Saturday, November 23, 2013

Ain't Miss Showgirl Couture for nothing!

At Miss Burlesque Australia with my MBA Tasmania sash and Miss Showgirl Couture sash
I have a love - some would call it an obsession- for vintage burlesque and showgirl costumes. I like to reuse and give new life to retired stage and circus costumes in shoots and for a limited time, onstage. But, when I can't revive or create by myself, I collaborate or purchase from other costumiers and designers.
Melbourne designer, Zoe Felice created my white dress that I used for the New York Burlesque Festival and Tasmanian designers Sonia Heap and Kristi of Corsets by Nasty Ginny have both collaborated with me to create signature outfits for use on stage.

Photo by Jessica Kate Casey
 My latest costume is from Nasty Ginny Corsets, the label of Kristi Robertson, a designer I've known for decades as my best friend's former step mother and my former 'boss' when I spent a week interning in her successful bridal design business in central Hobart.

This pink dress worn by the character Ivy in the second season of Smash was just one of the images used for inspiration

Kristi's drawing of my dress

My week at Kristi's Bridal shop made me realise I needed to increase my limited sewing skills however although I was pretty useless in the workroom, I was able to help Kristi during a photoshoot and weekend Bridal expo.
This was a pretty amazing experience as I was in a stage where girls that graced the pages of Dolly and Girlfriend were more important to me then women like Kate Adie or Marie Colvin.
It was a relief to find that they were all down to earth, funny chicks who also discussed with immense gravity, the "newest" way to strut down the catwalk as demonstrated by a Tasmanian international model.

The bare bones of the dress...
Historically burlesque has had its share of cheap and cheerful, handmade and custom made costumes. Some performers made their own, others used top costumiers such as Gussie Gross and Rex Huntington who were, according to Liz Goldwyn, the most prolific burlesque costume designers in the 1940s, as well as Billie Lingston, Betty Meyers, Madame Etoile, Mother Haines and Brooks Brothers.
In contemporary burlesque, performer Catherine D'Lish supplies gowns, fans, and boas worldwide, then there are performers who create whole outfits for other performers. Louisiana based performer, Charlotte Treuse is one and according to Perle Noire, Charlotte is so exact with her rhinestoning, she actually measures and marks where each jewel will be attached.
Liz Goldwyn's documentary and book, Pretty Things  features some of the costumiers from the golden age of burlesque (1920- 1960) as does the documentary and book, Behind the Burly Q by Leslie Zemeckis.

Corset with lace overlay
Finished- It just needs added rhinestones...
When I visited Kristi at her workroom she had just returned from a trip to London during which she had received some hasty messages from me, bursting with ideas.
I drove out to her studio, located on her property in Leslievale- surrounded by chickens and ponies- and we discussed the new act I was creating. Kristi was keen to do both the overdress of black and white and the colourful costume beneath.
My great friend and supporter Carolina, convinced me that orange rather than red would be striking and I finally decided after gathering ideas on Pintrest, that I liked the idea of graduating the colours in an ombre effect.
Fittings were paramount in order to ensure the correct shape, fit, weight and the ease of removal. I also knew that I wanted the skirt to sit over the corset to create the illusion of a dress. I knew that I wanted a panel at the front and Kristi added the fishtail at the back..
Kristi took my ideas, added her own and created something incredible. She was so patient and no idea was too outrageous. She painstakingly hand beaded the corset, underwear set and the skirt and understood the importance of having a costume that was secure yet could come off with a quick flick.

Close up of the bra without crystals

Kristi made the pattern for the bra and g-string herself

For the full set which includes a fully lined overdress, corset, skirt, gloves, bra and knickers plus the design which included blocking, the costs were reasonable, however if you are getting a costume custom made be prepared to spend more then originally quoted and to make time for extra fittings. If you pick the right designer, the results are worth the wait!
I retained the right to rhinestone simply to keep costs down and as I actually rather enjoy keeping my hands busy when I'm watching TV or a movie.

The finished product in action!!

Photo by Jessica Kate Casey
Photo by Bret Salinger

Photo by Bret Salinger
The latest addition to my sunrise ombre costume is a panel skirt that Kristi finished just in time for me to take to Flinders Island. She hand dyed the chiffon skirt panels and beaded a large applique that's affixed to the front of the skirt. I purchased the trim from M& J Trims in NYC but you can also purchase online.

Backstage at the Flinders Island hall

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