Today's post by Katy Werlin describes how a garment in the FIDM Museum collection inspired a costume for the musical The Wild Party. Katy interned with us during the summer of 2009, while on summer break from her studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Katy is currently a junior, majoring in dramatic arts with a minor in music. Katy recently started a fashion history blog, which you can visit here.
When I was asked to costume design Andrew Lippa’s musical The Wild Party for the UNC Pauper Players, I could barely wait to get started. The Wild Party is set in the 1920s, and is the story of two seedy vaudeville performers who decide to throw a huge party. Things get completely out of control- there’s drugs, an orgy, and murder. Although there are some great song and dance numbers that will, trust me, get stuck in your head very easily, this is definitely not your typical lighthearted musical. As the costume designer, I was very eager to play with the sparkle and glamour of 1920s fashion versus the sketchiness of the characters. While I wanted the pizazz of the roaring ‘20s, I also wanted the costumes to look cheap, disgusting, and kept in mind that these people either have no taste, or can’t afford to have taste.
During my research for the show, I came across numerous pictures of truly beautiful dresses. When making my designs, I used the basic concept of these dresses but took away the elegance and craftsmanship, so what was left was a cheap knock-off. I wanted these characters to look like they had seen a beautiful designer dress in a fashion magazine, and then made or bought a version that was more in their lower-class price range. One dress I immediately fell in love with was the FIDM Museum black robe de style pictured below. You can read more about this garment here.
The robe de style in the FIDM Museum Study Collection is made of an elegant taffeta with soft flower appliqués, and delicate, understated crystal embellishments. For my cheap knock-off, I took the opposite approach. I used the cheapest satin I could find for the garment itself, and took away any elegance in the cut. The pattern I used was really basic and not hugely flattering. My flower was made out of cotton, and clearly just tacked on. The shape also lacks the elegance of the flowers in the original. Instead of using the delicate crystals of the original, I found some big, gaudy, plastic rhinestones and glued them on. Not only did this look cheap, it looked like a tacky addition that some one with no taste might have wanted.
I wanted to make this costume a robe de style, like the original, but due to budget limitations I had to change the skirt to a series of panels. When I put the rhinestones on the panels, I didn’t bother with symmetry or precision. I just pasted them on wherever, to make it look as though not a lot of skilled craftsmanship went into the creation of the garment. Unfortunately, due to the rush to get everything done on time, I didn’t have any time to distress the costume and make it look gross and old but the overall message is there.