Tag Archives: costumes

The Case of the Golden Kimonos

The Golden Kimonos

Once upon a time, I got the call from a costume shop I sometimes work at.  “We need two kimonos, right away,” they said.  The designs for the show were 1930’s, Western clothes, but they wanted a fairly accurate pair of kimonos, in dark golden/bronze, with floral silk lining.  They gave me fabric and two days.

Kimonos are not difficult to draft, as they’re all straight lines (almost entirely rectangles) but they are a bit complicated to sew, and they’re fully lined.  The first night I stayed up late; the second I pulled an all-nighter.  It was exhausting, but satisfying, to see them mostly finished at the end, just waiting to be hemmed to fit the actresses.  When delivered, everyone loved them; the costume designer was very happy.

One kimono hanging up

The tech rehearsals began a day or two later, and soon I heard from the costume shop manager again.  He sounded tired and very, very grumpy.  “You’ll never believe this,” he said, “but your kimonos got cut from the show.”  Apparently, the colors weren’t working; I think it was that the masks that the cast was wearing seemed washed out when contrasted with the golden fabric.  In place of my kimonos, they pulled two dressing gowns out of their costume collection.

The other kimono hanging up

In actual fact, I didn’t mind.  It comes with the territory.  I learned this lesson, really, from working with some college kids who majored in things like history and music and for whom the costume shop was just a job.  They usually didn’t really like the plays, and they were well used to their hard work being cut from the show at the last minute.  “I once told all my friends to come see the 20 knit dog heads we made,” one of them told me, “but it turned out there were zero knit dog heads.”  Seeing things you’ve made on stage is wonderful, but as long as I’ve done a good job sewing, and as long as I still get paid, I’m fine with my work being put into storage.  These kimonos have been–they’ve never gotten hemmed.  As you can see in these pictures, they need ironing.  But I’m happy enough with them that I don’t mind that they never made it in front of an audience.

Now when my designs are cut by the director!  That’s depressing!


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Filed under Réflexions sur le théâtre


My Tatsuya Suou hoodie! The pockets look terrible in this picture!

Only once so far have I made anything in the cosplay category: my Persona 2 Tatsuya hoodie.  Appropriately enough, it’s from a rather obscure and geeky video game, although perhaps less so now than when I made it 6 years ago, because of its more successful sequels.  I thought this hoodie was, while eye-catching, pretty easy to wear in an everyday situation, unlike most cosplay creations, which is partly why I chose it.

The nice thing, from a dressmaker point of view, about cosplay, is that fans really pay attention to the details.  Often when I’m making something, I will spend a long time over a detail which I’m fairly sure nobody but me will ever notice.  But cosplay wearers and makers really do care about these things.

Tatsuya in his hoodie, designed by Kaneko Kazuma.

If you look at the original of this hoodie, shown here, you can possibly see where I took a liberty with the design. See it?  It’s the sleeve…on the original design there is a seam at the top of the sleeve.  It serves no purpose, just makes a style line there.  You can barely see it in the pictures, and it would be hardly visible even in the real hoodie.  Let me tell you, I agonized over it.  In the end I decided it wasn’t worth it to do; but I’m not sure I made the right choice even now.

I’m definitely interested in doing more cosplay work in the future.  It’s a real challenge to a dressmaker and I can really sink my teeth into it.  It would take a lot of time so it might get expensive, but if you’ve got the money and the desire, please let me know!


Filed under Thoughts on clothes, Works

Costume Fan Family Post

My sister, a big comics fan and fellow costume enthusiast, analyzes the costumes of The Avengers in a massively spoiler-filled post at her blogging gig, The Fantastic Fangirls.  It is pretty much only because of her that I have seen all these superhero movies, but after watching them, I share her affection for Gwyneth Paltrow’s Pepper Potts.  All you Gwyneth haters can suck it.

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Kurt’s Sweater, Blake’s Sweater

Kurt in his iconic sweater

This year being Nirvana Nostalgia Season, I’ve been thinking about one of the most iconic pieces of clothing of my youth: Kurt Cobain’s enormous, red-and-black Fred Krueger-style striped sweater, as pictured above.  Greasy blonde hair and this sweater say “Kurt” as much as a moptop and a collarless jacket say “Beatle”.  As a nerdy, fashion-fearing teen in the grunge 90s this sweater was everything I wished my clothes could be, a perfect example of Kurt’s effortless cool.  I was way too self-conscious and shy to actually emulate him (plus, like a dope, I took to heart that 90s alterna-bullshit about not being a poseur), but I studied pictures of Kurt, how he dressed, wondering how I could recreate that alchemy in myself.  I thought about this sweater.  It was one of those “aspirational pieces”, as I think they’re called in Vogue, which I thought about every time I went shopping.

