The World’s Most Dangerous Profession

Emperor Maximilian I of Mexico. Click on image to see the costume inspired by this image. Photo courtesy of Miramare Foundation

Let’s face it folks:

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:

Maximilian and Carlotta in happier days. Image courtesy Fundación Chapultepec

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:

Beautiful Miramare Castle in Trieste, Italy. Image courtesy of Museo Castelo Miramare

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?

President Benito Juarez- Image courtesy of Museo de Arte Popular, México

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.

Mexican Army Uniforms designed by Maximilian. Courtesy Fundación Chapultepec

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-classical  style palace of unsurpassed beauty. In fact it is the only castle in North America to have been inhabited by an actual sovereign.

Chapultepec Castle- Image courtesy Atlas Obscura

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 ill-fated Carlotta of Mexico-Image courtesy of Kunsthalle Museum, Mannhiem, Germany

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.

Execution of Maximilian by Édouard Manet-Courtesy MOMA, NY

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. 

Signature of Emperor Maximilian I-Courtesy Bettmann Archive

 

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She’s Like A Rainbow

The Enigma of Elizabeth I’s Rainbow Portrait.

Elizabeth I “Rainbow Portrait” ca 1600 Artist Unknown. Courtesy of Hatfield House, UK

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 retentive  obsession 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.

Detail: Crescent moon toping off her crown.

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”.

Detail: Multitude of pearls on her stomacher and elsewhere.

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. 

Detail: Jeweled gauntlet on her gorget.

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”. 

Detail: Glorianna Wings

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.

Detail: Snake, Heart, Orb

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. 

Detail: No Rainbow without the Sun.

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. 

Detail: I see all and hear all

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:

“Divinity, Virginity, Power”.

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And The Winners Are! 2019 Edition

Nominees for Best Achievement in Costume Design.

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 increase  her 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 

and nominate more science fiction/fantasy movies!

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The Bard’s Final Fantasy

Enter the Fantasy Portal.

Are you ready to be a Warrior of Light and defend your Empire?

I loved working on this project! As a designer there is nothing more challenging or satisfying than bringing a costume to life which has never been made before.

Often times an artist may create a sketch of a character without thinking how this can translate onto the human body.

The challenge was to create something wearable and functional but to retain the “character” of the Bard and I was deeply honored to bring her Fantasy Bard’s costume into reality.

Front View among the materials used were Silk Noil, vintage Peau de Soie and wool challis

So here is the story of how I brought the Bard to life!

Back View detail

 
My client and I worked closely to bring her Bard’s costume to life for her to wear at the FanFest in Las Vegas.
The Bard’s costume featured a series of organic and inorganic fabrications that help bring her character to life.
Sleeve detail
For the organic effect I selected some unusual and hard to find fabrics including silk noil, trimmed with vintage Peau de Soie and wool Challis.
There fabrics which are very hard to find or no longer manufactured. I coupled this with more contemporary futuristic materials such as holographic Mystique spandex for the appliqués.
At her fitting. The fantasy unfolds!
 
Much attention was placed on the details in order to replicate the character’s costume as accurately as possible. 
She found the Lodestone!
 
Yes, the Bard found the Lodestone and I am sure the costume helped!”
 
~*~
Find out how I can create a custom costume fantasy for you too!
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Bohemian Rapture!

When Zhandra Met Freddie

A meeting of the minds. In this blog post we will examine the creative collaborations between designer Zhandra Rhodes and the iconic rock group, Queen.

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.

A colorful portrait of Dame Zhandra Rhodes

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. 

Princess Anne wearing her engagement dress designed by Zhandra Rhodes. Are those spurs on his shoes?

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!

Queen guitarist Brian May wearing one of Zhandra’s confection. I love the detail on the fabric and how the sleeves of the tunic were engineered in such a way that it did not interfere with his guitar playing.

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.

Another pleated tunic created by Zhandra Rhodes for Freddie Mercury. This time in violet!

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.

Her sketch of the tunic.

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! 

Zhandra Rhodes wears one of the reproductions of the iconic tunic that she made in collaboration with “Bohemian Rhapsody” designer Julian Day.

