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Monday, May 12, 2014

Les Misérables Costumes

Over the past 8 months I have had the privilege of working with a large, lovely group of people for a production of Les Misérables. I was a costumer as well as a quick change dresser on the nights of the show. There were more than 150 costumes in the musical. The costumes I was directly responsible for creating were the bishop, the poor chorus, and the wedding scene. They were made from scratch, from found (thrifted) garments, and from found, altered garments, with the addition of a few rentals.
I made the bishop's nightgown and cross necklace from scratch, and the cloak was originally a grad gown that I embellished.
I didn't document the creation of the poor costumes very well because they were numerous and, frankly, just slipped into the background! That being said, I love varying shades of brown, green, and yellow of the group.
 I assembled the costumes from found tunics, blouses, waistcoats, and trousers that I altered, as well as a few gathered skirts I made from scratch of floral, plaid, and muslin. Then the outfits were confronted by seam rippers, scissors, fabric paint, and vats of coffee ground sludge.
The wedding costumes were the most enjoyable but time-consuming pieces. The color scheme was black, white, and bright berry hues, the Thénardiers giving a garish attempt to match. The men wore rented tuxedo tails, the groom in a found, damask, pearl waistcoat. All the women in the wedding wore rented hoop skirts, which meant their skirts were made of 4 or more meters of fabric. Whew.
The pink wedding dancer dress started out as this satin romper. I removed the legs and sewed them onto the bodice to create the puff sleeves. Then I sewed a skirt to the bodice and gave it scallops, made a gathered underskirt, and topped off the sleeves with lace.
I made the bodice for the light purple dress out of a light purple romper in the same way as the pink dress. Then I created a gathered underskirt and a scalloped sash. 
The dark purple dress was repurposed from its previous 80s prom life because it had great fabric and sleeves, and a full skirt. I painted the white stain out of the sleeve, added lace to the bodice, sewed the skirt into scallops, and created an underskirt out of matching purple fabric. 
I took the asymmetrical bodice of the blue dress from an 80s number and made its tucks more even. It, too, was given a scalloped overskirt and gathered underskirt.
The wedding dress also dates to the 80s. I altered the neckline, added a sash, and glued the veil to a headband to keep it from flying off in the exuberant wedding scene dance.
Mme. Thénardier's costume for the wedding was my ultimate favourite. I altered this dramatic gold blouse and embellished the corset, which was rented.
 
Her blue skirt was rented, but I added the yellow trim as well as the peach overskirt. Underneath the peach skirt she is wearing panniers, which she used to hide stolen food in the scene. Thénardier is wearing purchased shoes I embellished with bows, (women's!) tights, and found pants I embellished with trim. He is also wearing a flashy, found waistcoat and thrifted gold shirt, which I embellished with the yellow ruffle, a rented jacket, and a gold cummerbund I made out of two sleeves. They were put into 1790s attire, the decade in which they would have been youthful, to make them seem even more out of place at the 1830s wedding. 
La Madame stuffing those panniers.
As a dresser I organized garments in the wings while waiting for the actors to rush off stage and come for a switch of clothes. For example, as soon as Cosette floated off stage in her bouffant pink gown, she was swarmed by a cloud of dressers who helped her into her wedding dress in about a minute. There were costume malfunctions and last minute fixes, but it actually all went considerably smoothly. I am thankful for everyone who was involved in the show--they are so knowledgeable and helpful to work with, and their products were truly impressive. Working on this production was one of the most stressful and simultaneously rewarding things I have ever done!
(The photos of the performance are by John Perrins.)

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