Back in the days of owning The March Hare in Looe, I used to hear a fair number of slightly puzzled people outside the shop window commenting, “Is it a fancy dress shop?” Well, yes, some of the dresses are pretty fancy… This scenario could go one of two ways; either I bridled with outrage and poured another gin or I shrieked with laughter and, yes, usually poured another gin. On one occasion, I stuck my head around the door, smiled sweetly and said, “And you’ve come as…?” because the “offender” was just so badly dressed that I simply couldn’t resist. Ah, happy days…
I also have plenty of customers who come to me because they are going to a party with a retro theme, usually wartime or 1950s, and need help or inspiration. Quite often they’ll utter the legend, “I don’t want to spend much” and then be so overcome with delight when I produce a frock that makes them look better than they had imagined possible that they spend a fair old whack of money and announce their intention to come back for more and wear retro styles “every day”. Proper job!
But then there are the “other” customers. The “special” customers. The ones who feel that I am the one to help them with their “project”. No, not those customers, I’m talking costuming. And I’m smiling, because costuming is fun, majorly creative and challenging. I love it. Bring it on! The main constraint is usually budget but on a decent project that just adds to the challenge.
Back in 2011, I was approached by a good friend about a frock for her to wear for a storytelling epic, Return to Lyonesse, and so the Drowned Dress was created. The brief had been “colours of the storm, forests under the sea, strawberries under the sea, Celtic/mediaeval, a bit Pre-Raphaelitey…”. Fabulous. The first ideas involved vast amounts of embroidery and a projected cost of about £16,000 with a lead time of, er, probably at least a century. So we shelved that and went fabric shopping. The resulting haul of shot taffeta and dreamy Liberty-print silk chiffon removed the requirement for embroidery as the art nouveau motifs on the chiffon provided the imagery of the drowned forest and the hugely talented Claire Morris of Rowanberry Designs created the perfect glass strawberry beads to take care of that part.
It was a wonderful project to work on and I thoroughly enjoyed myself. Harpists do enjoying giving me a challenge as I’ve also been called upon by one to recreate a “Regency Wonderbra”, ie a the piece of Regency underpinning that created the shelf-like bust so evident in portraits and costume dramas of that period. Corsetry is fun and whilst I don’t usually make “normal” corsetry – I can source excellent examples off the peg to fit most people – I do enjoy doing historical corsetry, which can’t just be bought ready made and is essential to give the correct shape and look for serious reenactors and historic productions.
But the latest brief is something else. It involves, once again, a harpist (honestly, all you have to do is lift a rock around here and out crawls a bird with a cheese grater masquerading as a musical instrument) and the theme of “Celts and Cowboys”. It’s a Cornish event so images of Cornish tartan are scrolling through my brain, whilst the budget screams in panic because even the poly-cotton varieties don’t come cheap. Obviously Dolly Parton is in the mix, although the performer in question isn’t what you’d call “well endowed” in that region (in fact, if you patted her on the back in the dark to find out which way she’s facing, you’d probably be none the wiser). Cowboy boots? Celtic ribbons? Colours? There’s a kind of sea and fishing element, too. Oh, and a lead time of, er, just under three weeks with all the stuff for the Goodwood Revival to be done for the preceding weekend. No pressure, then.
But guess what? Challenge accepted. Watch this space. Oh, and there may be colourful language and some screaming. Don’t say I didn’t warn you…