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Woman’s Work

Welcome to the Dinner Party
Welcome to the Dinner Party

 

“The Dinner Party” by Judy Chicago

An overview of the complete Dinner Party installation by Judy Chicago. Each panel represents women who history has forgotten. Beginning with the mythical and ending with the contemporary
An overview of the complete Dinner Party installation by Judy Chicago. Each panel represents women who history has forgotten. Beginning with the mythical and ending with the contemporary

Another highlight of my visit to the David Bowie Is exhibit was the fact that the Brooklyn Museum is also home to the iconic installation by Judy Chicago called ‘The Dinner Party’. This groundbreaking example of feminist art had been on my bucket list since its debut in 1979. Since it’s premiere, the art piece made the rounds of all the famous museums of the world and somehow I would always keep missing it. In 2002, the installation finally found a permanent home at the Brooklyn Museum, so being that it coincided with the DBI exhibition I was doubly motivated to attend.

Artemisia Gentilleschi, Renaissance Manerist artists whose hands where broken by the Inquisition. Once they healed she resumed painting.
Artemisia Gentileschi, Renaissance Manerist artists whose hands where broken by the Inquisition. Once they healed she resumed painting.

This is one of those installations that is so spiritual and so moving, it felt like I was visiting the Sistine Chapel or some other holy place of great importance. The story of this work is virtual dinner party attended by important women who had been overlooked by history. Each setting represented one of these women and on the tiled floor where written in swirling letters the names of other women who were somehow related to the invitee. For example below the place setting for the author Mary Wollstonecraft was the name of her daughter Mary Shelley.

Mary Wollstonecraft, 18th cc feminist and author of "Vindication of the Rights of Women".
Mary Wollstonecraft, 18c feminist and author of “Vindication of the Rights of Women”.

Although Judy Chicago was a classically trained artist with an MFA from UCLA, she desired that this particular work of art be created using materials and techniques traditionally and condescendingly referred to as “Women’s Work”. Sewing, embroidery, pottery, weaving were used to create each place setting in a beautiful presentation. Ironically, these skills are still looked down upon by the patriarchal mindset of the art world and it is something that I have personally experienced in my career as a designer. Its always been my opinion that if women were mechanics and men were seamstresses, a pair of jeans would set you back 30k while an automobile would be sold for clearance at Walmart for $19.99! So kudos to Judy for elevating these skills to a high art form that is respected and appreciated. The irony was not lost on me as I took in the exhibit that in another room in the same building they were honoring the costume makers who helped to create the persona of David Bowie.

Eleanor of Aquitaine, Queen of France and England, Warrior, Mother of Richard Couer de Lyon. Also invented the fireplace.
Eleanor of Aquitaine, Queen of France and England, Warrior, Mother of Richard Couer de Lyon. Also invented the fireplace. Busy Lady!

This opus started as a labor of love for Judy, she was inspired to create art that would not only honor the memory of these forgotten women but to also, as mentioned previously, elevate women’s skills that had been relegated to the category of ‘crafts’, to the realm of fine art. It was a process that took years to create, thanks to the efforts of 400 volunteers who worked tirelessly to create this epic. When it finally premiered in 1979, it was universally panned: one misogynistic wind bag (who also happened to be a well known art critic whose name will not be mentioned) crudely dismissed it as “vaginas on a plate”. After the show closed she was $30,000 in debt and the laughing stock of the art world. But out of every crucifixion comes a great resurrection and over time the installation began to tour all over the world to mounting critical acclaim. Until it finally found a permanent home at the Brooklyn Museum.

Hypatia of Alexandria. Neoplatonist philosopher, mathematician, astronomer and the last librarian at the Library of Alexandria. She was murdered by a christian mob before the library was destroyed.
Hypatia of Alexandria. Neoplatonist philosopher, mathematician, astronomer and the last librarian at the Library of Alexandria. She was murdered by a christian mob and the library destroyed.

Each dinner setting features the name of the guest and her plate is in the shape of a vulva. Like the vulva, each plate is unique and no two are alike as are the richly embroidered table cloths underneath. The guests include actual historical figures like Eleanor of Aquitaine and Margaret Sanger, but also mythical ones such as the Primordial Goddess and Kali. I honestly wish that I could show pictures of each and every one of those place settings because of their unique beauty and detail, but alas, after my altercation with the security guards and the Bowie exhibit, I was trying to stay on my best behavior.

Margaret Sanger, sex educator and founder of Planned Parenthood
Margaret Sanger, sex educator and founder of Planned Parenthood.

