It’s been ages since I’ve posted anything here, so please accept my apologies. But it’s for good reason because 1) I’m grateful to say that I have been very busy and have not had time to post or blog. 2) I have moved the costume studio to Las Vegas, Nevada and I am looking to set up two more satellite studios in Los Angeles and New York!
So Onward and Upwards! Let’s discuss my recent activities:
God Save The King! A Henry VIII costume based on the portrait by Holbein. The client wore this to the Renaissance Festival so he wanted something that was comfortable, easy to put on and remove, but still looked authentic. Quite a challenge since renaissance garb (especially when worn by the aristocracy) is not exactly known for comfort or practicality. But with a little bit of creative rigging and ingenuity we were able to pull it off. The results were majestic!
This scary guy is a Spirit Walker Costume that I created for Unspeakable Media an entertainment and gaming studio streaming on YouTube. I will be dedicating an entire post describing the creation of this costume.
We all loved that whacky movie about the origins of the fashion victim, Cruella. Especially the Dumpster Dress, here shown. Kristin, my client, was a great person to work with. She donated a lot of her own fabric and clothing so that it could be repurposed for the costume. It also gave me a good opportunity to recycle a lot of my leftover fabric from my scrap bins.
Personally, I thought Kristin looked lovely and she did a great job with her hair and makeup too! In fact, Kristin liked her costume so much that she wound up having it heirloomed so that her daughters could wear it in the future.
Frank the Rabbit
My friend, Morgan Roberts needed a costume for an upcoming cosplay convention. He asked me to create a costume based on the character “Frank” from the iconic film, “Donnie Darko”. At the convention, Morgan met James Duval, the actor who played Frank in the film.
According to Morgan, James said “one of the best costumes he had ever seen”!
Moulin Rouge Redux
This lovely confection was created for Georgette Fabré, a Mexican socialite who resides here in the US. Every year she attends a very posh, theme based Halloween party in Aguascalientes, Mexico. This years theme was “Moulin Rouge” and Georgette went all out with a gown inspired by the character “Satine” from the aforementioned film. I selected a rich burgundy palette that flattered Georgette’s lustrous brunette locks and flawless complexion.
The costume caused a sensation at the party and garnered her the first prize at the costume contest. Her award being an all expense paid trip to Paris for she and her husband. Congratulations, Georgette! You looked beautiful.
“The Crüe Part Deux”
Just when you thought it was safe to turn to the clubs. Right smack dab in the midst of the pandemic, I was contacted by my favorite Metal Heads with a request to recreate the “Theater of Pain” costumes for two of their performers. You may recall that a year earlier I had created their “Shout at the Devil” costumes to much success and accolades. You can read about this adventure by clicking here
Recreating this one was quite the challenge since the original costume used very 80’s specific fabric. But we came close in our selection and the results were spectacular with just the right amount of bling.
Here was another challenge, due to the supply chain issues that were so typical of the pandemic, we had a long wait for this one. But the results were stunning if I may say so myself and I love how the guitar matched the rest of his outfit.
JLo & Travolta!
Yes, they’ve secretly been an item all this time, NOT! This was for a fundraiser in which the partygoers were encouraged to dress as their favorite stars.
Another interesting project, in particular the building of the JLo costume. The goal was to make the dress as modest as possible but still preserving the spirit of the original design worn by Jennifer Lopez.
Lysol and Purell
Now here’s a set of very pandemic specific themed costumes, meet “Lysol & Purell”. These were Halloween costumes for two little girls who were sadly in quarantine but thankfully their parents still wanted them to enjoy a nice holiday.
The costumes were created with a foam and wire foundation then covered with fabric. This lightweight confection slips easily over the head and there are cutouts for the face and arms for easy wearing and mobility.
Here’s a whimsical little number inspired by Froud’s Fairies. Corset with ombré chiffon fabric skirt and embellished with butterflies. The wings were sculpted with wire, covered with stretch chiffon then handprinted and studded with jewels. Her fairy crown is made from a beaded band base and covered with gold leaves.
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The Fashion and Costume world has lost an Icon. Just like the death of the man with whom he is most frequently associated with, David Bowie, Kansai Yamamoto’s death has left a void in the Creative Matrix much like Bowie’s passing left a void five years ago.
It could be safely said that Kansai Yamamoto was just as responsible for creating the Persona of Ziggy Stardust as was Bowie himself or as was Angela Bowie, his first wife. Bowie evolved from a mid 60’s Mod, to a Mime performer, then a Dylanesque style folk singer, Major Tom/Clockwork Orange Droog, until finally coming into his own as Ziggy Stardust. With the creative input of Yamamoto, his persona jelled into that otherworldly androgyne with the help of his creations. “Costumes were the best medium for David to express his music” he said in an interview. “Color is the oxygen we are both breathing in the same space”, was another recounting of his collaboration with the Star Man.
