idea!
As mentioned, her costume was to represent the strong points of the city. In particular the survival of the city in the aftermath of the terrible flooding from Hurricane Harvey and the silver lining of the Astros baseball team winning the World Series over the LA Dodgers. In addition, since this was to be a corporate event, I needed to be mindful of the selection of colors and specifications as it relates to corporate branding.
So as you can see from the picture, there were specific guidelines as far as the dimensions for both the Hooters and Astros logos. Both organizations were very generous in their furnishing the official specs for my personal use in reproduction. The original intent was to manipulate in photoshop to create a pattern. But alas, there were challenges ahead: My late model high end Mac decided that this would be a great time to crash and burn and unfortunately there was not enough time to take it into the Apple store to be revived at the Genius Bar. This meant that all of the corporate branding needed to be created manually. Thank goodness for my Art degree!
It’s all good and in the end her costume was completed on time and under budget, The MacBook was able to be revived by a Genius and Jessica was a star at the International Pageant. Please enjoy the rest of the pictures showing Jessica during her fittings and hanging out backstage with some of the other contestants.
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Fasten your seatbelts it’s going to be a wild post!
Edith Head was one of Hollywood’s most enduring costume designers. While not as innovative as some of her other contemporaries like Adrian or Rambova, she distinguished herself by delivering good product that pleased both actors and directors alike. This resulted in a record breaking 35 Oscar nominations for which she won no less than 8 Academy Awards. Edith Head is responsible for creating many of the iconic looks that we now identify as ‘ Old Hollywood Glamour’. Having dressed the likes of Grace Kelly, Marlene Dietrich, Kim Novak, Gloria Swanson, Elizabeth Taylor, the list goes on and on. She once said ‘If it’s a Paramount film I probably designed it.’
One of her most curious collaborations was designing the costumes for Gloria Swanson in ‘Sunset Boulevard’. Curious because Edith had begun her career at Paramount (Then called the Laskey Studios) not only as a sketch artist but also as the wardrobe girl whose main job was to wash out Miss Swanson’s lingerie. At the time Gloria was the studio’s biggest star and Edith was basically a no body. Fast forward some 40 years later and now she was in charge of creating the look for what was to be Gloria Swanson’s big ‘comeback’ movie. The irony was not lost on Edith and it was something she reflected upon in her later years.
Thanks to her steadfast professionalism, she continued to work long after many of her contemporaries had retired and even long after her passing she was immortalized as the character ‘Edna Mode’ in ‘The Incredibles’ and as a Google Doodle! She was even part of the Universal Studios Tour where she and her costume shop where part of the attractions!
But Edith had her fun and dishy side as well. In her biography ‘Edith Head’s Hollywood’ she complains ad infinitum about having to deal with the ego of director Cecil B. DeMille with whom she collaborated on over 10 films, referring to him as ‘A conceited old goat with small hands’. Ouch! She was asked once if the rumors were true that Mae West was really a man, her response was: ‘I have seen her without a stitch and she’s all woman. No man can have a body like that!’ Touché. And Kim Novak was on the receiving end of this little zinger: ‘Dressing Kim Novak for her role in ‘Vertigo’ put to the test all my training in psychology.’Yikes!
Ms Head was scheduled to be a guest speaker while I was a student at F.I.T.. I remember being so exited to actually be seeing this Hollywood legend in the flesh, discussing her distinguished career. Unfortunately it was announced, right before the lights went on that Ms Head was unwell and would not be appearing that day. So instead we were treated to a fashion show of some of here most iconic looks with models wearing Grace Kelly’s ballgown from ’To Catch a Thief’ and Kim Novak’s exquisitely tailored grey suit from ‘Vertigo’, Bette’ Davis’ topaz satin party dress from ‘All About Eve’ and a whole lot more. Sadly, it was announced a few days later that she had passed away. She never let her public down even to the end. Please enjoy these highlights from her best known films.