I have highlighted some of guests who resonated with me personally. But I encourage all of those reading this to take the time to see this exhibit and bring a daughter, a sister, a mother. They will thank you for it. In the mean time you can find out more about the exhibit by clicking the link here.

A few more guests:

Empress Theodora of Byzantium. Started here career as a circus performer and wound up Empress of the Byzantine Empire. Way to go!
Empress Theodora of Byzantium. Started her public career as a circus performer and wound up Empress of the Byzantine Empire. She advocated women rights that were codiciled into the Justinian Code. 
Snake Goddess of Crete. Well, we all know how I feel about snakes. it was only fitting.
Snake Goddess of Crete. Well, we all know how I feel about snakes. it was only fitting.
Primordial Goddess, honoring our original Mother.
Primordial Goddess, honoring our original Mother.

I hope that you enjoyed this post. For more information about my costume services. Please visit my website www.costumesbyantonia.com

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*David Bowie Is Everywhere!*

Costumes by Antonia visits David Bowie Is at the Brooklyn Museum NY

Finally made to the Holy Grail for all Bowie fans. The closing week of the ‘David Bowie Is’ exhibition at the Brooklyn Museum. This all encompassing exhibit has been touring the world since its premiere at the Victoria & Albert Museum 5 years ago. The fact that it only made two pit stops in the United States speaks volumes to The Thin White Duke’s worldwide appeal. This particular blog entry is of such a deeply personal nature, that I have procrastinated forever in posting this. 

David’s measurements! From one of his designer’s fitting books.

In spite of the fact that the presentation was disorganized and overcrowded, it was the content of the exhibit that overcame any drawbacks resulting from the ineptitude of the Brooklyn Museum. After all, we are talking Bowie here, and we all know that he was a ‘Mortal with potential of a Superman’. And I don’t want to totally trash the museum either; to their credit they did resolve some of my concerns. But according to one of my sources at the museum, even they acknowledged that they had gotten in over their heads with this exhibit. 

Like some cat from Japan: Designer Kansai Yamamoto discusses his collaboration with Bowie.

David surrounded himself with the best talent: the best designers, the best directors, the best musicians. Talent that matched, but never surpassed his own. The show was a comprehensive overview of his collaborations as a performer, artist, writer, painter. Bowie the Artist. The shear breadth of his artistic accomplishments is overwhelming. Since this is a costume blog, the main focus will be his costumes. However I am including samples of his other facets because otherwise it would not do him justice.

Portraits by David of Yukio Mishima & Iggy Pop
David’s portraits of Yukio Mishima & Iggy Pop

I should start out with this caveat: there where no photos allowed in the exhibit so these pictures where taken clandestinely and at great personal risk. My apologies in advance for the poor quality of some of the images. In fact at one point when I was attempting to take a picture, a hand appeared in front of the lens belonging to an angry security guard who demanded that I stop on pain of banishment from the museum and confiscation of my pictures. So there was A LOT I could not capture: His costume from when he appeared on Broadway in “Elephant Man”, the Bauhaus costume from his “Saturday Night Live” appearance, the Kabuki cape designed by Kansai Yamamoto. And so on.

Photo Interuptus! The hand of an irate museum security guard photo bombs by pictures.
Photo Interuptus! The hand of an irate museum security guard photo bombs by pictures.

My attempt here is to present his costumes and how they would have been worn within the context of his performance. As mentioned earlier, David collaborated with the top creative talent and as a costumer and technician myself, I was in awe over the beauty and detail of his clothing. The delicacy of the tailoring conceits and the detail of the embellishments are incredible. It’s hard to believe that the enormity of the effort that went into creating a garment that was often times intended to be worn only once.

From the 1980 Floor Show. Costumes worn by David & Mick Ronson.
From the 1980 Floor Show. Costumes worn by David & Mick Ronson.

The first time I saw Bowie perform was in the “1980 Floor Show” which was broadcast in the USA on the “Midnight Special” TV series. It was a Rock’n’Roll cabaret with dancers, costumes, a guest appearance by singer Marianne Faithful and everyone’s favorite trans model Amanda Lear, who took time away from her duties as Salvador Dali’s muse in order to serve as MC for the show. Not a bad line up.

