labricoleuse: (mee)
You may recall that last year, i wrote up our first costume replica project for the Museum of Science Fiction, the flight attendant costume from 2001: A Space Odyssey. Today i've got the next project installment to share, the Neo costume from 1999's The Matrix.

This one came about because a donor gave the museum a pair of Airwalk buckle boots which were purportedly used in the making of the film, and they wanted to create an exhibit around those boots, a display of the full costume look for the character of Neo (played by Keanu Reeves). Here's what we did:

First up, I created a Pinterest board for research images for the project, and rising second year grad student Erin Torkelson began to add specific screencaps to it, on top of all the extant imagery i found for the costume. Erin also worked with the folks at the Museum to set up a conference call with the film's costume designer, Kym Barrett, who generously took the time to talk with us about the original costumes. She gave us a lot of wonderful information about her concept for Neo's clothing, and also told us some fun facts, like that there were over 20 versions of the iconic Neo coat, made up in many different types of materials so that they would behave differently in various conditions--linen ones, wool ones, screenprinted ones, coats designed to be shot underwater, etc.

So ironically, our conundrum was, how do you make a replica of a costume for which there is no single costume to copy, something for which there were numerous iterations, all both identical and yet very different, and for which the icon itself doesn't exist other than as an impression in the mind of the viewer? (Isn't that so perfect, given the film in question?) So as we determined in our conversation with Kym, we were making a representation of the icon, a costume which anyone who walked into a room with it would know from 50' away: "That's the Neo costume from The Matrix."

We worked with a friend of mine, Katie Straker, who is an employee of Mood Fabrics, to swatch wools for the coat, and our assistant costume director, Jenn Guadagno, drafted the pattern for it following traditional tailoring methods. She then supervised its construction with a team of our graduate and undergraduate students serving as her first-hands and stitchers:

Rising second year grad Michelle Bentley works on sewing the coat lining.

There's one close-up shot in the film where we thought we caught a glimpse of the digital drift imagery on the lining of the coat, and sure enough, when we asked Kym Barrett about it, she confirmed that that was true.

So using a still from the film, MFA '16 grad Erin Abbenante did the digital drift textile design you see here, which we had printed at Spoonflower.

Rising third year grad Emily Plonski adjusts the capelet at the shoulder seam before the sleeves go in.

Look how beautiful that turned out!

Local news WRAL did a feature on us! Here they're filming rising third-year Max Hilsabeck working on the gun holsters, which were patterned and overseen by rising second-year Erin Torkelson.

The donated boots were definitely not the ones worn by Keanu Reeves in the film--they were likely a stuntman or distance double or similar, because among other things they did not feature the iconic chainmail toecaps of Neo's boots, so famous from the giant closeup shot in the film. MOSF wanted theirs to have that aesthetic element though, so above you see a sheet of chainmail and the boot in question.

Here's the finished toes! I worked on these with rising third year grad Emily Plonski and rising second year Robin Ankerich.

UNC undergraduate Glennda Campbell sewing one of our custom printed MOSF labels into the completed coat

Obligatory mirror selfie with Neo in the PlayMakers Repertory Company fitting room. When the WRAL camera crew looked at him and said "It's like he looks MORE real than the one in the movie," I knew we'd succeeded.

You can see this costume debut on display at the upcoming MOSF extravaganza, Escape Velocity, coming to DC In July!
labricoleuse: (vintage hair)
With one week left in the run, I oughta finish up this series on the design process for It's a Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play at PlayMakers Repertory in Chapel Hill, NC.

Recall that the play's dramatic conceit is that it presents a "radio play" version of the classic film's story, in which the audience in the theatre functions as the "live studio audience" complete with interaction like Applause-sign responses and so forth. The broadcast is ostensibly happening on Christmas Eve, 1946. Five actors voice all of the roles and the play runs straight through with actual commercial breaks, just like a radio play would have. So, all the characters only have the one costume and very few props and pieces to work with.

We've looked at the page-to-stage process for our two made-to-order costumes (the two women in the cast), so in this final installment, let's see how those sharp 1940s suits came about! As with the ladies, research plays a big part of the process...

Read more... )
labricoleuse: (design)
Some time back at the beginning of the design process, i posted about using pinterest as a design tool in initial communication of visual research in costume conception, for an upcoming production of It's a Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play. The play's dramatic conceit is that it presents a "radio play" version of the classic film's story, in which the audience in the theatre functions as the "live studio audience" complete with interaction like Applause-sign responses and so forth. The broadcast is ostensibly happening on Christmas Eve, 1946. Five actors voice all of the roles and the play runs straight through with actual commercial breaks, just like a radio play would have. So, all the characters only have the one costume and very few props and pieces to work with in creating the world of It's a Wonderful Life.

The show, opening at PlayMakers this Saturday night, now exists as an entity in terms of the costumes, and I thought it would be fun to write about how the designs moved from blobs of research images to real costumes worn by actual people.