Recent updates to my Gallery Page:
The Costumes by Antonia Gallery page has been updated so now you can see an overview of what has been keeping me busy all this time. Please click on the image to see images and videos from Super Bowl LI, Toddlers with Tiaras, Fantasy Weddings, CosPlay and a whole lot more.
So, not ready to order a costume? No problem, learn how to make one instead! Private sewing lessons are once again available at a discounted rate of 10%. Ot you can give the gift of creativity by purchasing a Gift Certificate for a loved one. Just enter the code ’sewcooltenpercent’ at checkout.
‘The Envelope Please’
Congratulations to Mark Bridges for winning the Oscar for Best Achievement in Costume Design for ‘Phantom Thread’ AND winning a jet ski for the shortest acceptance speech. Obviously Mr Bridges is a man of few words. What can be cooler? Winning an Oscar or riding a jet ski with Dame Helen Mirren?
(Because we save the best for last!)
It is my distinct honor to share the news of this upcoming exhibit at the HR Giger Museum in Gruyere, Switzerland by my dear friend and mentor Martina Hoffmann and her late husband Robert Venosa. H R Giger, was best known as the creator of the ‘Alien’ monster from the film of the same name and for which he was awarded an Academy Award for Best Achievement in Visual Effects. The theme of the exhibit is ‘Transmutations’ and I think it is only fitting to include this with the theme of the newsletter. I hope that my friends reading this who live in Geneva and its environs will be able to attend this most auspicious event.
Martina Hoffmann, along with being a superb painter is also a superb fashion designer who created the one of a kind ‘Goddess Belts’ and amazingly sublimated ready to wear. You can see more of Martina’s designs by clicking here: https://www.martinahoffmann.com/boutique
or visiting her website below.
Please click on the imageto be directed to the Giger Museum Website.
For more information about the artists please visit their websites:
Well it’s THAT time of the year again. So on the Eve of Oscar Night, I would like to present the Nominees for the Best Achievement in Costume Design.
‘Beauty and the Beast’
This year, Designer Jacqueline Durran is a double nominee for her designs in both this film and for ‘Darkest Hour’. Busy lady! For ‘Beauty’ she does not disappoint; The colors and textures of the costume are absolutely stunning and a real treat for the eyes. Here designs are sharp and varied whether its the gothic depths of the Beast’s castle to the color riot of the French peasants costumes. Well done!
Again, Jackie Durran. I am so sorry to have missed this one being that Gary Oldman is one of my favorite actors and Kristen Scott Thomas looks classy no matter what she is wearing. If anything this film should be awarded Best Achievement in Hair and Makeup for the amazing transformation of Gary Oldman.
This film should be praised for its authenticity in all respects. Real stitchers were hired to play stitchers (really) and in order to prepare for his role, Daniel Day Lewis took sewing lessons from the afore mentioned stitchers. All that hard work paid off because he actually held the sewing needles and scissors correctly. Believe me I am really anal about stuff like that. The designs themselves where a bit dowdy. But this is understandable since his character is based loosely on Hardy Amies the designer for the likes of Queen Elizabeth etc. Not exactly on the ‘cutting edge’ of fashion. However, there where some interesting scenes depicting a fitting which showed the underpinnings needed to create ‘The New Look’ silhouette which was popular at the time and other tailoring conceits such as sewing hidden messages into a dress. Good job!
‘The Shape of Water’
Obviously the Oscar nomination was for that ‘hide the sausage’ amphibious costume. (Whoops spoiler alert, sorry!) It was truly an amazing job on that costume that was years in the making. A minimum of CGI was used and instead the movements where enabled by a mechanically rigged radio hub embedded within the costume which allowed the actor to control is facial and body movements. A real challenge, being that the character was underwater during most of the film and electrocution could be a real problem. I also liked the murky aqua color palate as it was used in the costumes of the human characters. For more information about what went into the making of this aquatic shmata, read the L.A. Times article here.
