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My Costume Gallery Design Breathes Life

Costume Gallery - Dance Informa costume

For those of you who have been watching my costume journey, here is part two – the most exciting part! My costume design has come to life and I was lucky enough to fly to New Jersey to attend its photo shoot!

Costume Gallery photo shoot

Senior Designer Heather Chamberlain and I get gorgeous dance model Francesca Mancuso ready for the photo shoot.

So let’s recap… Back in July last year, Linda Bradbury, CEO of Costume Gallery (one of the world’s leading costume design houses), asked me to come to their headquarters and design a dance costume for the 2016 catalog. To say I was excited is an understatement! I was met by an enthusiastic team, who must have been nervous about my uneducated design ideas, but who embraced me and gave me a tour of the facility filled with every color and texture of material you could ever imagine and thousands of sequins, sparkles and embellishments. In a whirlwind afternoon of creativity, we designed an Edgar Degas inspired costume for both ballet and lyrical/contemporary works.

Paying homage to the vintage look of Degas’ paintings of the late 19th century as well as today’s modern trends, we developed a unique costume that embodies both of these qualities. The result: a hybrid of romantic classicism styling with contemporary lines. A delicate off the shoulder corseted top with lace up back detailing, reminiscent of Degas’ dancer’s, combined with a modern split front skirt in flowing sage green chiffon with a delicate gold metallic tulle mesh overlay. A seamless marriage of two completely different concepts, one beautiful costume design.

Degas ballet costume

As Francesca turned the beautiful, soft skirt took flight and gave a stunning romantic look.

Since developing the original drawings with Design Director Kimberly Keller and Senior Designer Heather Chamberlain back in September, I hadn’t seen my costume in the flesh. I had been given updates along the way and sent teaser pictures as the sewing pattern was drawn and cut out and the original mockup was created. The sample was then scrutinized from all angles, from fit to fabrications.

After much deliberation, Heather advised me that the original skirt fabrication of a stiffer tulle fabric just simply wouldn’t do. The transparency and weight was all wrong, not lending itself to the movement and romantic aesthetic I was after. A lighter, softer look much like what I had envisioned was achieved by simply changing the shape of the skirt pattern and the fabrication, to a soft flowing sage green chiffon with a light-weight frothy tulle mesh overlay. Also, we had originally designed the costume in both a sage green and a soft rose color, however, the sage green palette was such a strong design, that we ended up focusing solely on the green color palette.

When I arrived at Costume Gallery HQ for the photo shoot, I was blown away by the energy, bright costumes and young smiling faces of adorable models in the studio. Young dancers sat getting their hair styled and their faces made up, while others dressed up in costumes of every variety imaginable and designers played with a plethora of accessory options.

Costume design at Costume Gallery

Working on my photo shoot Styling Sheet….

The dancers then entered the photo studio and were coached by Thom McIntyre of Philadelphia Dance Center, who helped each dancer hit just the right position for every different look as the Costume Gallery team snapped away and analyzed each photo on large computer screens. It’s quite amazing to see a photo taken in front of you instantly displayed in all its brilliance on a computer screen for assessment. It’s quite a science to get the perfect shot that not only looks inspiring and is technically correct, but that truly shows the costume and doesn’t mask its main features.

The shoot for my costume was coming up quickly so I was given a Style Sheet and was shown the many accessories available from different types of tights, to headdresses, necklaces, earrings, flowers and more. Heather explained to me that I needed to decide what footwear I wanted the model to wear, what hairstyle, what accessories, and importantly, the kind of poses she should make. I had to create the overall feel and look for the costume. I was a little overwhelmed by the concept!

Degas ballet costume by Costume Gallery and Dance Informa.

We took some lovely photos with Francesca dancing en pointe.

I talked with the hairstylist and looked through stylebooks. I rummaged through accessories and flipped through past catalogs to see poses. I decided upon a simple black choker and teardrop earrings with a flower in the hair to go with the antique Degas look. For the hair, I wanted a side braid sweeping into a flowing ponytail of soft curls. My beautiful model, however, had luscious, tight natural curls and fairly short hair, so we improvised with a side braid sweeping around the head.

The model, Francesca Mancuso of Pennsylvania School of Performing Arts, was a delight! It was her first photo shoot for Costume Gallery, and mine too, so we bonded through our inexperience. She was so cool, calm and collected though and such a natural in front of the camera. She is a classic beauty with porcelain skin that was the perfect choice for such a vintage costume design.

I showed Francesca an upper body spiral turning into a low swept across front attitude and we played with that movement phrase in front of the camera to see how the skirt would move, with advice from Thom McIntyre and Dave Males, Costume Gallery’s talented photographer of 20 plus years. At one stage, we even employed a leaf blower to make the skirt take flight as Francesca stood in a titled fifth! The effect was breathtaking.

Degas inspired dance costume by Costume Gallery and Dance Informa.

The classic back design with lace-up ribbon detail.

The Costume Gallery team was gracious enough to give me ample time to try different positions and movements, as well as shots with and without pointe shoes to show dance teachers how the costume can be used for ballet or contemporary works. Francesca was so patient and giving to make each shot strong. It was such a joy to see my costume being danced in in front of the cameras and coming to life on the big screens in bright color and brilliance. I can only imagine what it will look like under stage lights… I can see eight or so dancers bourrée across the stage, sweep into an upper body spiral turning and run into a jeté as the delicate, light skirt takes flight. I can see use of épaulement and beautiful arm lines showing off the open, sweeping neckline and delicate off-the-shoulder straps… 

I wonder when I’ll get the chance to see my costume come to life on stage. I am excited to see how it works with each choreographer’s vision. I hope that it inspires choreographers and dance teachers across the country. 

Named “Impressions” in obeisance to Edgar Degas’ Impressionist paintings, the costume will be featured in Costume Gallery’s 2016 Catalog as Style 16508. Make sure to look out for it! The catalog will be available mid-July 2015.

I invite any studio that orders Impressions to share the photos with us at Dance Informa. Please email your performance pictures to editorial@danceinforma.com and post them on Instagram, tagging @DanceInforma. We’d absolutely love to see our costume in action!

By Deborah Searle of Dance Informa.

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