Kansai Yamamoto was born in Yokohama, Japan in 1944 and by all accounts was the product of a very unhappy childhood. He began his career as a Civil Engineer and then following the footsteps of many other engineers such as Giorgio Armani and Bill Blass, he transitioned into the world of Fashion and Costume Design. Mostly self taught, he apprenticed with costume designer Junko Koshino before striking out on his own. In 1971 he presented his first collection in London. He was the first Japanese designer to present a collection outside of Japan and for this he paved the way for the “Japanese Invasion” of the 70’s and 80’s. Thanks to his pioneering efforts, Kansai Yamamoto paved the way for other Japanese such as Hanae Mori, Kenzo,Rei Kawakubo of “Comme des Garçons”, Issey Miyake, Yohji Yamamoto (no relation) and yes, even his early mentor: Junko Koshino.All of this attention caught the eye of David Bowie, who at the time was in the Genesis of his career. His people called Kansai’s people and the rest is history.
Basara versus Wabi-Sabi
Yamamoto drew his influence from Japanese culture, in particular the traditional Kabuki performers. David Bowie loved all things Japanese so from a creative standpoint, they were a perfect fit. But Kansai was also influenced by the costumes of Oskar Schlemmer from the Bauhaus movement of 1930’s Berlin. This was obvious in his creation of the black and white “Tokyo Pop” or “Keyhole” costume and the jewel tone duplicate he wore in the “1980 Floor Show”.It could be said that David’s orange mullet haircut was inspired by the “Lion Wigs” of the Kabuki performers.
According to my research there are two schools of Japanese aesthetics: “Basara” and Wabi-Sabi. “Basara” being the colorful and flamboyant aspect of Japanese art and Wabi-Sabi being the minimalist ascetic aspect. Kansai chose the former with a vengeance; his garments were a riot of exuberant color playing upon the traditional Japanese festivals and serving as an inspiration for the culture of Hara-juku and Kawaii trends on the streets of Tokyo today.
After his initial success with David, Kansai continued to design seasonal collections. One of his watershed presentations was at the Fashion Institute of Technology in 1982. One small footnote to this event was, at that time I was enrolled in the College and was participating in the ‘“work/study” program for underprivileged students like myself. The assignment was to intern as a dresser for the show. Even though this was not my first time dressing a runway show, it was my first time dressing a runway show for Kansai Yamamoto. To say that the energy was frenetic was an understatement and would not do justice to the show. The event featured the “Who’s Who” of the modeling world, some of the Glamazons that I helped to dress were: Iman, Sayoko and Pat Cleveland. What impressed me about Iman in particular was that at the time she was married to Spencer Haywood from the New York Knicks. She and Spencer, along with their family, had recently experienced a major traffic accident in which Iman had sustained serious injuries. This was confirmed when she limped into the dressing room. “OMG, (I thought to myself), how will she ever be able to strut on the Catwalk?”
But Iman did not disappoint: Once she stepped on the Runway, her limp miraculously disappeared and she dazzled the audience with her Power Walk. Another little stray thought entered my mind at the time and that was of Bowie himself. I knew that Kansai and Bowie shared a creative relationship and at the time Bowie was a NYC resident. So I was a bit surprised that he did not pop in to wish his friend well. Especially since a few years later David and Iman would become lifelong Soulmates. But alas, David was busy preparing for his “Serious Moonlight Tour” so any chance I had of playing Cupid was dashed. Oh well.
Aside from the over the top presentation was the fact that Kansai was dressed all in black and was an integral part of the show: As the models walked on the runway, he would be right there with them, calling stage directions and adjusting their clothing. A classmate who also happened to be Japanese, was interning alongside me, explained that he was acting as a “Kurogo”. An important component of classical Kabuki Theater.“They are supposed to be invisible” she said, “that’s why they are dressed in black”.This blending ofKabuki sensibilities with High Fashion was something that had been never seen before and I am sure served as a precursor to hisfuture “Super Shows”.
In 1992 Kansai designed his last collection under his own label. However, that did not mean that he stopped designing altogether. He instead took the more lucrative route and entered the field of licensing his name for anything from sunglasses to home products. This allowed him to focus on a new concept of his called the “Super Show” in which he combined multi disciplinary elements of music, dance and Japanese aesthetic to showcase his avant guard concepts. In these extravaganzas he would be a willing participant, commenting on his pieces, interacting with his models or again as a classical “Kurogo”, dressed in all black and serving as an assistant to the performers.
The “Super Shows” were to become major cultural and entertainment events. His first show was in 1993 in Moscow’s Red Square. Each subsequent show was to achieve an increasing sense of cultural and historical importance. For example, in 2012, at the invitation of the Chinese government, he presented a “Super Show” that commemorated the 40th anniversary of the normalizations of Japan-China relations and in 2013 he was honored by the Victoria & Albert Museum in London as part of their “Fashion in Motion” series.
Kansai Yamamoto continued a life long friendship with David Bowie until his death in 2016. Ironically they had always talked collaborating together again. Kansai was in the process of producing a “Super Show” with Bowie which unfortunately, was cruelly cancelled with the untimely passing of our beloved Star Man. Kansai’s concept for this show was to have Bowie descend from the skies in a hot air balloon as he sang his greatest hits. Much like the first time he saw Bowie descend onto the stage from a disco ball during a performance at Radio City Music Hall way back in 1972.
In spite of his age and failing health Kansai continued to produce his Super Shows and even briefly contracted with Louis Vuitton to create a series of hand bags based on the “Basara” traditions of Japan. His last “Super Show” was presented in Tokyo on July 31, 2020 just a few days after his death. His daughter, Mirai Yamamoto tearfully thanking his assistants and fans for their lifelong support.