Victoria and Abdul
As always, Connie Boyle did a bang up job on the costumes and in my heart I hope she gets the prize since I felt that she was passed over last year for her whimsical costumes in ‘Florence Foster Jenkins’. In this film she applies her sense of whimsey once again by giving Queen Victoria’s dreary widow weeds an interesting twist with some curious little crocheted embellishments to her weeping veil and the over the top uniform worn by Abdul, her manservant. The Victorian era for me, is one of the most unattractive, unflattering historical periods for woman’s fashion. So anyone who can make it look pretty and interesting gets my seal of approval. A+.
THEY WERE ROBBED!
Why wasn’t this film nominated?
Tulip Fever, that quirky little movie about the Tulip Wars in 17cc Holland was completely passed over in the costume category and this is an effrontery on all levels. Michael O’ Conners sumptuous costumes reflect the over the top wealth of the Dutch merchants and their obsession with all things rare and beautiful. Apparently this movie was stuck in ‘Development Hell’ for many years and maybe this is the reason the omission. But if you are able to, catch it if you can, it’s worth watching.
Congratulations guys, whether you were nominated or not, You are ALL Winners. Make sure to watch the Oscars on Sunday March 4rth and root for your favorite!
‘Who wants to go to hell with Madam Satan? Was the catch word for this peculiar cult classic of pre-code Hollywood. Up until the early 1930’s Hollywood movies where pretty racy in their depictions of sex and violence. Cecil B De Mille’s film musical ’Madam Satan’ was one of those and it does not disappoint. Now DeMille is usually remembered for his religious and historical epics such as ‘The Ten Commandments’, ‘Cleopatra’ and ‘The Greatest Show on Earth’. So for him to direct a racy, quirky, musical was a bit out of character for him. But remember that a talking pictures were all the rage at that time and like many of his colleagues he jumped on the ‘bandwagon’ because it was the lucrative thing to do. I suppose for the same reason that The Rolling Stones and Kiss recorded Disco songs in the 70’s .
But lucky for De Mille he had a ‘Dream Team’ of creative talent as collaborators both in front and behind the camera: Jeannie MacPherson screenwriter, Cedric Gibbons Art Director, Theodore Kosloff featured dancer and of course, costumes by the legendary Adrian (inventor of the shoulder pads). Just to name a few. These names may not mean much today but believe me back then, they did some heavy lifting.
So the premise of this movie is about a husband and wife whose marriage is on the rocks. He winds up leaving her for another woman but she connives to win him back by co-hosting a costume party on a zeppelin over Central Park which of course becomes and over-the- top musical number showcasing the dancing talents of Kosloff and of course Adrian’s uniquely original designs. As zeppelins are wont to do, it malfunctions and all the guests must bail out in parachutes to save their lives. But not before the audience is exposed to lots of upshots of scantily clad women flailing the legs and flashing their panties as they descend back to earth. Oh, the humanity!
This near death experience makes the husband realize what a jerk he had been to his wife and so he goes running back to her loving arms. All is forgiven.
In spite of the superficial sounding plot, the story does have a dose of realism not found in post code Hollywood. For starters , the couple sleeps in the same bed, something that was not allowed post Breen Code. There’s infidelity, lots of sexual innuendo, a gay sub-plot with some of the characters and then of course there are this lovely, sexy costumes by Adrian. Sometimes I wish that Adrain had made more technicolor movies. The two that come to mind are ‘Wizard of Oz’ and ’The Women’. And even those where partially in color, the culprit being ‘Gone With The Wind’ whose production had swallowed up all the technicolor film in Lotus Land.
In my opinion, the back & white film doesn’t do Adrian’s costumes justice. I finally had the chance to see Adrian’s designs for Madame Satan at an A.M.P.A.S retrospective highlighting former Oscar winners/nominees for best achievement in Costume Design. There in its own showcase was the black velvet ‘Madam Satan’ costume with the embellished cape. WOW! The colors were so vivid and the detailed workmanship was absolutely exquisite.
Another bone that I have to pick with ‘Madam Satan’ is that the choreography is at times a bit sloppy. I wonder of this is due to De Mille’s lack of understanding of the genre. One wishes for the military precision of a Busby Berkley number that would have pirouetted in lockstep with Adrians costumes and Kosloff’s athletic physique. But alas, Busby was under contract with a different studio so it was not meant to be.
