One aspect of dress making that has never been my lot is making clothes for performance. I love theatre but much of what we see is modern, slightly experimental fringe theatre. Most of the actors seem to wear their everyday dress. But of course the costumes of a play, the setting, props and staging are what ensure the words come to life for the audience. London has around 250 theaters, including world class opera so if you are interested in making clothes that bring a sense of authenticity to the stage or screen there are many opportunities to learn how, here in the capital. Our two main colleges for degrees are the University of the Arts London, and the Royal Central (part of the University of London).
Royal Central held its Design and Crafts Exhibition at its site in Swiss cottage, and we went to the student’s work.
I was immediately attracted to this one which was literally covered in fabric flowers. I have seen many versions of this dress, and have had a go at this myself.
However the finest work was the creation of a number of historically accurate garments, often based on the amazing books of Janet Arnold. These books which were well used when I was a student have still not been surpassed, allowing modern seamstresses to create authentic garments from any period in history. Starting with the undergarments shows that the students understand that a realistic figure requires the use of shaping and structure.
Four historical outfits were also shown – all of which had required an enormous amount of painstaking work. I was told by the students that hours and hours of hand sewing, pleating and bead application had kept them busy during the final term. To some extent these outfits are replicas, and designing for stage is different from designing for everyday wear. They need to be light and flexible, durable and build the character and help to tell the story. Quite a challenge on top of expert pattern cutting, excellent fitting, finding correct and believable fabrics, repair, cleaning and maintenance.
And there were some charming modern pieces too.
The standout item for me was the Early 19th Century Regency gown made from silk muslin, by Ellen Murgatroyd. I thought she showed great sensitivity as well as the most developed construction techniques. I will be watching out for her as I believe her career will really take off.