Storyboard from the 1980 Floor Show
Storyboard from the 1980 Floor Show

This production was the most blindingly theatrical presentation that my 16 year old eyes had ever seen. The originality of the costumes inspired me to grab a pencil and sketch pad. Aladdin Sane’s Thunderbolt of Enlightenment struck my brain causing a deluge of creative juices to start flowing and as I result I was sketching costumes furiously through the entire show. How’s that for inspiration?

The infamous 'Third Hand' costume with the missing hand, thanks to the TV censors!
The infamous ‘Third Hand’ costume without the third hand, thanks to the TV censors!

The costumes for this show were showcased in their own particular vitrine. They now only had David’s costume but the one worn by guitarist Mick Ronson. Mick is often overshadowed by Bowie’s supernova, but let’s not forget that he had a hand in the creation of the man, before Ziggy broke up the band. 

Some exquisitely tailored suits by designed by Ola Hudson and a later creation by Alexander McQueen for his 50th Birthday concert.
Some exquisitely tailored suits by designed by Ola Hudson for the album “Pin-Ups” and a later creation by Alexander McQueen for his 50th Birthday concert.

The first time I actually saw Bowie perform live onstage, in the flesh, was for the ’Thin White Duke Tour’ also called the ‘Isolar Tour’ on February 6, 1976 in San Francisco. To say that it was an out of body experience would be an understatement because I was completely consumed by  his presence. I am not the first person to say this. The energy and charisma he exuded onstage was something every performer can only dream of achieving. It was a true out of body experience. Un-psychotropically enhanced.

Thin White Duke: The draping on the sleeve lent grace and fluidity to his movement when he performed  on stage.
Thin White Duke: The draping on the sleeve lent grace and fluidity to his movement when he performed on stage.

The concert began with a screening of the surrealist film ‘Un Chien Andalou’. The cinematic collaboration between Salvador Dali and Luis Buñuel best known for the close up of a girl’s eye being sliced open by a razor blade. When this happened the screams of horror from the audience was deafening! As the film came to its conclusion, the projection screen rose and the band began to play the intro to ‘Station to Station’, eventually a spotlight popped on our guy as the sang the lyrics about his return. Not knowing what kind of fashion statement he would make, he was dressed in black and white which went well with the stark fluorescent lighting.

The "unexpurgated" artwork for the "Diamond Dogs" album cover by Guy Peellaert
The “unexpurgated” artwork for the “Diamond Dogs” album cover by Guy Peellaert

The ‘Thin White Duke Tour’ was the most amazing piece of theatre I had ever seen up until then. Having out done the ‘The 1980 Floor Show’. 

"Ashes to Ashes" Pierrot/Major Tom costume designed by long time collaborator Natasha Korniloff. The pictures do not do this costume justice. Behind is the lesser known 'Screaming Lord Byron' from "Blue Jean" video.
“Ashes to Ashes” Pierrot/Major Tom costume designed by long time collaborator Natasha Korniloff. The pictures do not do this costume justice. Behind is the lesser known ‘Screaming Lord Byron’ from the “Blue Jean” video.

Feeling fully recovered from my out of Bowie-body experience, I decided that this concert was something that must be repeated’.  So I hoped into my Ford Pinto (don’t laugh, it WAS 1976) and drove down to L.A. to catch the show again at the venerable L.A. Forum. This time I was able to relax and enjoy the show. Gloating with delight hearing the audience’s shrieks when the girl’s eye was slashed in the opening film. No more out of body experiences this time. I was just an observer. As expected Bowie delivered another out of this world performance.

From the "Elephant Man" Playbill
From the “Elephant Man” Playbill.

So fast forward to the 80’s and by now I was a college student living in New York. ’Scary Monsters’ was constantly spinning on my turn table (kids, if you don’t know what that is, Google it). The third and last time I saw Bowie perform live was on Broadway in ‘Elephant Man’ and needless to say, it was the most amazing piece of theatre I had seen up until then. Only Bowie can out do Bowie., so all his previous opera.  What a performance! He opted out on the prosthetic makeup and chose to use his body language and voice to convey the pathos of the lead character. 

Periodic Table of Bowie. Click on the link to learn more about this alchemical egregore.
Periodic Table of Bowie. Click on the link to learn more about this alchemical egregore. His widow, Iman, is listed as one of the “Noble Metals”.