Adrian’s creations for ‘Madam Satan’ have proved to be extremely influential over the years. Spawning a multitude of costumes inspired by his original designs. The most recent being Eiko Ishioka’s designs for the ill fated Broadway musical version of ’Spider Man’. Imitation still is the best form of flattery.
Please enjoy these pictures and if the reader gets a chance to see ‘Madam Satan’, please do. It’s campy and a bit dated but still worth watching. I truly wish that Adrian’s costumes for the film would go on tour again. They are beautiful and have withstood the test of time tangibly and intangibly.
~Holy Roman Emperor Leopold I in theatrical costume~
The Austro-Hungarian Empire gave the world so much to enjoy: music, literature, food, Lippizaner Stallions, Sigmund Freud and the Von Trapp Family. But who would have thought that other major contribution would have been those beautiful, over the top costumes of the royal court? Of course, I had always been vaguely familiar with that genre, in particular having caught a glimpse of the late ‘Heini’ Von Thyssen traipsing about in full Austro-Hungarian drag at some sort of cultural event or other in Madrid back in the 90’s. Heini’s ensemble echoes the splendor of an era lost in time. Like the Hapsburgs, Heini was a voracious art collector and his extensive compilation is on view at the museum which bears his name: Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza in Madrid. In an ironic twist of fate, his eldest daughter Francesca, wound up marrying a Hapsburg.
~Baron Hans Heinrich Thyssen-Bornemisza (a/k/a ‘Heini’) ~
My costume designs for a recent production of ‘The Sound of Music’ notwithstanding, it wasn’t until I saw the ‘Hapsburg Splendor’ exhibit at the MFAH that I was able to really appreciate the richness and luxuriousness of their court costumes. Now, I know that some of you cynics about there are saying: That exhibit happened two years ago. Why are you blogging about it now? Well, why not. It was a great exhibit that not only featured some beautiful costumes but a lot of important art as well. As mentioned earlier, the Hapsburgs, like my buddy Heini, were prolific art collectors and this exhibit, in particular the costumes merit a belated blog. Besides, now I can finally delete the exhibit pictures from my iPhone!
~Leopold I and his horse in matching costumes~
~(more about that later)~
The exhibit begins with an overall view of the Hapsburg Dynasties then segues into their very extensive art collection with examples from Caravaggio, Velásquez, Holbein and on and on. Finally the last hall is the one that features the costumes and it showcases examples of court dress, couture, military uniforms, heck, even the horses got into the act! I will cover the fine art towards the end of the post, but being that this IS a costume blog after all, we will begin there.
~Crown Prince Otto alighting from his carriage~
Let’s begin with this painting depicting a young prince alighting from his carriage because it serves as a good reference point for the costumes featured throughout the exhibit; Study the painting closely and you will see each one of those costumes was represented in the exhibit. It’s interesting to see how the Empire, being a mix of different cultures and ethnicities, also displayed this diversity in the clothing. As you view the details of their attire, one can also see elements of the various kingdoms which comprised this multi-cultural nation.
A ceremonial velvet tunic trimmed in ermine with the matching hat and shoes. Up until the early 20th Century most children of a certain socio-economic class were dressed as ‘little adults’. It’s interesting to see the shift begin towards more ‘child appropriate’ attire. This precious costume was worthy of a little prince!
Sadly, little Otto was never to inherit the title of Emperor due to the dissolution of the Austro-Hungarian Empire after WW1. But like most of his namesakes he had the talent for making lemonade out lemons and went on reinvent himself in other ways. Otto actually worked for a living as a businessman and writer. He even dabbled in politics by being an early supporter of the EU and served in the European Parliament. Bonus trivia: It was Otto’s son, Karl, who married Heini’s daughter Francesca.