I would like to think, that if there is such a thing as an after life, that Kansai and David are reunited in Heaven. Where they can now unlimitedly collaborate and create for our collective consciousness. Unencumbered by the macrocosmic constraints of the mundane. Breathing that colorful oxygen that we all share.
Above: Highlights from the Fashion In Motion Super Show at The Victoria & Albert Museum in London
Click Here to read more about Kansai’s costumes at the David Bowie Is exhibit.
This month’s Muse is none other than Beau Brummell, the Father of the modern trouser and an arbiter of fashion who became so influential that people would actually pay him money to watch him get dressed in the mornings. Now how’s that for a life hack? George Bryan “Beau” Brummell was born in London, UK June 7, 1778 and died March 30, 1840 in Caen, France. A man of humble origins who was such an adept social climber that he became best friends with the Prince of Wales, was the top fashion influencer of his time and whose vertiginous fall from grace landed him in an insane asylum where he perished from advanced-stage syphilis. But it’s what happened in the 62 year arc of his life that makes him such a fascinating character, who set fashion trends which are still followed and respected today.
Beau Brummell was the son of a shopkeeper who was determined to push his son into the upper echelons of society and he inculcated that social climbing drive into young Beau. His father was able to get his son into Eton and thanks to Beau’s wit and flare for dressing, his popularity with the sons of the aristocracy eventually led to a long lasting friendship with the Prince of Wales. After Eton, Beau served in the Military and once discharged in 1797, he came into a small inheritance from his father, which allowed him to set himself up in London. Taking an apartment in London’s posh Mayfair District, he entertained his fancy friends and created new trends for the fashionable set to follow. Naturally, given Beau’s flair for hyperbole and his talent for living beyond his means, his extravagant lifestyle eventually got him into trouble. We’ll get into that later in the post.
Although history remembers Beau as an iconic Dandy of the Regency Period, he was much more than that: he not only changed how we dressed but also how we lived. He popularized daily bathing and refused to wear excessive colognes. The fashion of the times was still under the influence of the 18cc “Fops”: powdered wigs, rouge, fancy coats, breeches and stockings. Personal hygiene practically was non-existent; heavy perfumes and creams were used in the place soap and water. Bathing was reserved for special occasions. Beau changed all that!
Beau’s take on clothing was that it should be functional, fit well and be an investment. In collaboration with the numerous tailors he commissioned, he set about creating the Bespokesuit, which was accomplished through a series of fittings and elaborate under stitching. Up until then, if one desired to have an outfit made, one visited a “Draper”. The “Draper” would create the article of clothing by “draping” the fabric upon the wearer’s body. Fabric that could also double as upholstery, they didn’t differentiate between the two. There was no ease of movement. Lack of movement was considered a status symbol because it meant that you were rich enough to afford servants, who could do things for you. But Beau changed all of that. He believed that clothing should be comfortable but elegant. He also preferred plain colors, starting with a dark jacket and tan pants and eventually creating a suit and trousers made from matching fabrics. “To be truly elegant one should not be noticed” was his favorite line. He was a Dandy and a Rebel.
There already existed a bit of a fashion rebellion in France, where as a result of the French Revolution younger people were rejecting the elaborate fashions of the Old Guard by creating a parody of it. These people were called “Les Incroyables” and they wore exaggerated jackets and cravats, shaved their heads into something resembling a mohawk. This hairstyle was known as “Cheveaux à la Victime”, just like the condemned who were prepped for the blade of the guillotine. Dressed like this, the gangs of “Les Incroyables” would roam the streets of Paris looking for a fight. Understandably many people found this edgy style distasteful. But Beau managed to borrow from them and make the conceits tasteful and flattering. If you look closely at an image of an Incroyables it’s obvious that he was influenced by this earlier trend.
Beau’s flamboyant but understated style caused such a sensation that people would actually pay him money so that they could observe him and his valet enact the morning “toilette”. He would begin by bathing with warm water and soap. Unheard of at the time! Then he would proceed with his dressing ritual. Much like the “Grand Levées” of the former Kings of France, every article of clothing he chose was closely observed by his adoring public. The way he twisted his cravat or his choice of shirts created a pandemonium. His fashion prononciamentos were such that he was elevated to the position of “Sartorial Advisor” to the Prince of Wales.
But of course, the fickle finger of fate was about to give our hero a hard poke in the eye. Beau Brummell, having only a modest fortune, spent more than he earned. In addition to the love of clothes, he also had another vice: Gambling. Slowly but surely his inheritance began to slip through his fingers. At first his friends were happy to float him loans to cover his gambling debts. But after awhile, he had worn out his welcome. The aristocracy who once considered his cutting wit and personal style to be amusing, now considered him to be crass and vulgar. “Not knowing your place” in a world where your position in life meant everything is the ultimate Mortal Sin.
Life began to get increasingly precarious for Beau, always one step ahead of being thrown into debtors prison (yes, they had those then) He actually had to employ one of his Tailors as a combination bodyguard, hit man and bill collector! Who knew tailors could be such badasses?