My college and my apartment were both located in the Chelsea district of Manhattan and in a stroke of Kafkaesque synchronicity, so was Bowie’s. According to a friend who had it on good authority that our Hero had a loft somewhere south of West 23rd St, so we took it upon ourselves to case every single single building in the vicinity until we came upon one building around West 20th @ 9th avenue that yielded results. We were reading the names on the mailboxes and one of the tenants went by the name: “Bewley Brothers Music”. Ya Think?! Eureka! 

Pencil drawing by a young David. Foreshadowing early incarnations of characters that would manifest as characters later on in his career.
Pencil drawing by a young David. Foreshadowing early incarnations of characters that would manifest as characters later on in his career.

We stood in front of the mailbox pondering our next move: Should we ring the door bell? What if he answers? What if he invites us up? What do we say to him? This reverie of ‘what ifs’ was rudely interrupted by the booming voice of a very irate doorman: “Had it ever occurred to you kids that he may be going in and out the back door?!” Well, these two junior stalkers in training made a dash out the door to the back alleyway of the building but to no avail; we were unequivocally asked to leave the premises by the same irate doorman. 

David being assisted into his 'Dark Angel' costume by Angela and (perhaps) Coco Schwab.
David being assisted into his ‘Dark Angel’ costume by Angela and (perhaps) Coco Schwab.

I lived in the Chelsea district for several more years and as time passed I became one of those blasé jaded New Yorkers who is not impressed by celebrity. Yes, I did spot him once or twice in passing and my heart would jump ever so slightly. But I was determined to stay in ‘Blasé New Yorker Mode’.  To the point where one day I was grocery shopping at the local A&P supermarket and as I was browsing the produce department, I could see out of the corner of my eye that someone was trying to take my shopping cart. Without turning my head I grabbed the cart away from the interloper and shouted in my most nasally Manhattanese “That’s MY cart”. I heard a crisp British accented male voice mutter “Oh sorry” as he slipped away. Yes, The Thin White Duke was a grocery cart thief! 

All roads lead to Bowie: Nikola Tesla corner on 40th & 6th Ave. Bowie played Tesla in his last film appearance "The Prestige".
All roads lead to Bowie: Nikola Tesla corner on 40th & 6th Ave. Bowie played Tesla in his last film role in “The Prestige”.

As time progressed, I moved on to other musical styles and to other cities. I hadn’t purchased a Bowie album or even listened to his music in years. I was vaguely amused by my younger relatives fascination with him and was pleasantly surprised to find one of my nieces apartment covered with Bowie poster when I visited her one Thanksgiving. But when I heard the news of his transition on January 10, 2016, it all came flashing back to me. The Stars did look very different after that. Tears would not stop flowing. Every time his name was mentioned, my eyes would water up. In fact I’m in a bit of a ‘Weepy Devotchka’ mode right now as I type this.  The impact that he had on my life, my choices and values was something that cannot be quantified. In many ways he saved my life, lifting me out of the mundane and the cruel to a realm that was both sacred and sublime. 

For more information regarding my costumes services please visit my website:

832-652-9180
costumesbyantonia@gmail.com

 

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It’s Good to be King!

~It’s Good to be King!~

~Holy Roman Emperor Leopold I in theatrical costume~

The Austro-Hungarian Empire gave the world so much to enjoy: music, literature, food, Lippizaner Stallions, Sigmund Freud and the Von Trapp Family. But who would have thought that other major contribution would have been those beautiful, over the top costumes of the royal court? Of course, I had always been vaguely familiar with that genre, in particular having caught a glimpse of the late ‘Heini’ Von Thyssen traipsing about in full Austro-Hungarian drag at some sort of cultural event or other in Madrid back in the 90’s. Heini’s ensemble echoes the  splendor of an era lost in time. Like the Hapsburgs, Heini was a voracious art collector and his extensive compilation is on view at the museum which bears his name: Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza in Madrid. In an ironic twist of fate, his eldest daughter Francesca, wound up marrying a Hapsburg.

~Baron Hans Heinrich Thyssen-Bornemisza (a/k/a ‘Heini’) ~

My costume designs for a recent production of ‘The Sound of Music’ notwithstanding, it wasn’t until I saw the ‘Hapsburg Splendor’ exhibit at the MFAH that I was able to really appreciate the richness and luxuriousness of their court costumes. Now, I know that some of you cynics about there are saying: That exhibit happened two years ago. Why are you blogging about it now? Well, why not. It was a great exhibit that not only featured some beautiful costumes but a lot of important art as well. As mentioned earlier, the Hapsburgs, like my buddy Heini, were prolific art collectors and this exhibit, in particular the costumes merit a belated blog. Besides, now I can finally delete the exhibit pictures from my iPhone!

