Thursday, 21 March 2013

Egyptian Goddess costume making

As I mentioned in my last post, I have a gig coming up this weekend wandering around at a festival dressed up as an Egyptian themed Golden Goddess with my friend Zoe. As you can see above, this costume is going to involve a lot of gold vinyl and fake snakeskin!

The basic elements of our costumes are going to be these gold belly dancing dresses and gold Isis wings, modelled here by Zoe. We wore these for a previous belly dancing gig, so we thought we'd re-use them.  But how to make them look Egyptian?

This was my initial sketch for a costume idea. Add an Egyptian-style collar, a belt to cover up the fact that these cheap and skin-tight dresses show your underpants line terribly, a wig and some sort of headdress.

Because of time constraints we had to buy wigs from Australia which limited our choices somewhat. We got these ones for about $25 each. The quality is pretty horrible compared to ones I have bought for the same price from China, but they will do. Unfortunately the fringes are feather cut rather than straight across like the one in the picture, so we will have to trim them. I do like the model's makeup though!

I decided to base our collars on the one Claudette Colbert is wearing in this still from Cleopatra. After visiting my favourite costume fabric shop, GJ's, we bought some black snakeskin vinyl and half a metre of gold vinyl.

I made a paper pattern for the collar.

The vinyl is yellow fabric on the back, so I could just draw around the pattern and then cut it out. I split the back piece - I will sew the shoulder seams and it will have a centre back opening which will be closed with velcro.

I cut the central bird motif out of gold vinyl, you can see how it will fit over the black collar.

I realised that I could draw on the gold vinyl with a black permanent marker, which makes things much easier to decorate. I had a play with designs for the bird. The original bird on Colbert's collar looks like a vulture, and is more like the bird on the bottom, but I decided to simplify the design and go with a falcon.

Added an edge to the collar and some stripes of gold - I glued all these bits of vinyl on with clear craft glue which dries quickly and doesn't bleed through, although I made sure I pressed everything while it was drying under a heavy book.

And the finished (front) of the collar. I'm really pleased with how it turned out, and it was relatively quick to make, which is great because I'll be making another identical one!

Next up, the belt and the very scary headdress!

Wednesday, 20 March 2013

Cleopatra on the Silver Screen

My friend Zoe and I have just scored a gig roving around at the Viva Victoria festival dressed as "Golden Goddesses". We have to provide our own costumes, the only caveat being that they are gold and Egyptian themed. So, for inspiration, I have turned to depictions of Cleopatra in film. Now I realise these are mostly historically inaccurate confections born of a costume-designers fevered imagination, but wow! Cleopatra is a reason to pull all the stops out and create really lavish costumes.

Helen Gardner, 1912

One of the earliest films about the famous Egyptian queen was Cleopatra, a silent film made in 1912 and starring Helen Gardner. A series of tableaux showed the queen and her love affairs, and used lavish sets and costumes.

Theda Bara, 1917

The infamous Theda Bara (her name was an anagram of "Death Arab") was the original vamp, so the famous seductress Cleopatra was an obvious choice for her to pay. This 1917 was one of the most expensive movies to be made at the time and had incredibly elaborate sets and costumes. Unfortunately all the known copies of the film have been lost of destroyed and only a few seconds of the film remain.

It's amazing how racy most of the costumes were - skimpy, transparent and exotic. I love the 20s take on Egyptian, and this snake...I hesitate to even call it a just crazy.

Claudette Colbert, 1934

I really like the costumes from this amazing Cecil B. DeMille film, which were designed by Travis Banton. The headdresses are particularly amazing, and Colbert's unusual looks make her a very memorable Cleopatra.

I love this costume which is totally encrusted with pearls, and which I imagine is gold. Ravishing!

The vulture appliques on the bust of this dress are really unusual, and I like the piping on the dress which almost mimics mummy bandages.

Vivienne Leigh, 1945

I think she is the most beautiful actress to have played Cleopatra, and I think her amazing blue bead wig is really stunning. Interestingly, most of the stills I could find were in black and white, although the film was shot in glorious Technicolor.

See how lovely and blue it is?

She has the most amazing bone structure, very like the famous statue of Nefertiti.

Elizabeth Taylor, 1963

The most famous Cleopatra of all is of course Elizabeth Taylor. The film was tremendously expensive, and Taylor had 65 costume changes.

Most of her costumes are variations on this - a tight fitting dress in a plain colour with some fantastic eyemakeup and elaborate jewellery.

But I'm more interested in these ones - lots of gold, big wigs, and crazy locust necklaces!

Considering I only have about 2 weeks to make two of these costumes (I've already started) they're going to be a bit less elaborate - I'll post what I've made so far very soon!