On Set With Lily Absinthe…Looking Back

Over the years, we’ve worked on a number of film productions and each one of them has been a unique experience. In contrast to working from our atelier, directly working on a film production offers a set of challenges that can easily overwhelm you unless you’re prepared for them. Below is an account of one such production we worked on.  🙂

What Have I Done? (2014)


Yours truly, on set...

Yours truly, on set, as one of the background talent. Just another dirty dude in the West… 🙂

Rcently, we had the unique opportunity to provide wardrobe for an independent production, and a Western no less, entitled “What Have I Done?” This was a creative challenge in that we were working with a very small budget and had to outfit six principal characters. Worse, the film was going to be shot over four days at a movie ranch located in what seemed to be literally the middle of nowhere with little in the way of support facilities. Everything we needed, we would have to haul it in ourselves and hope that we didn’t forget anything.

One of the many jobs I wound up doing was working with a horse that a rider was having trouble with...ride 'em cowboy! :-)

One of the many jobs I wound up doing was working with a horse that a rider was having trouble with…ride ’em cowboy! 🙂

After reviewing the script, doing a complete breakdown of each scenes, and visiting the film site, we quickly set to work on putting together the outfits for the principals. We were fortunate in that we did not have to build all the costumes from nothing; in many cases were able to modify our stock of wardrobe.

Dresses Under Construction

Dresses Under Construction; Each one for for a specific character.

However, making dresses was just the beginning. We also had to construct or improvise the proper underpinnings to include corsets and petticoats, construct head pieces, and provide any accessories as needed such as parasols and the like. The construction phase took about three weeks to complete and we were working right up when filming began. Also, in several instances, we were unable to measure the actresses in person and had to rely on their reported measurements. Needles to say, we were a bit uncertain how things would turn out and we were prepared for the worse which meant bringing a portable sewing machine and a full set of accessories with us. Fortunately, in the end everything fit perfectly and it was not an issue. 🙂

However, our work was not complete- there was still the background talent to consider. Working with the production designer and director, we formulated the exact “look” we were hoping to achieve in the way the shots were framed. Of course, first and foremost, the background talent are just that: background, and as such, they are to provide a backdrop for the principal actors. The last thing you want is for someone in the background to stand out in some way and steal focus from the principals and this means that the background talents’ wardrobe must be in neutral colors that blend in with the terrain, in this case a weather-beaten, dirty Western town located in the desert, and that means mostly different shades of brown, green, tan, beige, and the like.

And my close up. With the schmutz on my face, I fir in perfectly with the background of a dusty, dirty Western town in the desert...

And my close up. I fit in perfectly with the background of a dusty, dirty Western town in the desert…;-)

Because of the low budget, no wardrobe could be provided for the background talent. Instead, the production relied on reenactors (or “living historians”) who were ostensibly knowledgeable about wardrobe that was appropriate to the late 1870s and early 1880s and were able to secure wardrobe in the correct colors. We had no role in their selection.

However, in reality this was not always the case. To a great degree we were at the mercy of the background talent even after they had submitted pictures of themselves and their outfits has been approved prior to production commencing. Essentially, the most common problems encountered were: 1) the original outfit was unavailable due to staining or damage due to prior ear and tear; 2) the person who was going to be wearing the garment had gained too much weight since the picture was submitted (it seems improbable given the short length of preproduction time but it happens); or 3) the person didn’t like their outfit and decided to wear something else. Numbers 1 and 2 are somewhat uncontrollable, much like the weather, but number 3 was simply inexcusable.

Things that some background people insisted on bringing to wear and would sneak in: cheap import beaded corsets, frosted wigs with unnatural curls, pastel polyester dresses, dusters with snaps, huge modern “tea hats”, fishnet stockings, everything on the “not” list.

Fortunately, we were prepared for this problem and we brought a stock of separate garments such as shawls, coats, and the like that could be used to cover up or otherwise mitigate the situation. Also, we brought things from our own personal collections and in two instances, we had to construct two outfits.

In extreme cases, the problem was fixed in post production with creative editing. But in spite of these challenges, we were able to overcome every obstacle and deliver a product that remained true to the production design.

Below are a few pictures from the production. We shot both exterior and interior shots at varying times to include the late night and early morning.

One of the principal actresses.

One of the principal actresses.

Above is a scene that was shot in the saloon at night. The actress in the red dress was supposed to be the “bad girl” and the use of red naturally played it up. This dress is in contrast to what the other principles were wearing and it was done for effect. The red almost vibrates, giving a somewhat larger-than-life quality.