~Hussar Uniform with Pelisse overcoat and Dragoon hat~
Keeping the ‘light’ in Light Calvary. The amount of gold in the bullion stitch embroidery would probably break a horse’s back. But I am assuming this is more of a ceremonial garment than an actual military uniform. Still, the detail and workmanship is lovely and I am sure that the wearer would have looked dashing on his horse. The pelisse over coat is usually worn over the left shoulder and it served to prevent swords cuts during battle. I’m curious as to why the curators of this exhibit chose to not show it worn in this fashion. Perhaps an oversight?
~Court Costume for a member of the Emperor’s Privy Council~
Looking at the hardware on this get-up, I can totally see this serving as an influence for a cosplay step punk costume. Couldn’t you? ‘A League of Extraordinary Austro-Hungarian Gentlemen’ perhaps? Unfortunately, time has faded the color of the brocaded inner tunic. But I would imaging it would have been a rich burgundy red just like the one shown in the painting.
~Footman’s everyday work uniform, yes really!~
This footman’s liveried uniform is in excellent condition and is exactly as represented in the painting. You can see him holding the door open as our little prince alights from the carriage.There was no description of the fabric but I am assuming that it is some type of wool melton and I am more than willing to assume that underneath the fancy braided livery embellishment is there is a dolman sleeve. I say this because the majority of the men’s costume feature a dolman sleeve as opposed to a traditional set in sleeve that was seen in other European court costumes. A dolman sleeve is actually of Turkish origin, and being that Austria-Hungary and the Ottoman Turks had a long history together (not always nice), it serves to prove how their clothing reflected the many cultures under their rule.
~‘Sissi’s’ ball gown designed by Charles Frederick Worth~
Seeing this elegant ball gown brought many bittersweet emotions because of the tragic legacy of its wearer. Empress Elisabeth of Austria also known as ‘Sissi’ can only be described as the 19th centuries answer to Princess Diana. Sissi was a free spirited and progressive thinker who wrote poetry and believed in the benefits of diet and exercise. At a time when women were constricted by their corsets, Sissi believed that one maintained their figure through proper diet and calisthenics. So much so that she had a special gymnasium built at the Hofburg palace where she would work out daily. And one can appreciate the results of these work outs from the tiny waistline of this design by Charles Frederick Worth. Like Diana, she chafed under the stifling formality of the Austro-Hungarian court which caused her to suffer from bouts of depression and bulimia. Like Diana she was interested in couture like those of the aforementioned designer. And like Diana, she died a tragic and unnecessary death, having been assassinated during a visit to Switzerland by an anarchist who confused her for someone else!
~Ball Gown belonging to Princess Kinski~
I have no idea who Princess Kinski was and that was all that the information that the museum offered regarding the gown’s provenance. Googling her name was no help either. But please enjoy this beautiful ball gown of Peau de Soie satin and exquisite bullion stitching. If anyone reading this knows anything about Princess Kinski and her dress, feel free to contact me directly. email@example.com
~Front View of Princess Kinski’s gown~
~Another back view of Princess Kinski’s beautiful gown~
~Even the horses wore costumes~
~It’s Good to be King!~
~The Hapsburg Art Collection~
The Hapsburgs were prolific art collectors and the exhibit did not disappoint. The works ranged from Roman antiquities to renaissance and baroque masters. Here is a sampling of the artworks beginning with the portrait above of Jane Seymour by Holbein. You might ask how a painting that was commissioned by Henry VIII of England wound up in Vienna? The answer is a long and convoluted one having to do with Master Holbein selling his works to the highest bidder. Obviously, the Hapsburgs had deeper pockets than the Tudors.
~Enjoy the rest of the collection!~
~Nymph and Satyr by P.P. Rubens~
~Danae by Titian~
~The Death of Cleopatra by Cagnacci~
~Infanta Maria Teresa by Velázquez~
~Wolfgirl, Artist Unknown~
~The high point of the collection ‘Crown of Thorns’~
~by the Master of dark and light: Caravaggio~
The exhibit has returned to the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna.
For more information visit their website: https://www.khm.at/en/
For more information on how to create your own royal splendor of a costume please visit my website www.costumesbyantonia.com call 832-652-9180 or email firstname.lastname@example.org