First, let's take a look at one of the ladies in the cast: Sally Applewhite, played by Maren Searle. Read more... )
labricoleuse: (supershakespeare)
The final installment of the blocked hat multiples is in the works, but while i'm finishing it up, i'd like to share another interview, this time with one of our MFA graduates, B. Daniel Weger, who currently works as the head tailor at the renowned NYC costume house, Eric Winterling Inc. Daniel received his MFA in Costume Production from our program here at UNC-Chapel Hill in 2009.

Prior to his current position, Daniel has worked in various production positions for companies such as Santa Fe Opera, Shakespeare Theatre of DC, Washington National Opera, and Signature Theatre, creating garments for designers such as Tom Ford, Martin Pakledinaz, and Anita Yavitch. I'm so pleased he agreed to participate in the interview series, and it gives me the idea that perhaps i should start a tag to aggregate alumni interviews, since we have a lot of alums doing super-cool interesting work in the field, whose expertise would be excellent to share here.

Before i get into the questions and answers, i want to use this opportunity to spotlight a crowdfunding project of interest: Men of the Cloth, a documentary about the master tailors of Italy by Vicki Vasilopolous. There are nine days left to their fundraising campaign, so please consider donating to help complete this film and preserve the knowledge of these menswear artisans and artists. Here's a video clip about the film:

MEN OF THE CLOTH IndieGoGo Video from Vicki Vasilopoulos on Vimeo.

And, on that note, on to my interview with Daniel.

Q. For a bit of background, would you describe the setup at Winterling's--how many employees, what different positions there entail, etc?

Our shop is a full floor of a building in the Flatiron District. The number of employees fluctuates, especially over the summer when the the Broadway season slows down. Like many shops, there are drapers, tailors, stitchers, and cutters. Eric is of course the business owner, but is also the head draper and patternmaker. The other drapers work closely with Eric to make sure that everyone is following his interpretation/ vision of the designer's wishes.

Q. What are your responsibilities as head tailor?

Depending on the time, there are four or five coat makers, a pant drafter, and a pant maker. I make and grade patterns for men's coats and vests primarily. I work with Eric and the floor manager to make sure that the work is distributed evenly and that deadlines can be met while still adhering to the highest level of quality. In a sense, the position is middle management. It is my job to make sure that the needs and desired techniques are followed through.

Q. Can you talk about some of the projects you have worked on recently?

We work on a number of Broadway musicals. During the season we may construct many new costumes for new musicals, such as Book Of Mormon. Another source of revenue are costume reorders. Long running musicals such as Wicked or Phantom of the Opera regularly need newly constructed looks, and we then pull the original patterns and grade them or make new ones based on previous images and renderings. For the most part, all details need to be considered to remain true to the original garments.

Aside from Broadway, we do contracts for Disney Ice shows, Sea World, popular music artists on tour, and film and television. New York overhead is steep, and the shops will often take on many diverse projects at once. Until a show is in production or on screen, we really don't talk too much or promote any images in order to protect the customer's work. A recent film we worked on was the upcoming Brothers Grimm Snow White, designed by Eiko.

Q. What are some of the specific considerations you have to take into account when creating tailored garments for the stage and screen? Do you have any tips and tricks to share for speeding up parts of the process while retaining quality level?

Unlike many regional theatres I have worked in, New York shops use a lot of fusible interfacing such as tricot. Some fabrics take dye better than others, so it is not out of the question to make suitings out of stabilized spandex. We also use a lot of custom printed polyester. The tailors here use premade canvasses that they beef up with a little extra canvas or felt. With the high volume of suits we make and the often tight turn-around, it is most cost-effective to have these one hand ready to go. As a patternmaker, I come from a theatrical background so I was trained in the theatre. I am accustomed to making suits that include large seam allowances, etc., in order to improve the versatility of the garment. A majority of the tailors who work with me are from the commercial industry, so they bring the techniques of manufactured garments with them. The quality level is very high, the main difference is that the clothes are completed to be used for a single actor, and not to be returned to costume stock to be used and altered over the years.

Q. What advice would you give to readers who aspire to a career in costume tailoring?

I would advise anyone interested in tailoring to jump headlong into studying. American tailoring is virtually non-existent, so the best bet is to work in the theatre. Find tailors with a strong reputation, and be discriminating. There are many more people who consider themselves tailors than have the training to back up their claims. A number of references are available through the Library of Congress online, as well as Google docs. Since most reference materials are fairly vague and include a lot of unedited material, the best way to learn is going to be through trial and error, and making good connections. A great place to start is by tearing apart suits from stock, Goodwill, etc., and see what is going on inside.

Q. What skills do you appreciate in tailor's assistants?

Attention to the steps is crucial in a garment. If a step is left out, there may be little or nothing that can be done to correct a mistake. In some cases this can be incredibly expensive. No one is above overlooking steps either, I have made some very costly mistakes even recently. Thinking ahead is definitely the key. Overall, it seems like people who are good workers do well with a good attitude and a love and respect for the art form.

Q. What is your favorite tailoring tool or piece of equipment?

Good shears seem to be the obvious answer, although good shears only stay good for so long with the materials we in the theatre are required to work with. I think the divisional square probably saves me the time and heartache of having to actually learn to do math.

And, that's the interview! Thanks, Daniel!

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