The ultimate faux pas he committed and one that eventually sealed his fate forever, occurred in 1813 at a costume ball in London. Among the invitees was the Prince of Wales. By now the future George IV had tired of Brummell’s over familiarity. As the expression goes “Familiarity Breeds Contempt” and as the Prince made his way down the receiving line, he purposely cut Beau by refusing to greet him. The extent of the social humiliation was palpable to the entire room. But Beau, not one to be one upped by anyone, not even the Prince of Wales, turned to his friend and remarked: “Alvanly, who’s your fat friend?” I would have given anything to travel back in time and be a fly on the wall. I’m sure you could have heard a pin drop.
After that things began to unravel at hyper speed. The Prince, who had always been sensitive about his weight, promptly had Beau bounced out of the party. No more “Sartorial Advising” there! A society that hung on to his every word and followed his every trend with almost religious fervor now shunned him like a leper. His gambling debts and debts to his tailors, cobblers, grocers, landlords landed on him like a ton of bricks. Back then one could be thrown in jail for not paying their bill, there was no such thing as bankruptcy. After 3 years of floundering about as a social pariah, Beau Brummel had no choice but to collect his few worldly possessions and escape to France.
Beau Brummell was to live his final years in the French city of Caen. Some of his more sympathetic friends secured a position for him at the British Consulate where he stayed for 2 years. But life would not he kind to Beau, after his diplomatic assignment ended he drifted about France, unable to return to England due to his debts. But the French laws regarding insolvency were even worse than Great Britain’s. The long arm of the Gallic Law caught up with him and he ultimately wound up in a French Debtors Prison.What the English could not accomplish, the French did with the cruelest of ease. Thanks to a few supporters he had left, they were able to bail him out and pay off his debt.
By now it was 1835 and from all accounts poor Beau was merely a shadow of his former self. He had completely let himself go and no longer cared about his appearance. He was barely recognizable to the few friends who had remained loyal to him. To complicate matters even more, he began to suffer from seizures and psychotic episodes. It was apparent that he was suffering from advanced stages of syphilis, which left untreated, can diminish a persons mental capacities. He died penniless and forgotten in a charity hospital in 1840 and is buried in the Protestant Cemetery in Caen, France.
His Legacy Endures:
It’s for good reason that he is remembered as “The Father of The Modern Trouser” or “The Father of The Men’s Suit”. Anyone who has worn a tailored business suit, who has worn a necktie or who prefers light starch in their shirts, can thank Beau Brummell. In fact, anyone who enjoys personal hygiene by bathing daily owes a major debt of gratitude to Beau Brummell!
Beau Brummell, liberated men from the restricting, affected clothes of the previous century. He created a men’s style that was comfortable but at the same time practical and elegant. The perfect attire for the Industrial Revolution to come. Decades later in the early 20th century, Coco Chanel would do the same for women and there is no doubt in my mind that she was influenced by Beau Brummell.
There have been many films made about our Sartorial Hero, but my favorite one is “Beau Brummell, This Charming Man”, a BBC TV movie released in 2006. James Purefoy nails it with his performance as our subject and Hugh Bonneville plays a good foil as the the Prince Regent. There is a link below and I highly recommend this film, it’s a lot of fun to watch.
There is also the statue to Beau Brummell in London’s Oh-So-Exclusive Jermyn St.. Beau’s former stomping ground is just as fashionable today as it was back in the 1800’s when Beau would strut his stuff down the street with a Dandy’s swagger. There is a PMA color called “Brummel Brown”, a watch by Le Coultre, a pop band. Even in literature where he appears as himself in one of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes Novels.
This stylish Rake, lives eternally as a Male Muse, inspiring all genders to think outside the box and to create trends, not to follow them.
Fashion and Costume & Design can be a very dangerous profession. When I think of all of the creative notables (and those in their periphery) who have come to an untimely end whether by their own hand or by another form of tragic demise, the list is staggering:
Alexander McQueen (suicide)
Isabella Blow (suicide)
Jay Sebring (Manson Family victim)
L’Wren Scott (suicide)
Kate Spade (suicide)
Wallis Franken (death by defenestration-look it up)
Gianni Versace (assassinated)
Ossie Clark (murdered)
Gianpaolo Castellani (trampled to death by an elephant during a safari)
Irene Lentz (suicide)
And then there’s this guy:
Emperor Maximilian I of Mexico (death by firing squad)
Why is there such a high death rate within this profession? More than likely because of the fact that clothing design is a hybrid between art and commerce, a hybrid that is not always a harmonious one.
Take a volatile creative personality and force them to answer to the suits in the boardroom and it can easily drive a sensitive person to a violent end. Of course each case has its own subconscious triggers but the results are the same.
And then there are those who die violent deaths; Being a high profile person unfortunately attracts those who wish to do them harm, as in the case of Gianni Versace or Ossie Clark. Then there is the subject of our Blog, The Emperor Maximilian I of Mexico. I was inspired to write this post after being commissioned by a Mardi Gras Krewe to design the costume for their King. The inspiration was drawn from an official portrait of the Emperor Maximilian I of Mexico. As I worked in the creation of the King costume, I was also inspired to do a little research on this misunderstood monarch. What does he have in common with the others on this list? Plenty, please read on:
In the U.S. we have appropriated the Mexican holiday, Cinco de Mayo and turned into an excuse to guzzle Margaritas and eat Mexican food without a clue as to the history behind this celebration. So widespread is the ignorance around the holiday that someone once actually wished me a “Happy Cinco de Mayo” assuming that because I had a Spanish surname I would be celebrating the holiday. I can still see the embarrassment in their face when I patiently explained that it was a Mexican holiday and I was actually Cuban-American! Oh well..
