The Work of a Seamstress

Winter likes to stop things in its track especially when you live in cold country and you’re trying to put together exterior filming shoots. Winter also likes to play holiday and send people off to relatives far away, or busy people’s schedules so that no two people are free the same day, much less ten, or fifteen.

Thus, Cassandra’s Castle a film venture coming along slowly by yours truly, is going into a bit of hibernation and will resume after the fireworks and greeting of a new year.

But that doesn’t mean people are not working like little dwarves tapping away in their burrows, refining and tuning and sculpting and sewing.

10394004_787306708018991_5779495344867721137_nYes, I said sewing.

Some of our busiest people right now are our seamstresses and because of that I thought it would be fun to give Alaina Brooke Simcoe, our costume designer, the spotlight by asking her a few questions.

Alaina, tell us what you envision for the three elements we need for Cassandra’s Story Genre – Fantasy

When working on period pieces, Room with a View, Sense and Sensibility, even Titanic, the attention to staying to the details of the time period really are important. Unless the director is creating an anachronistic situation, take the modern day adaptation of Romeo and Juliet for example or Clueless (Emma updated), misrepresenting the clothing from the time shows up as a blaring mistake, it creates the wrong impression for the viewer. In Cassandra’s Castle, we’re working with three different themes: Modern day, Edwardian Portugal and a fantasy element. The fun of working with multiple eras/genres is that you can play between them subtly. For example, there is a tulip detail that we’d like to have run through some of the characters with a more fantastical origin. Some of the more solid characters in history will have costumes that are firmly anchored in history, cuts and construction more specific to Edwardian (or modern) times. Since we have access to the specific location of Portugal, there are some beautiful, traditional design elements that will be pulled in as well. The challenge is to create these three very separate looks but at the same time, blend them in such a way that they don’t appear disjointed, and maintain underlying themes between them.

With the fantasy genre, there is so much to pull from. Using modern materials, as opposed to traditional ones, or exaggerating elements of design and color are some of the visual cues we use to indicate a fantastical character. The Xylonites, for example, have a very strong green theme in their clothing. This is clearly not a common color theme in an historical context, as the green colors for more rustic people was not an easy one to achieve. Lighting and effects are very helpful for filling in what costume cannot convey, but as costume designers we can play with materials that will throw light in uncommon ways, use light materials to create diaphanous silhouettes and so forth.

Cassie's dress was purchased before the book was written, and I based a small part of the story around this beautiful gown.
Cassie’s dress was purchased before the book was written, and I based a small part of the story around this beautiful gown.

Some people confuse the Edwardian style for Victorian. It actually comes right at the end of the Victorian era and just before the movement into the flapper look that many know from the 20s. By the end of the Victorian era (1840-1901), the bustle had reached extreme proportions and between the skirts being swept back and the slim waists, there was almost a horse like appearance. Consider the painting of the people in the park by Renoir. But the Edwardian shape, the Gibson Girl look, was more fluid, though also very extreme. The hair piled high on the head, very wide and elaborate hats, skirts fitting through the waist and then flaring out toward the floor. The look was very short lived, in terms of fashion, with women’s suffrage, the elimination of the clearly corseted shape was taking over by the ‘teens and would soon be replaced by the drop waist look of the 20s. For some other references, the films Gigi and My Fair Lady show off the Edwardian look quite well.

When we consider the location, Portugal, it is all too easy to conflate it with Spain. While there are some clear similarities, there are also subtle differences. The Portuguese style has a more rustic air to it. Not in the sense that it is rough or in some way messy, but is presented in a less strict way than the Spanish look. Details such as embroidery themes are subtly different, and colors are similar, but slightly more subdued. Since we are representing some members of royalty, there is a combining of both traditional Portuguese looks, braiding on jackets, scrolls on collars, but there are also elements pulled from the more fashion forward areas, Paris, London, Madrid. The Queen, for example, is very in tune with what is fashionable elsewhere in Europe. However, other characters still maintain very heavy traditional Portuguese attire.

How are you finding the resources to pull this together?

At this point, much of what we are working with is being pulled together through a group effort, costumiers, cast and crew to get materials for making some of these first costumes. Some of the items have been purchased and altered from costume shops, thrift stores, some have come from personal collections and others are being made from scratch.

How do you start a project like this?

Starting a project like this… I suppose the answer is by jumping in with both feet and just not stopping until it’s done. When Dianne approached me to head up the costumes, I was so excited that I started writing down ideas at once. Over the last few months we’ve met to discuss concepts, themes, do a little material gathering and the like. The characters have been very well defined, which is wonderful from a costume standpoint because we have a clear idea of what they would choose to wear themselves. Less well defined characters are more difficult because the costuming should underline their existing personalities. As we move forward, it is taking more shape. As with any project, a great place to start is with brainstorming.

Who are you working with?

We have recently added a wonderful lady named Vickie Baltmiskis to our team. Her experience is already a huge boon, and we “geek out” over so many of the details and themes from the time frame we are working on. Having skilled hands on deck makes the project even more fun, as there is someone both to bounce ideas off of, and more hands to finish the items that need finishing.

Alaina Simcoe has loved costume and historical clothing since she was a young teen, inspired by the wonderful Marie-Elena Baker, costumier for the local high school. Instead of a follower of modern fashion, her interests were more in the fashion of days passed. After graduating High School, she ended up going to college for Apparel Design and Construction at Seattle Central Community College. Sidetracked by life, two fantastic sons and a few bumps and turns, she’s just completed her Bachelor’s degree and has come full circle back to costuming. This is her debut production, and she is currently also creating costumes for a second indie production with an old High School theater friend, Meredith Yund as well as taking in mending and custom sewing projects as MangoMango Appar

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