The creation process of my chartreuse velvet costume, with the use of vintage fabric and upcycled vintage clothing.
In early 2018 I had the creative itch for a new costume. With several UK shows coming up, a weekend in Hamburg and a trip to New Orleans I felt the need to showcase something fresh, and perform to a new piece of music.
The previous Spring in New Orleabs I'd had the incredible experience of performing burlesque with a live jazz band accompaniment, and one of the tracks was "Hip Shakin' Mama" a classic originally by local musical legend Irma Thomas. The song hadn't left my head since, and I had been percolating on a sassy yet classic type of costume that would match the movements I wanted to make.
My costume budget at that time however was not as grand as my vision, which rather than presenting a problem I saw as a challenge to my creativity and resources.
My Mum is has been sewing her own clothing, millinery, needlework, anything creative her whole life and has amassed quite a large fabric stash. Her whole attic is a dedicated sewing room and cavern of wonder- rail, racks, cupboards and boxes full of textiles, beads, feathers, vintage clothing, and associated creative detritus. Totally magical, if not slightly chaotic!
To the attic we went to review anything interesting that caught our eye. I'm a big fan of conveying luxury in costuming via TEXTURE, probably from watching classic Hollywood - seeing the depth, shine and weight of a fabric flow as Mae West sashays across camera can tell me just a sparkling story as rhinestones can.
I quickly pulled out a selection of velvets, with Mum also locating a selection of vintage beaded gowns picked up at a charity shop.
One velvet kept shouting at me- a small piece, but it's voice was mighty! Approx 1.5yards of silk velvet- chartreuse with a deep indigo backing that meant the colour just leapt up.
It had been deep in a fabric box - Mum advised me it had been purchased from a market in the 1970s and in her stash waiting for the right project ever since!
With materials selected it was straight to work. With only a small length of the starring fabric available, it meant no flowing gowns or silhouettes for this particular act and we had to make careful decisions about how to best showcase the amount we had. Just over half a yard went straight to my corsetierre (Celebveles) to make into a custom fitted underbust with steel boning. A dramatic nipped waist and the curves of each panel would show off the shine of the fabric.
I also quickly sourced "base" lingerie (bra and suspender belt) in the same colour to make structuring easier- on a time crunch it was easier to cover and embellish these pieces rather than make from scratch.
Speaking of embellishments- after toying with a bright contrasting colour I decided to match the chartreuse with black, and cannibalise one of the beaded and sequin charity shop dresses for material. This gave us a length of high quality lace with black glass beads, sequins ansd tassels to use in addition.
The finished costume!
Using vintage fabrics we already had in limited amounts forced us to work creatively to showcase every scrap. The tiniest offcuts were used to make bows to embellish the gloves, the g-string is of the mini variety, and we created a mini skirt/peplum/belt hybrid that whips off during my act as an extra reveal.
The best part however was the process of working together with my Mum to visualise and bring to reality this costume. That spring as mentioned I performed my new "Hip Shakin Mama" act in the UK, Germany, and back where the act was conceived in New Orleans. Below is a live capture of me at Vixens & Vinyl, a show at One Eyed Jack's in the French Quarter. I've chosen to showcase this particular image as you can see my Mum watching me from the audience- a wonderful moment!
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