But even those who may be slightly familiar with the history behind the holiday will say that it celebrates the expulsion of the French from Mexico and the execution of the evil, incompetent Emperor Maximilian. But peel back the onion layers of history and you will find that Max was a tragic figure, who was a pawn between several superpowers of the time. A person who was a bundle of contradictions, naive, idealistic, creative and in the end: heroic in the face of tragedy. Oh yes and he designed the costumes for the army of his adopted country.
Our subject’s story begins in the Austro Hungarian Empire. He was the younger brother of the Emperor Franz Josef and like most second sons he wound up playing second banana in domestic geopolitics. But in spite of that, he had a successful career in the Austrian Navy and later became Governor of the Lombard/Venetian Kingdom. It was here that his creative streak began to emerge when he set out to build his new home in Trieste, named Miramare Castle. He was heavily involved in the design and landscaping of the property and the result is a beautiful fairy tail palace that still exist today:
He was doing well for himself and for his wife Carlotta, when all of the sudden the fickle finger of fate intervened and sucked him into a political whirlwind that let to his tragic demise. Unbeknownst to him his older brother Franz Josef and Louis Napoleon III of France were hatching a plot to put a figurehead ruler in Mexico so that they could control the country’s silver mines and use the bullion to prop up France’s currency. However, there was a minor detail in that there was already a democratically elected president in place: Benito Juarez. He had confiscated these silver mines and other properties belonging to the oligarchical landowners of the country. Juarez had become an inconvenient person much like Allende in Chile had been to the CIA. So the two superpowers took it upon themselves to depose Juarez and install a useful idiot who would do their bidding in running the country. Sound familiar?
According to historians, our friend Maximilian was duped by his older brother and the Emperor of France into believing that he had actually been democratically elected by the Mexicans and so accepted the offer to be their King. This might sound completely unbelievable today, but remember that news did not travel so fast back then. There was no 24 hour news cycle and sometimes it would take months for news to travel from one end of the world to the other.So it’s totally plausible that the naive and idealistic Max would have believed this.
So he packed his bags and took his wife Carlotta along with mercenaries from the French army and set his sights on Mexico. During the month long journey to his new country, he did not engage with his ministers to learn the policies of Mexico, but chose instead to focus his energies on designing the military uniforms of his new army. Really. He also focused his energy on learning about the indigenous culture of Mexico and its flora and fauna. Evidently Maximilian had cancelled a long planned trip to Brazil to study their botany but obviously he found this new adventure to be much more challenging.
One he was established in his new country, Maximilian proved to be much more liberal and egalitarian than he was made out to be by his European sponsors. For starters, he upheld many of the reforms that had been implemented by Juarez. He championed the cause of the Campesinos and refused to return the confiscated lands to the Church and forget about the silver mines! Maximilian had barely steeped off the boat and he was already making some powerful enemies.
Unfortunately such highbrow idealism also came with a smattering of ignorance and arrogance. Even though he upheld President Juarez’s reforms, he also invited him to be a part of his new Imperial Cabinet which only served as a major insult to Juarez since he was the democratically elected leader of a sovereign nation. This was something Juarez would deeply resent and no doubt encouraged him to order his execution later on. To add to the mess, Mexico’s neighbor to the north, the US was involved in their own Civil War; As the Union began to gain the upper hand, many Confederate soldiers and their families fled to Mexico seeking asylum. (The irony here is not lost.) Maximilian welcomed them and even allowed them to keep their slaves. This is a bit oxymoronic for the man wanted to abolish the system of peonage but gave refuge to slave owners from another country.
So as you can see, Maximilian although well intentioned, fell far short of what would be required of a person in that unenviable position. He was making enemies from all angles and the powers that be were out to teach him a lesson. But in spite of the political intrigue and betrayal that surrounded him, Max still pursued his creative bug by redecorating what would become his Imperial residence: Chapultepec Castle. Just as he did with Miramare, he worked closely with the architects and designer to create a lovely Neo-classicalstyle palace of unsurpassed beauty. In fact it is the only castle in North America to have been inhabited by an actual sovereign.
To recap, the powers that be were out to get our artistic Monarch and his sensual world would collapse around him like dominoes in a southeast asian theater of war. The French never really succeeded in pushing Benito Juarez out of Mexico, he was just biding his time on the American border. The Americans in turn, invoked the Monroe Doctrine and ordered the French troops out of Mexico. Louis Napoleon had by now grown tired of his disappointing Protege and was only too happy to oblige. Besides, he was too busy invading Egypt. To top it all off, Empress Carlotta suffered a major nervous breakdown and wound up being institutionalized. And you thought you have problems?
The French withdrawal from Mexico gave Juarez’s army the chance to take back what had been lost earlier, the turning point being the Battle of Puebla on May 5, 1862, hence the holiday. Maximilian and his few remaining soldiers where eventually surrounded at the city of Santiago de Querétaro. After a short siege, the city fell and Maximilian surrendered to his victors where he was summarily courtmartialed and executed by firing squad on June 16, 1867. Witnesses said that he displayed the quality of “noblesse-oblige” to the end. As he marched towards his death, he tipped his his executioners and ask that they aim for his heart, not his face so that his mother would recognize him in death. His last words were: “I forgive everyone, and I ask everyone to forgive me. May my blood, which is about to be shed, be for the good of the country. Viva México!” Noblesse-Oblige indeed.