Saloon Girls

Saloon Girls

Day scene involving some of the saloon girls. We provided the wardrobe for the middle two actresses.

Night scene in the saloon.

Night scene in the saloon.

The hero of the story with the “good girl” who is in love with him and who the hero spurns until it’s too late.

Break2

Break time on set.

Break1

Hurry up and wait…

Although I do not normally like to get in from of the camera, I was pressed into service at the last minute to fill out the ranks, to which I graciously acceded. Here I am after I’d been dirtied up a bit with schmutz. 🙂

Filming at night...and I'd already been working for 14 hours by this time.

Filming at night…and I’d already been working for 14 hours by this time.

However, in spite of the various challenges we faced, we came through and supported the production to the utmost. It was certainly a learning experience but we were more  than up to the challenge.

Yours Truly, exhausted and trying to catch up on his sleep.

Yours Truly, exhausted and trying to catch up on his sleep.



A Look Back At The Movie Tombstone…

As we’re leaving No. 11 today, the movie Tombstone hasn’t been far from our thoughts so in honor of the movie, we thought we’d re-post our take on some of the costuming aspects of the movie, so enjoy!


Tombstone1

The Earps and Doc Holiday off to the date with destiny at the OK Corral- From the movie Tombstone.

On a costuming level, the movie Tombstone never fails to excite interest and invariably, the question will arise: “How historically accurate are the costumes?” The short answer is “Somewhat…” Yes, much of the costuming is fairly accurate although one may quibble on the specific details. One of my favorites is the much-maligned Johnny Behan:

johnbehansherrif1

Johnny Behan wearing a tailored blue/gray pin stripe sack suit.

tombstone01

A better view of Johnny Behan’s suit.

Behan’s is wearing a well-tailored sack suit proper for someone in his position. Unlike the usual image of the scruffy frontier marshal or sheriff, Behan was more of a politician and his primary job was collecting enough tax revenue to keep the Cochise County government financially afloat. The actual work of dealing with criminals was tasked to several deputies.

That said, let’s take a look at the central focus of the movie, Wyatt Earp:

Wyatt Earp1

This is the iconic Wyatt Earp outfit, one that has been widely imitated over the years by those recreating the Earp persona, usually for reenactments of the gunfight at the OK Corral. Now, as for historical accuracy, the coat itself is wrong. There were no ankle-length frock coats. Anything this long would be some sort of greatcoat. The frock coat of the later 19th Century tended to come down to just above the knee.

OK, so it rates a boo and a hiss…or does it? Bear in mind that this is a movie and a movie’s primary goal it to tell a story. Costuming supports this story-telling process and it’s often subject to conscious design changes in order to increase the dramatic effect. In this case, it’s pretty successful, judging from how much it’s imitated and let’s face it, it does increase the dramatic effect, especially when done in black (both the length and color choice were deliberate choices made the director). The effects of black color, coat length, and pictures of it flapping open in the breeze all suggest a superhero figure. So in the end, it’s all about telling a story.

Now just for a little equal time, here’s the Earps and Doc Holliday off to the OK Corral gunfight in the movie Wyatt Earp:

Wyatt Earp Movie1

The Earps and Doc Holiday off to the OK Corral and thei date with destiny- from the movie Wyatt Earl.

Compared to the top picture from Tombstone, the look in the above picture from Wyatt Earp is bit more gritty and less heroic (in fact, the actual gunfight scene itself is a bit anticlimactic in the movie). One is not more “correct” than the other, both go for a specific dramatic effect. Whether one is more effective than the other is subjective, in the eye of the viewer (we have our favorite, too).

So Gentle Readers, where does this leave us? Well, it goes to show that one must be mindful of the historically correct while at the same time being mindful that a movie’s objective differs from simply a recitation of historical events in that it also seeks to entertain. As a rule, costume designers go to great lengths to school themselves on what is historically appropriate for the period being depicted and they know exactly where departures are made.

If one thinks that this is a recent development, it is not. A good example of this in an earlier era is from the movie Gone with the Wind which was released in 1939. in which the costuming of the background and supporting characters is historically correct but the costumes for the lead actors were not. In closing, we view movies with an open mind and believe that costuming for film is an art form all itself and we like that.



Lily Absinthe Takes A Quick Look at Some Costuming Aspects of the Movie Tombstone

Tombstone1

The Earps and Doc Holiday off to the date with destiny at the OK Corral- From the movie Tombstone.

