Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Costume Design: The Mucha-Klimt Lovechild

"Gothic White Assuit"
photo by Michael Baxter
I have always loved the artwork of Alphonse Mucha - the artist largely responsible for the Art Nouveau movement. I remember eagerly anticipating when we would cover it in Art History at RISD, and then being bitterly disappointed when it was briefly lumped in with several other "minor movements" and maybe discussed for about 15 minutes total. (Yet it seemed like we spent 6 hours on Bauhaus. Maybe longer - I don't know, because I fell asleep. Nothing holds my attention like the discussion of concrete minimalistic architecture and its social implications...zzzzz)

"Salomatra" Costume
I made up for the slight by hoarding Mucha and Art Nouveau books, and though I have made several BIG moves over the last 20 years and sold large portions of my library off, I have always held on to those books. They have been a major source of inspiration for my costuming since I started dancing, some just as a starting point, and others very directly, such as the "Gothic White" assuit costume from 2005 and my "Salomatra" costume, from 2006. Both of those costumes, I had a very specific idea in mind, and I gathered the materials accordingly to make them.

Other costumes were birthed simply out of what materials I happened to have on hand collide with a random crazy inspiration. This is definitely the case with what I'm now calling the "Mucha-Klimt Lovechild."

At Tribal Fest 2013, I purchased some pieces of Indian tapestry - two small strips that had been fashioned for use as a headband and for a belt, and a larger wall piece. I had a vague idea that I would make a costume for myself and a matching vest for Nathan, but the pieces sat in my closet untouched. I would pull them out to look at them, and then put them back.

Then at Clockwork Alchemy, I bought a body-chain piece that was very Art Nouveau in design and coloring. I had no idea what I was going to do with it, but it was only $10, and I figured I would think of something.

Then in July, I bought an obscene amount of two-tone yellow and peach chiffon at MedFest from a neighbor vendor who was going out of business. I'm not sure what came over me, but I eyed it for two days and bought it all as we packed up, thinking that somehow it would work with the body-chain, even though it was so untypical of a color choice for me.

It all sat in my studio closet, waiting within a pile of other costumes-to-be. And the thought wiggled into the back of my brain that I hadn't made a big theatrical costume since the Klimt costume (see cover of my website).  I had made/altered several versatile costumes in the past year, but nothing EPIC. How could this be? But what to make?

As fate would have it, I was trying to re-organize my closet after a small avalanche had happened. I wondered about the pile of chiffon I had bought, as I hadn't seen it in a long time. The bag with the Indian fabric fell on top of me, so it got pulled out.  Then a strapless nude bra I bought for a base became unearthed. I hunted down the chiffon and pulled out other bits and pieces from my fabric and jewelry pile, some pieces that I've had for several years.  I remembered the body-chain and luckily also found it.  I pulled out my worn and well-loved Mucha books, leafed through them all, and made sketches of various parts that caught my eye. I considered the pile of random objects on my floor, and wondered if it would work.

The tapestry pieces had been lined with a dull brown cotton, then finished off with white seed beads.  I got to work ripping off all of the fabric and white beads, and was astounded at how well the colors of the remnants now worked with the chiffon.  I covered the base of the bra with a vintage warm-gold brocade, and topped the bra off with the smaller strip of tapestry.  I took the "belt" piece, and relined it with the same brocade, edged with gold seed beads, and set it perpendicular to the bra. I took 3 yards of each color of chiffon and attached the center of each underneath the front panel. The body-chain was disassembled, broken, and reshaped to fit with the curve of the bra cups, and a vintage-style necklace/belt I had rescued from my last job served as a centerpiece and anchor. I found the brass belt that I had bought as a teenager at Lerner, had used minimally in other costumes, and hand-painted it to match the rest. Next I constructed a matching headdress, set off with an old brooch that my friend Tinah had sent me, with unused flowers from my wedding constructions, and other flower, ribbon, and jewelry bits I'd collected over the years.  Under it all, went a pair of gold and salmon-striped pantaloons Anaar had made (also scored at Tribal Fest 13), and on top, an emerald chiffon veil that Azar (one of my early teachers) had gifted me.  I devised a knot system for the peach and yellow chiffon to balance the bra in the back, similar to how I made my wedding dress - but this got taken up a notch by Geisha Moth right before I performed, where she did it even better! Hair by Diva Dreads (the set I had commissioned for myself and my girls in Providence for our "Sirens" performance several years ago), and necklace by my friend Shakira.

The visual result, with the intricate patterns of the Indian tapestry, and the colors and lines of the overall costume, truly makes it a lovechild of Alphonse Mucha and Gustav Klimt!

photos by Corinne De La Coeur, taken at MedFest 2014

 There are still some details I'd like to add to this costume that I didn't have time to put on yet, but I'm thrilled with how it came out.  It truly captures the feel of Mucha's work, and is very sensual, while interestingly enough, covering a great deal of my body.  Which wasn't any part of my intent - I was very much focused on the artwork that was my inspiration, versus making this a "sexy" costume. I don't think it would have had the same effect as a typical bra and belt set.


  1. You do look like you stepped out of a Klimt or Mucha painting...gorgeous!

  2. Fantastic and refreshing - I reposted on my costume Facebook page FeeFiFoFunCostume