I am starting a new section in Newsletter: “Meet the Muse”, that honors cultural icons who influenced fashion, culture and the arts. The definition of Muse is generally attributed to a woman who is a source of inspiration, don’t be surprised to find guys and non-binary individuals in future posts.
So as our first post in this category, it’s only natural that we begin with a woman with the solipsistic name of “Musidora”.Born Jeanne Roques on February 23, 1889, Musidora , whose name means “Gift of the Muse”, was a silent screen actress, director and producer whose ghoulish exotic beauty captivated European audiences and served as a later inspiration for the likes of Theda Bara, Vampyra, Cat Woman and a dozen contemporary “Goths” such as Siouxsie Sioux and Courtney Love.
She is best known for her starring role as Irma Vepp in the silent horror serial “Les Vampires”, directed by Louis Feuillade, who was also a ground breaking film maker in his own right. Feuillade was a great supporter of her work and went on to collaborate with her on one more film. “Judex”. After that, Musidora spread her wings, producing, writing, directing and starring on 10 more of her own films. Two of those were based on books written by her friend, the French novelist, Colette. Sadly all of her films are lost with the exception of two: “Soleil et Ombre” and “La Terre des Taureaux”. Of her collaboration with Feuillade, only “Les Vampires” still exists.
But just looking at those few surviving images flickering on the screen, it’s easy to see how she seduced audiences back in the day and how she continues to seduce us now. Her mannerisms and affectations look strangely contemporary and she continues to be imitated and satirized in modern culture. Everyone from Diamanda Gàlás to Elvira imitated her look. She was even the subject of a Drag satire, “The Mystery of Irma Vep” by Charles Ludlam and a 1996 update “Irma Vep” starring Maggie Cheung in the title role.
Many filmmakers of note such as Luis Buñuel (Andalusian Dog) and Fritz Lang (Metropolis) credit her for inspiring their directorial style and the visual style of their films. The illustrator René Grau changed his painting style and began using only primary colors in her honor. So much was her influence that the French began referring to her as “La Dixieme Muse” (The Tenth Muse). Sadly with the onset of the talkies, Musidora’s acting career began to fade, but she did not let this minor detail stop her; She continued to write, produce and direct until her death in 1957.
So the next time you apply thick dark eyeliner, enjoy an Ann Rice novel or consider wearing all black, remember the great debt that we owe to the Mother Muse of All Goths: Musidora.
Would you like to see more of Musidora? Click on the images below to see her as Irma Vep in “Les Vampires”.
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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.
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.
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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Please contact me at 832-652-9180 or by email: email@example.com
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.