A holiday like this really deserved its own blog post.
Have I been on the other side of the world?
Have I done amazing incredible unusual things?
I have however found something unthinkable: balance. It may have been the long work with my therapist, that hugely helped me in finding how to use my energies at their best and such, may be some extra help that came from many of my friends…this time I managed to rest and be productive. Which is something really amazing. And rare. Especially if you know what it means to be self employed in some artistic field.
Anyway, I spent three weeks in the mountains, usual place, with my beloved husband and my whippet. I incredibly enjoy the chilly air and the refreshing mountain weather, while on the plain, at home, the heat peaks at 40° (celsius). And right now I am rather trying not to focus too much on the last climate change reports, and try to banish anxiety to be able to enjoy something that we don’t know how long will last.
But this blog and my work have the purpose of making people feel light and happy, so I do want to limit my personal (personal? The world’s on fire and we don’t have the luxury of being idle any longer, so it really is about saving ourselves…and I am incredibly scared) worries to this initial paragraph and start talking about what you’re here for.
The deal, here in the mountains, is that I can carry no work for others. Only my personal projects. I do not reply to emails, and this year I had my social media managed by someone else, in order to have the least distractions possible.
So I have a lot of time, the ideal environment to focus (chilly air and a hoodie on my shoulders) and no distractions whatsoever. Every couple of days we have something to do, like walks and such, and once a week we host some friends to keep us company. Some days Marco goes on more challenging hikes, so I have the whole day for myself. I read a lot, I study, but mostly I make. And I make things I have no rush to finish.
It may seem incredible, but if I have no deadline, I tend to finish things earlier and to work on them with a much better attitude. This time I have worked on gowns I had to finish for the second weekend of september, for example, and each of them required only a few days of work. I have carried stuff for next carnevale, which is good, because working last minute on my own projects (because of course customers have priority) has proved even less proficuous than I dreaded.
And as I finished everything early, I even had time and energies to work on something I had not planned at all, and that I have designed and created while here, in this last week.
So what did I sew?
I finished my 1910s Poiret-and-padmé-lake-gown inspired dress (that’s a mouthful, I know), I made myself a 1890s dinner/concert bodice, I have made a dress for a Snake Queen, and ended the holiday creating a shieldmaiden costume. All of it while fixing a few costumes that I needed for shootings, such as Arwen’s blood red dress.
In this post I will however focus on two of the gowns I made during the holidays and an other one I made before. I will include all the gowns I will bring to Volta in Cosplay. So this post will serve as reference for the photographers who will be working with me. A second post will follow, with all the other things I have worked on.
Friday: original costume inspired by Lucrezia’s costumes, in The Borgias TV series
* also the Daenerys wedding gown I have written about here
Saturday: original snake queen
Sunday: original 1915-Poiret inspired version of the Lake Gown
If you haven’t seen The Borgias, you should.
Because the costumes by Gabriella Pescucci are just divine. And because it’s a lovely show. Finished before its time, but was given somewhat a conclusion.
Anyway, if you have followed my work for some time, you may know I love the costumes. Especially the ones that have been made for Lucrezia. They’re just divine.
And I have tried to make my version of that style a couple of times.
Here you can see my first attempt, portrayed by Selene.
The new one had to be green. I started making it in early 2020. I got some green fabric. I wanted a specific shade. but none of the fabrics I ordered turned out to be the right shade. So I settled for blue.
I still have a couple of fixes in mind, especially for the sleeves. But for the moment I am happy.
The dress is all in cotton satin and silk brocade. The camicia is in silk organza.
The necklace and earrings set is by Master Jakobus, while the wig is made by yours truly. I was super careful to get myself some golden metal pins, the large ones, close to the ones used in the show. No normal bobby pins or hairpins here.
On the historic side of this, it’s not really my era, so take what I am saying with extra care. The dress should be a combination of a camicia and gamurra. The hairstyle should be a coazzone, while the net should be a reticella.
The dress itself is a mix of elemets from many dresses seen in the show. It’s not meant to replicate a single dress, it’s more of a personal interpretation. Extra care was taken in embellishment, to create detail and texture in a way that could recall the styles of the show.
You can enjoy the pinterest board for the dress here!
Now, I started designing this thing because I wanted something to fulfill my own vision of evil queen. Something sexy, yet not tacky, I wanted it to be seductive and refined. Something that could find its place in a fantasy movie, and at the same time scream “this is a Grimilde Malatesta”.