So when I saw Gus Van Sant’s Last Days I was, despite myself, a bit disappointed.  Don’t get me wrong: I think Last Days is a really beautiful, amazing film, and to me one of the great costume movies.  Michelle Matland and her team did an amazing job recreating iconic Cobain looks for Michael Pitt in the character of Blake, a sort of poetic alternate-dimension version of Kurt.  Here’s Blake in his version of the Freddy Krueger sweater:

The version of the sweater in Last Days

The difference, and to me it’s a huge difference, is that Blake’s sweater is entirely intact.  Kurt’s, on the other hand, is absolutely disintegrating.  Unforunately I haven’t been able to find many good pictures of the sweater online, but rest assured, I spent enough time looking at it, thinking about it, to know.  Enormous holes had opened up at the elbows and the left shoulder; the end of the left sleeve was in unravelled tatters.  These were like heiroglyphics to me, each bit of damage recording some event–a dive into the drums, a trip through the mosh pit, drunken high jinks of one kind or another.  The damage was why I could never have Kurt’s sweater: even if I found the very same sweater, from the very same company, the very same assembly line, it wouldn’t have all this fascinating history encoded in it.  That sweater was unique, haute couture; the couturier was Kurt’s wild rock-and-roll life.

I’m in the position in life where I’m both obliged and able to usually repair my clothes if they get damaged.  But I always think long and hard before I do it.  How does this hole look?  Does it make this sweater more interesting?  Do I want to forget that this happened because someone grabbed me during my friend Danny’s concert and threw me into a puddle of beer?  I think the value of clothes does not necessarily decrease with cosmetic damage, the way it does with a car.  Sentimental value is, after all, true value.  Pants that wear out at the knees, or get stretched out by your belly, or get spattered with paint, what are they doing but becoming more yours?  Each imperfection is like an in-joke, ratifying the relationship between you and your clothes.  I think it’s beautiful.

Sci-fi fans love to tout the smoothness with which masters of the genre incorporate exposition into their plots.  What could be more subtle than these little signs of life as it was lived before the story begins?  The costumers of Last Days certainly knew the implicit-exposition value of such distressed clothes–I really love the fact that those plastic shades he’s wearing up there have been broken and taped back together–but for whatever reason, they decided to leave the sweater unscathed.  Maybe it just goes to show the irreproducible nature of such a specific, well-beloved piece of clothing.

The broken and repaired plastic sunglasses clearly visible in the poster.


Filed under Inspirations, Manifestoes, Thoughts on clothes

Nue: The Nue

The Nue's true form: a monkey-headed, snake-tailed tiger monster.

This is the star of the show, the monster the play is named after: the Nue.  A creature from Japanese folklore, the Nue has the head of a monkey, the body of a tiger, and the tail of a snake.  As this is the shite or main character (the true form of the boatman), and a supernatural creature, I wanted to make him more colorful and stylized than the rest of the cast.  Somehow I knew from the very first that I wanted him to be wearing green.  I’m afraid the scan is particularly inaccurate as regards color this time.

This was one of those drawings where the rough sketch I made had a certain something which I found very hard to recapture, especially in the head and face.  I was afraid I was going to erase through the paper, I drew and redrew the face of the monster so many times.  And I still think the doodle is better.  Influenced by the prints of Tsukioka Kogyo, Kaneko Kazuma, and Dr. Zaius.

As this completes the cast I won’t be updating as much, I think, but I’ll be working on the set/backdrop pieces and variant puppets for the characters.  I’m pretty happy with these puppets, but they’re the easy part really, just costume drawings more or less.  The rest of it I feel less confident about.  I hope I can pull this off!

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Nue: Boatman

The uncanny boatman, who is really the ghost of the monster, Nue.

Here is the uncanny boatman who agrees to take the monk to the temple.  The monk’s questions will lead him to reveal his surprising true identity.  I made him and his costume very pale to emphasize his strange ghostliness, and to make him merge and fade into the background to some degree.  I’m going to build him a little cardboard boat to ride, in reference both to the strange, rough character of his boat in the story, and to the abstract, minimalist “sets” of Noh.

I’m wondering now about music and sound for this little puppet show.  I think theater should have music whenever possible (from Noh to ballet to wayang kulit, my favorite theater idioms are as much musical performances as theater) and music and sound design are one of the things I love best about Kihachiro Kawamoto’s films (referenced below).  But on the other hand, I don’t like recorded music or amplification in the theater.  I really hate the sound of miked actors, just at an aesthetic level; and besides I kind of think it’s a failure of training, blocking, and/or theater architecture if they need mikes.  I’d also much rather have live musicians as part of the show than just recorded music playing.  Again, I don’t think it sounds very good when music is coming out of speakers in a theater–they’re not really designed for it.

But generalized theory should never come in conflict with specific needs, right?  And this will be, like I said, a kind of theater/cinema hybrid.  So perhaps I’ll use some recorded music or sound effects, if I can figure that out.

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Filed under Réflexions sur le théâtre, Works

Nue: Villager

The villager who points the monk to the river and the strange boatman there.

Here is another puppet for my toy theater ‘production’ of Nue.  This is the villager who turns the travelling monk away, but suggests that a strange boatman may be able to ferry him to a nearby temple to stay the night in.  Having scanned it I will cut it out and attach a chopstick to make the simplest possible puppet.

I based this guy quite a bit on a different boatman, the grumpy one in Kawamoto Kihachiro’s Dōjōji, available on YouTube at criminally poor resolution.  Hopefully someday it will be uploaded in better quality.  Kawamoto’s work is a big inspiration for me.  Obviously this little puppet show will not be anything like as subtle and beautiful as his films, but they’re definitely something I’m keeping in mind as I work.

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Filed under Inspirations, Works