Creating Characters that can Come Alive
Contributed by Dianne Gardner
From the Editor: Dianne Gardner’s interview with her costumer was published on Amazing Stories November 25. From the point of view of writing? Note what the costumer mentioned. The characters are so well defined it is easy to determine what they, themselves would choose to wear. That’s what any author should strive for, characters the reader can “see” as well as hear.
Winter likes to stop things in their tracks especially when you live in cold country and you’re trying to put together exterior filming shoots. Winter also likes to go on 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 is going into a bit of hibernation and will resume the pursuit of dreams after the fireworks and greeting of a new year.
But that doesn’t mean people are not working, like little dwarves tapping away at their burrows, refining and tuning and sculpting and sewing.
Yes, 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 the spotlight by asking her a few questions.
Alaina, tell us what you envision for the three costume elements we need for Cassandra’s Story Genre – Fantasy
When working on period pieces, Room with a View, Sense and Sensibility, even Titanic, attention to the details of the time period really are important. Unless, of course, the director is deliberately 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 glaring mistake, it takes the viewer out of the story and comes across as amateur and not well thought out.
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 is that you can play between them subtly. For example, there is a tulip detail that we’d like to use to design costumes for characters with a more fantastical origin. Some of the characters with a definite place in history will have costumes that are firmly anchored in their period. In this case that will be cuts and constructions more specific to Edwardian (or modern) times. Since the story is based on a specific time and place in Portugal, we have a wealth of information to draw on. There are some beautiful, traditional design elements that will be the basis of our costumes.
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 that they support the 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 the historical context. The green colors for more rustic people are not easy 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.
The story occurs in the early 1900s or during the Edwardian period. Some people confuse the Edwardian style for Victorian, which is the period just before this brief period. The style was short lived and ended with 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. The skirts were swept back and the waists were very slim. It created an almost horse-like appearance. Consider the painting of the people in the park by Renoir. 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. With women’s suffrage, the elimination of the clearly corseted shape was taken 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.
Also, it is all too easy to lump the styles of Portugal with Spanish themes. 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 the styles were more casual than the Spanish look. Details such as embroidery themes were subtly different. Colors were similar, but the Portuguese colors were slightly more subdued.
Since we are creating costumes for some members of royalty, both local and visiting dignitaries, we must work with both traditional Portuguese looks (braiding on jackets, scrolls on collars) and elements of style found in the Paris, London, and Madrid of the period. The Queen, for example, is very in tune with what is fashionable elsewhere in Europe. The general population, however, would be dressed in the 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 the efforts of costumiers, cast and crew in order to get materials for making some of the initially required costumes. Some of the items have been purchased and altered from costume shops and 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, and to 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 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 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. 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.