On a costuming level, the movie Tombstone never fails to excite interest and invariably, the question will arise: “How historically accurate are the costumes?” The short answer is “Somewhat…” Yes, much of the costuming is fairly accurate although one may quibble on the specific details. One of my favorites is the much-maligned Johnny Behan:

johnbehansherrif1

Johnny Behan wearing a tailored blue/gray pin stripe sack suit.

tombstone01

A better view of Johnny Behan’s suit.

Behan’s is wearing a well-tailored sack suit proper for someone in his position. Unlike the usual image of the scruffy frontier marshal or sheriff, Behan was more of a politician and his primary job was collecting enough tax revenue to keep the Cochise County government financially afloat. The actual work of dealing with criminals was tasked to several deputies.

That said, let’s take a look at the central focus of the movie, Wyatt Earp:

Wyatt Earp1

This is the iconic Wyatt Earp outfit, one that has been widely imitated over the years by those recreating the Earp persona, usually for reenactments of the gunfight at the OK Corral. Now, as for historical accuracy, the coat itself is wrong. There were no ankle-length frock coats. Anything this long would be some sort of greatcoat. The frock coat of the later 19th Century tended to come down to just above the knee.

OK, so it rates a boo and a hiss…or does it? Bear in mind that this is a movie and a movie’s primary goal it to tell a story. Costuming supports this story-telling process and it’s often subject to conscious design changes in order to increase the dramatic effect. In this case, it’s pretty successful, judging from how much it’s imitated and let’s face it, it does increase the dramatic effect, especially when done in black (both the length and color choice were deliberate choices made the director). The effects of black color, coat length, and pictures of it flapping open in the breeze all suggest a superhero figure. So in the end, it’s all about telling a story.

Now just for a little equal time, here’s the Earps and Doc Holliday off to the OK Corral gunfight in the movie Wyatt Earp:

Wyatt Earp Movie1

The Earps and Doc Holiday off to the OK Corral and thei date with destiny- from the movie Wyatt Earl.

Compared to the top picture from Tombstone, the look in the above picture from Wyatt Earp is bit more gritty and less heroic (in fact, the actual gunfight scene itself is a bit anticlimactic in the movie). One is not more “correct” than the other, both go for a specific dramatic effect. Whether one is more effective than the other is subjective, in the eye of the viewer (we have our favorite, too).

So Gentle Readers, where does this leave us? Well, it goes to show that one must be mindful of the historically correct while at the same time being mindful that a movie’s objective differs from simply a recitation of historical events in that it also seeks to entertain. As a rule, costume designers go to great lengths to school themselves on what is historically appropriate for the period being depicted and they know exactly where departures are made.

If one thinks that this is a recent development, it is not. A good example of this in an earlier era is from the movie Gone with the Wind which was released in 1939. in which the costuming of the background and supporting characters is historically correct but the costumes for the lead actors were not. In closing, we view movies with an open mind and believe that costuming for film is an art form all itself and we like that.



The Titanic and the “Titanic Era” in Costume History, Part 2

We continue our discussion on the “Titanic Era”, or more properly, “Fashions that were in style in 1912” with some more compare and contrast. So you think that the past post was overly concentrated on evening wear? Well, yes, guilty as charged. So, we are going to show some “practical” examples drawn from day wear. 🙂

To begin, the 20th Century opened up with styles structured around the infamous S-bend corset which was developed around 1901 (ironically enough, the S-bend corset was originally marketed by Inez Gaches-Sarraute, a corsetiere with a degree in medicine, as a “hygienic” corset intended to counter the ill-effects of previous models). While discussion of the characteristics and fit of the S-bend corset is beyond the scope of this article, it is safe to say that created a distinct silhouette that in turn influenced the style and cut of women’s clothing.

And just to refresh your memories, here are some images of the S-bend corset:

S-Bend corset

French Advertisement

1903corset

Advertisement, c. 1903

Summary of corset sillouettes

Summary of corset silhouettes.

And now for some pictures of the S-bend corset in action:

doirgere_d_arlette_6

Arlette Dorgère, c. 1906.

Picture 1

The above two examples are probably somewhat extreme in that they portray the “ideal” figure. The top image is of Arlette Dorgère, a French actress who posed in a number of portraits in which she is wearing dresses with S-bend corsets that seem to defy the laws of physics.

The bottom fashion plate is a bit less extreme but it still amply demonstrates the pigeon breast (aka “mono-bosom”) characteristic of the body shape created by the S-bend corset. Now we continue our story showing some examples of early Edwardian day dresses:

Day Dress, c. 1903 - 1905; Galleria del Costume di Palazzo.

Day Dress, c. 1903 – 1905; Galleria del Costume di Palazzo.