Thus ends a very cautionary tale about the dangers of idealism, betrayal and how one person’s obsession with aesthetics made him unable to balance cultural pursuits with Realpolitik, causing him to wind up on the roster that was presented at the beginning of this post.
She is one of the most ubiquitous Queens in our collective consciousness: Elizabeth Tudor has been portrayed in films, books, plays, television series and so on. Every actress worth her salt wants to play her. The whole concept of the modern day Renaissance Pleasure Faire revolves around her court. We are all familiar with her appearance from art history classes and museum visits. Our whole concept of who she was and what she represented has been inculcated into our heads by endless exposure from all intellectual angles. In her portraits we see her wearing beautiful gowns, gazing down on us with her enigmatic visage and none of these portraits is more mysterious than the quirky “Rainbow Portrait”.
Let’s start with a little bit of background here: I’m not going to get into details about her family history because all of that has been covered ad nauseam by Hollywood and historians alike. But what I want to focus on instead was her almost anal retentiveobsession with her image and how she wanted to be seen by her public. According to her biographers, Elizabeth was surrounded by a public relations apparatchik that would put a Hollywood publicist to shame. This resulted in many representations of her that are heavily embedded with symbolisms. Portraits of her could only be commissioned by approved artists and they would be given an “authorized” stencil of her face which would be used a template in order for the artist to reproduce her face. This accounts for the almost identical visage in almost every single painting. Official portraits of the Queen where usually commissioned to commemorate an official event such as her coronation or the defeat of the Spanish Armada. The provenance of the Rainbow Portraits remains as much of a mystery as the cryptic symbols embedded within it.
For an art piece that has been so over analyzed, there is very little known about its aforementioned provenance. The artist is unknown and it’s not sure how it came into the possession of its first owners, the Cecils, father and son who where ministers to the Queen. It’s believed it may have been commissioned by the son to commemorate her visit to Hatfield House, the Cecil family seat.Another curious detail is that when this painting was believed to be created, she was already pushing 70, towards the end of her life. But she is represented as a young maiden with long, flowing auburn locks cascading down her shoulders. Again, the official face template being put to good use and for good effect. Nonetheless, it’s one of the last known portraits made of Queen Elizabeth before her death in 1603.
Let’s have a closer look, shall we?
Starting from the top and working our way down, she is wearing a crown toped off by a crescent moon believed to represent Diana, Virgin Goddess of the Hunt. Diana, also represented the warrior and steward of the land, two responsibilities that were shared by Elizabeth in her lifetime.
Moving our eyes down along her costume, we can appreciate that it is dripping with pearls, a symbol of purity and another subtle reference to her virginity as she was known to be “The Virgin Queen”.
To her right, next to her face, there is a bejeweled gauntlet attached to her gorget. This represents the loyalty of her male courtiers and their willingness to throw down their gauntlet in order to defend her honor.
Her back collar has been stiffened with starch and fashioned into the shape of wings resembling angel or fairy wings. “Glorianna” was one of her official titles and also the title character of an opera composed by her contemporary, Henry Purcell: “The Fairie Queene”.
Her left sleeve is embellished with a brocaded snake holding a ruby red heart in its mouth: The wisdom and temperance of the snake holds in check the compassion and emotion of her heart. Above the snake’s head is an Orb, representing the Monarchy. Balance is maintained between the two qualities that are so important to a successful Monarch.
In her right hand she holds a rainbow and above her in Latin the words: “Non Sine Sole Iris” which translates to “No Rainbow without the Sun”. Meaning that if one wants peace and prosperity, then compromises must be met.
Finally, and perhaps the most curious is the cloak with the multiple eyes and ears embroidered all over. What could this mean? “I am all knowing and all seeing?” For most of her reign she fought and won against all odds.
For Elizabeth, it was not how she was seen, but how she wished to be seen. And how she wished to be seen was as a ruler who consolidated authority, transcended time and defied the ravages of aging. As one historian explained, the imagery of “The Rainbow Portrait” represents the three pillars of her reign:
The news of Karl Lagerfeld’s passing came on the heels of another project that occupied most of my time so I had promised my readers to give him a good send off in due time. Well, here it is and I hope it does him justice. Enjoy!
This is Karl Lagerfeld:
And this is Karl Lagerfeld:
And this is Karl Lagerfeld:
And This Too, is Karl Lagerfeld:
Portrait of Harvey Weinstein by Karl Lagerfeld
And so was This:
But He Will Ultimately Be Remembered For This:
From his final collection for Chanel
In the spring of 1982, I was in my final semester at the Fashion Institute of Technology, when it was announced in Women’s Wear Daily that Karl Lagerfeld had been appointed to take over as Design Director at the venerable House of Chanel. It echoed like a thunderclap throughout Seventh Avenue. The breaking news was also announced at the beginning of my Fashion Illustration class which was taught by another legend in the Industry: the late Harvey Boyd.
Professor Boyd was quite an intense individual who never shied from sharing his opinion. After sharing the news, he began questioning us about what the implications would be, when this edgy designer commandeered this Fashion Warhorse. Keep in mind that first, Karl was not French (the Chambre Syndicale de la Couture was very xenophobic) and second many of the established Fashion Houses were still being run by their namesakes, ie: the House of Givenchy was still being run by Hubert and Saint Laurent by Yves, just to give an example. So it was a risky move to bring in an outsider who was already well established elsewhere.