I have been running in circles around this idea for years. My brand’s name is Grimilde, so I do want to make a Grimilde dress, the ultimate Evil Queen dress. Something that makes me feel how I dream to be, sometimes. But to be realistic, I made dozens of sketches for that. None of them good enough. Not enough refined, not enough me. So I kept changing. I still would love to make some of those designs.
I ended up with something that intrigued me when I stopped thinking of Snowhite’s Evil Queen, and started just thinking about the Evil Queen. No balaclavas, no crowns, no poisoned apples. Something feminine, and powerful.
I ended up on the snake. Because yes, Eve and the snake, but not just that. I wanted Eve’s revenge, something Lilith-like. The snake of knowledge of the ancients, but also the snake of immortality that changes skin and shifts its shape to the new circumstances. And I wanted to dig with full hands in the silent film aesthetic, in the drawings by Klimt and all the other artists of the Aesthetic movement. I wanted it to remind of something an edwardian actress could have worn, but with a modern flare. Something that I could see in a movie and say “I totally want to cosplay that”.
So the first thing I needed for that was shape. And you know I like a nice angle at the waist, and a nice difference between waist, hips and bust. I do corsets a lot. Yet this time I wanted something a bit different. More… sexy.
So I took a bit of the silhouette from the 1950s. What’s more sexy and refined at the same time, than Sophia Loren? So I conjured the pointy boob into the garment. An other part of the inspiration was undoubtedly the work of Dario Princiotta, and his glass bustier. To keep myself from adding too much and making the final result too tacky, I kept asking myself “What would Dario do?”. And it did help indeed.
The first layer is made of nude mesh. It’s like a tank top, with shoulder straps, and ends at the hips. It’s all transparent, with the boning channels lined in hand dyed nude tape. There is no padding, the shape is just given by the careful cut. The thing laces at the front. Because I like when you don’t understand how the thing is closed on you. I think I got it from late victorian gowns. Sometimes the opening is just a zig-zag of layers and until they show you how it opens, you just wonder if they just materialised into the thing.
On top of that I chose to use all of my silk chiffon leftovers. I use silk a lot. And buy by the lot. So I always have some leftovers here and there. And I love to test and use what comes out to make creative things. In this case I shibori dyed the pieces, and then hand pleated them to achieve a snake-like texture, something rich and organic-looking. I pinned it on the mannequin, and stitched all by hand, to be extra precise.
I added some gold embroidery trim to the front and the neckline to create a focus point. And while I was draping, I just wanted to add those snake-like cords. I originally wanted them around the neckline, but it didn’t work. I tried and I tried, until I came up with what you see. I love how light the result is, like a meringue, sheer and full. It enhances the silhouette without making it look heavy or too costumey. And it helps with the idea of the snake shedding the old skin.
I then added a lot of hexagonal sequins underneath the chiffon, on the nude layer, to create a subtle effect. I wanted them to look like part of the skin of the wearer, as a magical snake-like creature. They’re placed to enhance specific elements of the dress, and they’re invisible until the light strikes directly, as they are under sheer fabric.
I then added some brooches. Fun fact: I wanted a delicate effect, but I didn’t want them to disappear. So I turned the bejewelled side- which had fumé crystals- down and worked with the golden one visible. I added some glass spikes here and there. I painted, dyed, pleated a bit more, and the dress was done!
Now to the rest. I wanted to make myself a pair of golden pumps, with a snakeskin patterned leather (printed, not real snakeskin). My shoemaking skills are really not there yet, but it was fun trying. So I managed to get the loveliest 1950s snakeskin (ugh, not a fan, but they’re vintage, I wouldn’t buy new) kitten heels.
I will also use a labradorite bracelet I’ve had for years.
I wanted the wig to embody the victorian actress, but also the black and white movie femme fatale. So I went for soft and cloud-like waves, and I added some silver threads.
For the crown, I worked with something I dislike: black worbla. I’m not a fan of the material. Everything you make out of it looks too crafty for the cost it has. But this time I had little alternatives. I wanted a Klimt-esque crown, and far from the tacky fantasy gorgon concept. So I made the snakes fall from the sky, directly on the head and the face, coiling into an organic and art-nouveau-ish crown, in black, contrasting the white of the hair and the face.
The makeup is a mix between what could work in a movie and what worked in black and white and mute movies.
In the third photo you can see a preview: not even passed through lightroom: the dress does look like that by itself! I am in love.
To see the inspiration for this dress…look here!
Let’s start with the Poiret thing.
