Those of you who follow me on twitter have been getting lots of hints that I was working on a particularly challenging project this November, and its a pleasure to finally be able to post some snapshots of this project in process.
This is a dress for an original Canadian musical adaption of Hans Christian Anderson’s “The Snow Queen”, performed by November Theatre in Bancroft, the small town where I grew up. My mom is playing piano for the production and when I was asked to design the costume for the title character, I took it as an opportunity to contribute to the community I grew up in and collaborate on an ambitious project with some of the people I love most in the world.
This is the original sketch I did quickly in my tiny notebook. Because the play is for families and especially appealing to little girls, I wanted to create something that would have enchanted me as a young child growing up in a rural area.
The project started with a wedding dress which I forgot to photograph – it was an off-the-shoulder style popular in the late eighties and early nineties – an off-white dupioni affair covered with lace, pearl plastic beads and lots of sequins.
The last thing I wanted was an off-white snow queen – yellow snow was not an option – so I stripped off the outside of the dress and discarded it. On request, I brought the train to the front because the character is limited to a platform area of the stage, and the back of the dress is not very visible. The idea would be the front of the dress drapes over the platform like, well, snow. I also created a hood to hide the hair and give a base to secure the crown to.
Selecting fabrics was difficult because there are, in fact, a million shades of white. I had to search far and wide for “optical white” fabrics with the qualities I wanted. I went with polyester “crystal” organza for the skirt and polyester sateen for the bodice because these fabrics magically un-wrinkle themselves and I don’t want to trust the shape of this dress to any iron.
I made a mistake at this stage of the design. Because I lacked fabric for the bodice, I eliminated the v-shape at the waist. The actress was worried with the original design that the sleeves would impair her movement. So I added circular sleeves which I won’t show you – but the effect at the first fitting was that of a giant marshmallow and was somewhat discouraging for the actress. The fact that the “crown” I made looked kind of like a chef’s hat didn’t help at all. Once again I had to discard a lot of work, and I went and bought more fabric (putting me over my small allotted budget).
I went back to my original sketch and created something much closer to my initial instincts, and it worked fabulously. I had to come up with some creative piecing to recover the V style line at the waist, and I used hoops both in the skirt and at the sleeves to get the over-stated “Disney Princess” shape that I loved as a little girl. It worked – the waist became defined even though it is not tight, and the massive shoulders give the queen an impressive presence.
A theatre piece needs to be embellished in my opinion, but I wanted to avoid the contrived look of sequins. So with the help of my boyfriend Ray, we came up with an inventive way of making the dress look really snowy. After many tests, we discovered that white construction silicone had the right amount of stickiness and flexibility. We pressed in a mixture of faux polystyrene snow with a bit of sparkly faux snow from Canadian Tire, a bit like flocking, to create a look that read from both near and far as sparkly, clean, magical snow.
Here is the finished dress displayed with the help of my adorable neice Evey.
After the “chef’s hat” fiasco I needed help with the crown and I called up Ray for ideas. He volunteered to help me create something really exciting – an icicle crown. Ray and I have often collaborated on projects, but right now circumstances mean we live far away from eachother and we don’t get to work together so much any more. I was so excited at the prospect of being able to work with Ray, he’s an incredibly creative and resourceful man who has always encouraged me to pursue new projects and a creative career.
The crown started with pile of scrap plexiglass. We cut out the shape and using a special glue we attached narrow shards of plexi to the icicles. Then Ray ground them down and carved them to give them a round shape.
The next step was to paint the crown with Crystal Clear, a plastic molding material that as it dripped down the carved icicles and slowly dried created a look that was marvelously drippy and wet looking.
And that was how we made the Snow Queen costume. It was well received as being both comfortable and it looked perfectly Snow Queen-y. I will post photographs of the entire costume on the actress as soon as I get them.
If you are in Bancroft, you should go see the play! The performances are brilliant and the original music by acclaimed composer Howard Baer is so evocative and beautiful.