~Leopold I and his horse in matching costumes~

~(more about that later)~

The exhibit begins with an overall view of the Hapsburg Dynasties then segues into their very extensive art collection with examples from Caravaggio, Velásquez, Holbein and on and on. Finally the last hall is the one that features the costumes and it showcases examples of court dress, couture, military uniforms, heck, even the horses got into the act! I will cover the fine art towards the end of the post, but being that this IS a costume blog after all, we will begin there.


~Crown Prince Otto alighting from his carriage~

Let’s begin with this painting depicting a young prince alighting from his carriage because it serves as a good reference point for the costumes featured throughout the exhibit; Study the painting closely and you will see each one of those costumes was represented in the exhibit. It’s interesting to see how the Empire, being a mix of different cultures and ethnicities, also displayed this diversity in the clothing. As you view the details of their attire, one can also see elements of the various kingdoms which comprised this multi-cultural nation.

~Cuteness Overlord~

A ceremonial velvet tunic trimmed in ermine with the matching hat and shoes. Up until the early 20th Century most children of a certain socio-economic class were dressed as ‘little adults’. It’s interesting to see the shift begin towards more ‘child appropriate’ attire. This precious costume was worthy of a little prince!
Sadly, little Otto was never to inherit the title of Emperor due to the dissolution of the Austro-Hungarian Empire after WW1. But like most of his namesakes he had the talent for making lemonade out lemons and went on reinvent himself in other ways. Otto actually worked for a living as a businessman and writer. He even dabbled in politics by being an early supporter of the EU and served in the European Parliament. Bonus trivia: It was Otto’s son, Karl, who married Heini’s daughter Francesca.

~Hussar Uniform with Pelisse overcoat and Dragoon hat~

Keeping the ‘light’ in Light Calvary. The amount of gold in the bullion stitch embroidery would probably break a horse’s back. But I am assuming this is more of a ceremonial garment than an actual military uniform. Still, the detail and workmanship is lovely and I am sure that the wearer would have looked dashing on his horse. The pelisse over coat is usually worn over the left shoulder and it served to prevent swords cuts during battle. I’m curious as to why the curators of this exhibit chose to not show it worn in this fashion. Perhaps an oversight?

~Court Costume for a member of the Emperor’s Privy Council~

Looking at the hardware on this get-up, I can totally see this serving as an influence for a cosplay step punk costume. Couldn’t you? ‘A League of Extraordinary Austro-Hungarian Gentlemen’ perhaps? Unfortunately, time has faded the color of the brocaded inner tunic. But I would imaging it would have been a rich burgundy red just like the one shown in the painting.

~Footman’s everyday work uniform, yes really!~

This footman’s liveried uniform is in excellent condition and is exactly as represented in the painting. You can see him holding the door open as our little prince alights from the carriage.There was no description of the fabric but I am assuming that it is some type of wool melton and I am more than willing to assume that underneath the fancy braided livery embellishment is there is a dolman sleeve. I say this because the majority of the men’s costume feature a dolman sleeve as opposed to a traditional set in sleeve that was seen in other European court costumes. A dolman sleeve is actually of Turkish origin, and being that Austria-Hungary and the Ottoman Turks had a long history together (not always nice), it serves to prove how their clothing reflected the many cultures under their rule.

~‘Sissi’s’ ball gown designed by Charles Frederick Worth~

Seeing this elegant ball gown brought many bittersweet emotions because of the tragic legacy of its wearer. Empress Elisabeth of Austria also known as ‘Sissi’ can only be described as the 19th centuries answer to Princess Diana. Sissi was a free spirited and progressive thinker who wrote poetry and believed in the benefits of  diet and exercise. At a time when women were constricted by their corsets, Sissi believed that one maintained their figure through proper diet and calisthenics. So much so that she had a special gymnasium built at the Hofburg palace where she would work out daily. And one can appreciate the results of these work outs from the tiny waistline of this design by Charles Frederick Worth. Like Diana, she chafed under the stifling formality of the Austro-Hungarian court which caused her to suffer from bouts of depression and bulimia. Like Diana she was interested in couture like those of the aforementioned designer. And like Diana, she died a tragic and unnecessary death, having been assassinated during a visit to Switzerland by an anarchist who confused her for someone else!