So we young dilettantes bandied about speculating what his first collection would look like until finally Professor Boyd announced: “I want the class to create a series of illustrations of what Lagerfeld’s first collection for Chanel. The inspiration will be Chanel meets May West” with the caveat: “And if anyone shows me a picture of an hourglass figure in a tweed suit, they will be expelled from my class!” A tall order if there ever was one.
I’ll never know where he got the inspiration for this, maybe he had a back channel to old Karl and the design crew at Chanel (after all Professor Boyd was pretty well connected). Or perhaps this was something that he pulled out of his hat. But know this: I think he touched on the basic concept of Lagerfeld’s vision. It was his mutability. His ability to adapt and merge completely unrelated ideas to suit his client’s needs while making it totally his own.
There are a lot of detractors who say that “There is no Lagerfeld Style”, well of course not! Lagerfeld spent most of his career freelancing for other fashion houses while occasionally stepping out with his own namesake collection. During the course of his profession he designed for the Houses of Fendi, Chloe, Tommy Hilfiger, Patou on and on. So much so that WWD labeled him “Fashion’s Busiest Freelancer”. But it was with the House of Chanel that he really took off. His innovations and presentations breathed new life into the dormant Couture Studio. His designs were so groundbreaking that WWD christened him with a new title: “Kaiser Karl’. And it stuck. Just like Howard Stern fancied himself the “King of All Media”, Kaiser Karl deserved this well earned nickname. He was not just a Fashion Designer, he was also a photographer, a painter, a writer, a video game character (Grand Theft Auto), a film director and a book publisher (yes, really). He truly was a Renaissance Man on the scale of David Bowie.
The “Death in Venice” Cruise Collection 2010 click on link below to watch
With great fame and accomplishments came great critics and detractors. He was accused of being a misogynist, of hating women, because of his remarks about singer Adele’s weight. Or his feud with Ines de la Fressange because she was chosen by the French government to be the new “Marianne”. But I call out to those critics to answer this: It was Karl who hired supermodels like Stella Tennant and Jasmine Le Bon to work his runway shows when both women were well into there 50’s. Other designers would consider them to be one the hill, but not Karl; He knew the importance of catering to his bread and butter client: The well heeled middle aged woman.
It was Karl who appointed his two successors shortly before his death: Virginie Viard for Chanel and Silvia Venturini for Fendi. Both women, women who had been his creative collaborators for over 30 years. Who is the misogynist now? OK, so maybe he said that Adele had a beautiful face and voice but that it was a pity she was overweight. I’m sure he’s not the only one who shared this opinion. Besides, two out of three is not bad!
Although Karl Lagerfeld and Coco Chanel never met, they were creative soulmates. Both dabbled in costume design (Coco for “Le Train Bleu” and Karl for the cult classic “Maitresse”) and both where masterminds at taking the process of creating a couture collection to a whole new level. Coco Chanel liked to tie in her collections with a destination, Karl took it one step further and brought the fashion to the destination. Case in point his “Death in Venice” collection on the Lido Beach, the “Paris Bombay Collection” and my personal favorite: Chanel Resort in Havana, Cuba. All the time fusing the unique conceits of each culture while maintaining the integrity of the design concepts of the House of Chanel.
Most importantly was Karl’s ability to laugh at himself. Case in point being Mick Jagger’s hilarious spoof of him on SNL. Rumor has it that Karl laughed last and loudest.
Karl, worked tirelessly till the end, keeping his health problems to himself. His death came as a shock for most people because he was one of those larger than life figures who, like Bowie or Elizabeth Taylor, one thinks will live forever.
So in closing we will not say “Goodbye” but instead “Auf Wiedersehen”.
Because the literal translation of “Auf Wiedersehen” from German is not goodbye, but “see you later”. And in truth you will never leave us Kaiser Karl, Your body of work and your legacy will live on forever to serve as an inspiration to us lesser mortals.
The Votes are in and here are the nominees in a category that is very close to my heart: Best Achievement in Costume Design. This year the nominees are all veterans of the awards season. There are two former recipients and perennial nominees.
And the Winners Are 2019
Ruth E. Carter: Black Panther
Ruth E. Carter has been active since the early 80’s and her body of work encompasses the costumes of almost every film genre. A multiple Oscar nominee, she has worked with top notch directors such as Spike Lee, Ava DuVernay and Steven Spielberg. This body of work has reached its zenith with her innovative designs for the film “Black Panther”.
The genre of science fiction is one that I personally feel is unfairly over looked when it comes to recognition from The Academy. Not to disparage the other nominees, because their efforts also merit recognition. But, Oscar nominations tend to favor historical dramas and it always pains me when I see science fiction or fantasy films get passed over in that category. Because for a historical costume drama one only needs to look at a history book for the interpretation of the characters through design. But for a science fiction or fantasy film, the costume designer relies only on their imagination. And believe me, that can be a tall order. Francis Coppola said once that a costume designer tells the story through the wardrobe and when the story is purely hypothetical, that’s where real creative genius kicks in.