Day Dress, c. 1905, British; Crisp-looking blue and white dresses such as this were popular for boating and seaside wear. This dress was worn by Miss Heather Firbank (1888-1954), daughter of the affluent Member of Parliament Sir Thomas Firbank and sister of the novelist Ronald Firbank. Summer day dress consisting of a bodice, skirt and two belts. Flared skirt composed of four 28-inch widths of printed blue and white striped cotton pleated onto the narrow waistband. The bodice is pouched at the front and slightly bloused at the back. The circular yoke consists of tucked Broderie Anglaise frills and a pin-tucked cotton infill, and with a high-boned (using five bones) pin- tucked collar finished with a tape lace frill. Sleeves with short flared striped over sleeves which are gathered into the armholes bordered with Broderie Anglaise and frills. The inner plain white cotton sleeves are narrow, tucked and reach the elbow. The bodice is lined with white cotton, and fastened with original hooks, eyes and loops. Pearl buttons. Pleated belts with five bones and hook and eye fastenings concealed by a rosette. Machine stitched. There is evidence of minor alterations. Victoria & Albert Museum (T.21 to C-1960)

Day Dress, c. 1905, British; Crisp-looking blue and white dresses such as this were popular for boating and seaside wear. This dress was worn by Miss Heather Firbank (1888-1954), daughter of the affluent Member of Parliament Sir Thomas Firbank and sister of the novelist Ronald Firbank.  Victoria & Albert Museum (T.21 to C-1960) For more about this fascinating dress, click HERE.

Day Dress, c. 1904 - 1905, Gustave Beer; Metropolitan Museum of Art (1999.135a–e)

Day Dress, c. 1904 – 1905, Gustave Beer; Metropolitan Museum of Art (1999.135a–e)

The above examples are only a small sample of the wide variety of day dresses that existed and were available in a variety of fabrics and trims. The earlier day dresses tended to have a lot more lace and trim that tended to obscure the curve of the breast (or pigeon breast) but as the century progresses, the lines tend to become more clean. In terms of the influence of the S-bend corset, day dresses were a bit less extreme in their silhouette but the general line still exists.

However, at the same time, there are those who argue that the S-bend corset was by no means as extreme and uncomfortable as what the popular conception is and in fact were no worse than their predecessors. We will leave that debate for another time but you may find this article from Foundations Revealed presents some compelling arguments in this regard.

However, the reign of the S-bend corset did not last long and as early as 1905, styles began to shift towards a more upright “barrel”-shaped silhouette.  Below are a few examples:

First, some illustrations from the September 1911 edition of the Parisian fashion magazine La Mode:

1911lamodedesigns3 1911lamodemaidofhonor French Plate 1911

And let’s not forget Vogue Magazine:

Vogue_1912

Vogue Magazine cover, c. 1912

Day Dress, c. 1912; Augusta Auctions

Day Dress, c. 1912; Augusta Auctions

Day Dress, American, c. 1912 - 1915; Constructed of cotton; Metropolitan Museum of Art (2009.300.245a–c)

Look familiar? Day Dress, American, c. 1912 – 1915; Constructed of cotton; Metropolitan Museum of Art (2009.300.245a–c)

So from the above, we see the silhouette in transition away from the “pigeon breast,” returning to the straight, flowing lines characteristic of the empire line, a style last seen nearly a 100 years earlier with the Regency Era. The years from 1900 through 1912 saw an ever-accelerating process of fashion change, pushed along by designers like Paul Poiret, which was the elimination (or at least reduction) of the corset and a major fashion influence. Of course, it could also be argued that while the influence of the corset was waning, the advent of the hobble skirt seemed to make up for it. However, the hobble skirt was merely a small bump in the fashion continuum having no lasting influence. On the other hand, the gradual elimination of the corset as a major fashion influence had far more profound an effect on fashion.

Garments, and their attendant underpinnings, were becoming less restrictive to the point where outerwear was no longer got its structure and form from the corset but rather relying more on the cut and drape of the garments themselves. The end result was the nearly seemingly formless fashions of the 1920s (although it must be noted that foundation garments were still employed but in a more muted manner).

I will stop with this survey here in 1912 and while one can easily point out many exceptions to the above, it is safe to say that the styles as worn by the female passengers (at least the more upper class ones) on the RMS Titanic were not static but rather, represented a single snapshot of a moment in fashion history that only lasted for a brief moment.

To be continued…in the next installment, we’ll actually look at some at “The Titanic Era” and film. Stay Tuned! 🙂

Afterward:

For an excellent treatment of this “moment in time”, I would highly recommend the book Titanic Style: Dress and Style on the Voyage by Grace Evans:

Titanic Style