~Ball Gown belonging to Princess Kinski~

I have no idea who Princess Kinski was and that was all that the information that the museum offered regarding the gown’s provenance. Googling her name was no help either. But please enjoy this beautiful ball gown of Peau de Soie satin and exquisite bullion stitching. If anyone reading this knows anything about Princess Kinski and her dress, feel free to contact me directly. costumesbyantonia@gmail.com

~Front View of Princess Kinski’s gown~

~Another back view of Princess Kinski’s beautiful gown~

~Even the horses wore costumes~

~It’s Good to be King!~

~The Hapsburg Art Collection~

The Hapsburgs were prolific art collectors and the exhibit did not disappoint. The works ranged from Roman antiquities to renaissance and baroque masters. Here is a sampling of the artworks beginning with the portrait above of Jane Seymour by Holbein. You might ask how a painting that was commissioned by Henry VIII of England wound up in Vienna? The answer is a long and convoluted one having to do with Master Holbein selling his works to the highest bidder. Obviously, the Hapsburgs had deeper pockets than the Tudors.

~Enjoy the rest of the collection!~

~Nymph and Satyr by P.P. Rubens~

~Danae by Titian~

~The Death of Cleopatra by Cagnacci~

~Infanta Maria Teresa by Velázquez~

~Wolfgirl, Artist Unknown~

~The high point of the collection ‘Crown of Thorns’~

~by the Master of dark and light: Caravaggio~

The exhibit has returned to the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna.

For more information visit their website: https://www.khm.at/en/

For more information on how to create your own royal splendor of a costume please visit my website www.costumesbyantonia.com call 832-652-9180 or email costumesbyantonia@gmail.com

 

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And the Winners Are!

May I have the Correct Envelope Please?

 

Congratulations to Colleen Atwood Oscar Winner for

Best Achievement in Costume Design

 ‘Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them’

 

I must confess that to being a bit disappointed in the award going to Ms Atwood. Don’t misunderstand, I am a big fan of her body of work, just that I was hoping that the awards would have gone to a newcomer instead of someone who has been perennially nominated and won the gold statuette five times. Considering the Best Picture debacle at the end of the ceremony, I am wondering if the tweeting accountant from Price Waterhouse handed the incorrect envelope more than once.

Let’s honor the efforts of the other nominees:

 

Joanna Johnston-Allied * Consolata Boyle-Florence Foster Jenkins

Madeline Fontaine-Jackie * Mary Zophres-La La Land

It was also disappointing that ‘Dr. Strange’ was not nominated in that category. But there’s always next year. Till then I will see you at the movies!

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Welcome to My Blog of Shameless Self Promotion!

Custom made Fantasies from the Historical to the Hysterical.
Custom made Fantasies from the Historical to the Hysterical©
The Ring Mistress Welcomes you!
The Ring Mistress Welcomes you!

Welcome to my Blog! This is your place for custom made fantasies for Renaissance Fair, Cosplay, Halloween and Corporate Events. Looking for custom made attire for your next event? Please visit my website www.costumesbyantonia.com for more information. Are you a DIY sort of person? No problem! Customized sewing lessons and workshops are available too. For more information on how to Unleash Your Inner Fashionista© visit my other website www.learnhow2sew.com.

Other available services are Historical Costume Research, Product Development and Wardrobe Refurbishing. Please contact me directly by phone (832-652-9180)or email costumesbyantonia@earthlink.net. This email address has a high filter so if you get an automated message, please click to become an allowed sender.

Now a bit about me: My name is Antonia Fuentes and I am an award winning designer, writer and teacher living in Houston, Texas. I am originally from California and I graduated from the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York with a degree in Fashion and Costume Designing. I have traveled around the world working in film, tv, theatre etc etc… This blog is dedicated to all lovers of costume and fashion design and to all of those wishing to Unleash their Inner Fashionista©! I welcome my readers to comment and discuss as long as it is in a positive, respectful manner. Any negative or abusive posts will be deleted to the fullest extent of the law.

Happy Reading!

Custom made and ready made venetian style masks
Custom made and ready made venetian style masks

 

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