I don’t usually do 1910s. I do some 18th century, mostly the last decade of the 19th and the first of the 20th. I am comfortable experimenting stuff from earlier times (17th century, sometimes 16th, but in that case more inspired by than historically accurate, I like to add my own twist). I have dived in the 1910s for my Erté-inspired Yzma (because here we were doing disneybounding and such before it had a name, yes, and we like to say it out loud), but that was rather an experiment than something from an actual pattern.
Well, this time was not any different! And if you ask me about the pattern, I can honestly tell you that I have very little clue of how the thing is on paper, because I just draped it. And yes, for most of the time I prayed for it to remain as I pinned it on the mannequin. Because it kept moving. There are carefully studied places where if you lift the fabric the skin comes out (wow, so lake-gown-ish), that are however always covered. Parts crossing each others, twisting in moebius rings, shirred things, gathered things, hanging ends that look decorative but actually have a purpose. Seriously, this one is a dress that you can try to copy as much as you want (but just don’t, unless you have my explicit and personal consent- thank you), but just can’t. I don’t even know if I myself could manage to copy it.
The thing had rested on a mannequin for more than a year. Not joking. I was never completely happy. Never had the time. I had bought this huge bolt of cheesecloth to be draped on my bed, and the fabric ended up to be too much, so I wanted to have fun with it. I love cheesecloth as fabric, I have used it often in the past, and it just creates beautiful texture and volumes without adding weight. So I cut it into pieces that made sense then, ombré dyed it, and then changed my mind on how to use the pieces four or five times. But they were dyed.
Colors here are quite peculiar. It is ombré, and it is a sunset, yes. The color scheme is close, but it’s an other thing entirely. It’s twilight, rather than sunset. To understand what it is, you have to know that sunsets have obsessed me since childhood. Really, there was nothing more sad to little me than knowing that I could not have kept the magic of each sunset with me, and that they kept changing every second. The clouds, the colors, the melancholia of all that beauty passing away forever. I have tried photography, I have tried painting, and I have to say that very little of that magic can be carried into something fixed.
Fabrics, especially sheer ones, do catch some of those qualities. My favourite one is incandescence. When you choose each shade so carefully that you can make something look like it shines. And after a lot of experience, trial, errors, tests, I have finally managed to achieve this strategy, remembering a lot of things one of my favorite painting teachers taught me in high school (I was already obsessed with those palettes, you can see). It’s a careful game of contrasts, of saturation, of picking the exact shade to enhance all the others. Research of a lifetime, one could say. So no, I’m sorry, I am not going to share these very tricks, but I do encourage you to have fun yourself and find your own magic. Or to commission the fabric pieces (did you know I dye and distress on commission?).
The dress, and this is more or less historical, is held in place by tapes. All is sewn into tapes. Like in Madame Grès works or Fortuny. Formal gowns at the time were still built on boned structures, but at the same time there were some artists trying to build something more airy and light. And I did want my dress to be as light as a cloud. And fast to sew. Gosh, there is not a single hem on the thing. And I like it. So there is a vintage lamé trim for the neckline, and it has support purposes. It’s a frame. From that, some tapes envelop the figure, and the ombré panels are sewn onto them by hand. This piece is entirely handsewn, which is great when you need control, but not so much when you have to…ahem…hem. So no hems.
I needed to create some connection with the Lake Gown. Some more. Did you know it was inspired by ancient Egyptian fashion? Each of Padmés’ gowns has a different inspiration. So I took a few ideas from the concept art of the dress, such as the long pearl strings, that in the original dress were transformed into something faster to make. I also found a lovely mother of pearl necklace, from the 1950s, always egyptian revival, and it was perfect because it had that vintage look, it matched the dress and it could work for something loosely based on 1910s fashion, while using the original jewels of the Lake Gown would have been too sci-fi.
I will keep the wig as it is. With the twisted front sections, the headbands and the volume at the back, it already recalls the style of the time. And gives a stronger link to the original dress.
This dress is finally ready to be worn at Volta in Cosplay. The original date of the event was in April, but due to the pandemic it has been postponed for a year, and then moved to early September. Here in Italy the end of April has a lovely temperature, while September is quite hot. My original plan was to wear some of my heavier works, with lots of layers and heavy fabrics. I couldn’t have worn them with the heat, for the whole day, so I had to change my plans. This dress and the next one weren’t really things I had a deadline for before, they were just personal projects for my very little free time. But due to this coincidence, I chose to take them to the mountains and give them top priority among my personal stuff. Delaying others, such as Padmé’s Purple Senate Gown, which was one of the gowns I was supposed to wear.