I made it, once. I did. I went to Vienna on a holiday and found the fabric I dreamt of. I was young, I was naive. I only bought 8 yards. I regretted.
I did sew the dress, with a couple of minor adjustments to make a 16 meters dress fit within 8 meters of fabric. I was happy.
For a while.
Then i started to notice that the sweet summer child in me did make the dress without the proper undergarments (though I did try and did my best for the time) and that with the right undergarments on me the dress would not fit properly.
I realized the dress would not have made me happy mych longer, but it would have made someone else much happier. I sold it to someone who enjoyed as I could no longer do, and invested the revenue in new fabric. Peau de soie satin, valentine red color, polyester, unfortunately (yes, I know, but I don’t want the silk to just ruin on the hem after I wear it twice).
I started working. I messed up, I paused. Now that pause has been longer than the time between the purchase of the fabric for the first and the second.
Every time I see a cosplay, or a replica shared, or even people doing other costumes from Dracula, my heart bleeds with self disappointment, my melancholic mind goes to that piece of once pleated fabric and that wrong half bodice inside an ikea box, buried below layers of unfinished projects.
A few days ago I thought: some people can start and finish projects, they are like strings, from start to end. Others take more time, start working on others. They are like woven fabric. I start so many things I don’t end that I feel like velvet, with pile sticking out and cut. But velvet is beautiful. That cut pile makes the fabric unique and decadent.
Anyway, every time I see a cosplayer wearing their own version, one for sale somewhere, or even someone doing other costumes from the movie, my heart bleeds. Not negatively towards these other persons, I am so happy that we share this love in many. Towards myself. I feel a longing for this dress, I need to have it in my closet. Just to look at it, just to feel what it feels to wear it. And then to know, when I see other replicas, that I have mine, and that I challenged myself again into making something that hard, and that I made it, to a certain point.
When I started doing this- sewing- I told myself I would ban those envies I had when dancing, and that I would have challenged myself into doing better before pointing out any mistake. Because ideally everyone who sews can do things: it’s when they get real that you find out where you have arrived, what you still need to improve.
So this is also a project to measure the progress I made in almost 10 years.
In the meantime, I have purchased three different matte satins, and found out things about the costume. I ended up waiting so long that I used part of one of these to make my Satine dress.
I also took time to research. And I have a few websites I go back to, when I want closeups, exhibit pictures and such. For Star Wars it’s the Padawan’s Guide, for this costume it’s the page of the Costumer’s Guide. The reference images you will see shared here come from the second website I just mentioned.
And I found out there was a reason why the original didn’t look like either satin or taffeta, even though most make replicas out of one of these. Mine was satin. However most satins are too shiny, and this dress is not shiny. The color is also hard to capture on camera: it’s not war, nor cold. And it looks colder (not darker) in the images from the book. Which I think was color proofed before going to print.
If you listen carefully, you will hear two sounds:
– my ego saying “aha! Told you so, that’s not satin”
– my heart shattered into dust-size pieces for the awareness that finding a close fabric in the same color is almost impossible.
I have scouted the internet for grainy brocades, pebble brocades, hammered satins, snake pattern jacquards. The closest I could find was out of budget and never in the right color.
Also, in the official book of the costumes nothing is visible, just the grain of old photos.
There is a finite number of times I can look at related things in my social media feeds without getting back to the dress. You will just need to wait until that number fills up, and in the end I will resolve to make the dress in the fabric I already have. And we’re getting close.
In the meantime, a short analysis of the costume and why it is so challenging.
Analysis of a challenge
Well, having attempted at replicating this costume once, I know a lot about why it’s so tricky. But first let’s see why it’s so beautiful.
First: it tells a story, and Ishioka told about it in interviews: Mina always wears pastels and cold colors, and never deep necklines (except for a dressing gown) or sleeves shorter than the wrist. Why something like this? It’s not just to represent love and lust, it has a story behind it: Dracula commissioned the dress to his taste, and had it delivered to Mina before the meeting. The scales-like texture connects to the “dracul/dragon” theme of his armor and red is his signature color in the movie. So by giving her that dress he’s making her his, the dress hugs her, swirls around her like a reptile thing and changes her.
In real life I would be annoyed if a man ordered for me at a restaurant, so I totally see the morbid side to this, but in a fantasy movie I can get it, I can love it. There’s a side of me that is deeply fascinated by morbid things in words that are not real. So this dress just calls me.
And also my favorite character in the movie is not Mina, it’s Dracula. But this dress allows me to dress like him, to cosplay him, rather than her, in a way.
Now that we have the storytelling, let’s find out which type of undergarments this needs.
The movie is set in 1897. Let me tell you there is only one female costume in the whole movie that vaguely responds to the silhouette of the era, and that is the one Mina wears when sailing. You can see it for a couple of seconds, maybe. The rest goes back to other decades of the second half of the 19th century; from the 1880s of the bustles, to the vaguely 1870s of this dress.
Let’s have a look:
Here you can see a 1897 evening gown.
Here you can see the overall silhouette of Mina’s dress.
Here you can see a 1897 walking toilette.
Here you can see the only dress that matches the time.
Here you can see a couple of 1874 dresses.
Mina’s gown in all of its glory.
You may start seeing more similarities to 1874-5 dresses than with the actual period the movie was set in. The silhouette, the pleats on the train, the cuirasse bodice, the drapings on the skirt, the type of trimming…
These ballgowns on the sides to not have the sleeves, but you see where we are going.
So what was underneath a 1874ish dress?
Spoiler alert: not what is shown on the right. That is often credited as the hoopskirt for the red dress, but in the book it’s clearly stated that it’s what is underneath Lucy’s pastel green snake dress instead!
So let’s look at historical things. I am going to need a corset, a hoopskirt and a petticoat.
I will use a corset I already have, as the shape given on Ryder’s torso is not specific to 1874. I will use something that gives little waist reduction and some bust support, keeping the breasts lifted and separate.
Let’s see some undergarments from those years to see what I’ll be looking for.
I will want some bustle volume, but also some support for the lower portion of the dress. I will probably go for a fabric version, rather than the naked hoops. I hope it gives me more control.
I will also want a rich petticoat on top of it, to keep everything fluffy and soft.
And then comes the hard part.
The skirt has a knife pleated base that opens like a fan at the back. On top of that there is a front draping creating U ripples going down. At the back a wide piece of fabric is gathered a bit randomly to create poufs.
The sleeves are quite simple, reach the elbow, where they are gathered, and there are two lower points, divided by an opening at the elbow angle.
The bodice, on the other hand…
It’s made of two halves, overlapping, right on top at the front, left at the back. Each side has two bust-shaping darts at the front, like in antique pieces. But these are diagonal, so they’re not on grain and that will be trouble. You even see in the movie, when Ryder turns her back to the camera, how the weight of the skirt is pulling down and creating ripples. Usually those seams are boned on the inside, but here, with them going vertically, it would be easier to cut a cotton foundation and bone it, and then to sew the outer layer on top, so that it doesn’t have to take care of any pulling. The front has a low cuirasse cut, in a deep V shape.
The two sides surround the hips and end up together on the back, on the right hip. There there’s a fabric waterfall, that widens towards the bottom. The sides have the same embellishment of the rest of the bodice, while the center is gathered.
What is that “same embellishment”? It’s fabric origami, basically. These are created with the technique used to make petals for traditional japanese kanzashi hair ornaments.
Making of pictures. When will you see them? Remember that finite number? One drop, two drops, three drops…