Mary Zophres: The Ballad of Buster Scruggs
Mary Zophres is also a multiple Oscar nominee and “The Ballad of Buster Scruggs” is her 14th collaboration with the Coen Brothers. Their films all have “a look” about them and it’s obvious that the entire Art Department works very hard to create a cohesive vision. Like some of her previous efforts such as “The Big Lebowski”, “The Ballad of Buster Scruggs” displays all of the quirky costuming conceits associated the Coen Brothers films.
Here, the characters are defined by the costumes they wear. To quote Ms. Zophres: “This was like designing for six different leads with six different backgrounds”. She was particularly challenged in the creation of an amputee costume for one character. The character was not an amputee and the Coen Brothers do not always rely on CGI for special effects. So she cleverly created a shirt with four sleeves to give the illusion of being armless and allowing the actor to hide his limbs without resorting to “Cinema Verité”.
Alexandra Byrne: Mary, Queen of Scots
Alexandra Byrne, a former Oscar winner (Elizabeth, The Golden Age) and perennial nominee, brings a touch of fantasy to an equally fantastical film. I try to avoid movies dealing with the relationship between Mary Queen of Scots and Elizabeth II. Mostly because of their inaccuracies. Yes, it’s a screenwriters wet dream to write a script featuring these two hellcats chewing up the scenery. The fact is they never met! And unfortunately this film steps into the same historical dog pile with the hems of the costumes dragging though.
I am not sure if the following fabric choice was due to budgetary and/or creative license, but all of the costumes were built from denim. A fabric that did not even exist at that time!. I applaud the Art Department by trying to be edgy, but honestly, it does not work. The use of this fabric as a base for all the costumes winds up giving the movie a dreary, monotonous look.
One last abuse of creative license with really has nothing to do with costumes but it’s something that always burns my toast: Yes, Mary Stuart was born in Scotland, yes, she was queen of this country. But her Mother (Marie de Guise) was French and Mary was sent to live at the French court at the age of 5, where she lived for 14 years. More than likely her first language would have been French. So why, why, why is she always portrayed speaking with a thick Scottish Burr? So if anything, she probably would have spoken English with a French accent, n’est-ce pas? Oh yes and Memo to the Hair & Makeup Department: Mary Stuart had brown eyes, not blue. Saoirse Ronan has lovely baby-blues and perhaps they wanted to match the denim.
In short, if this movie is awarded in this category, I will stab myself in the eye with a fork and broadcast it on this blog.
But I don’t want to waste this post by trashing her work. Alexandra Byrne also designed the costumes for the popular “Dr. Strange” for which she was passed over in 2016. This only reinforces my theory about the shortsightedness of the Academy and the way that science fiction and fantasy are ignored.
Sandy Powell: Mary Poppins Returns & The Favourite
Once again, Sandy Powell pulls double duty with a double nomination for “Mary Poppins Returns” & “The Favourite”. Statistically speaking, this double nomination will also increaseher chances to grab the statue, as was the case with her double whammy nomination in 2000 for “Velvet Goldmine” and “Shakespeare in Love” and then again in 2015 for “Carol” and “Cinderella”. She has won the prize for “Shakespeare in Love”, “The Aviator” and “The Young Victoria”.
In “Mary Poppins” she employs whimsical techniques such as hand painting the costumes for the CGI scenes in order to achieve a more even color palette. For “The Favourite” she relies on a muted palate to echo the elegant interiors of the baroque era.
Of all of this year’s nominees, she is probably the most accomplished. Sandy Powell is one of those creative artists whose creations are so visually powerful, that sometimes they can overpower the actor’s performance. I’m thinking specifically of Jonathon Rees-Meyers playing the “Bowie” role in “Velvet Goldmine”. Anyone who had the privilege to see Bowie perform in his lifetime knows that Bowie was a natural performer who wore his costumes with panache. In “Velvet Goldmine” is appeared as if the costumes were wearing Jonathan Rees Meyers. Thankfully, the strong performances of Emily Blunt in “Mary Poppeins” and the female Trifecta in “The Favourite” worked well with the beautiful costumes.
Sandy Powell’s creative inspiration sees her on the fast track to inherent the double crowns of the late Eiko Ishioka and Edith Head.
All Nominees are Winners but for my money the Oscar should go to:
Ruth E. Carter, “Black Panther”.
THEY WERE ROBBED!
“ A Wrinkle in Time”
Why was this movie not nominated?
The film showcases the beautiful femcentric designs of Paco Delgado.
Memo to the Academy:
Please get your collective heads out of your asses
It’s with tremendous pride that I announce, my award winning costume installation, “Titania Takes a Quantum Leap”, has been selected to be a part of the Venice Art Biennale. “Titania” is a multi media installation featuring alternative fabrications and LED technology. It was originally presented at the “Creatures and Models” conference in San Francisco, California. This juiced exhibit was sponsored by LucasFilm and judged by the senior art department heads at Industrial Light & Magic studios. “Titania Takes a Quantum Leap” was awarded Best in Category (Costumes) and “Best In Show. “Titania” was also selected to be exhibited at the “Brave Destiny” group show at the WAH Gallery in New York City along with the works of Robert Venosa and Alex Gray. Now “Titania” will take another “Quantum Leap” across the Atlantic where she will be a part of the prestigious Venice Art Biennale as a part of the “It’s Liquid” Group.
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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