“The frequenters of drag balls had more in common with the Tudors than you would think. They both liked their clothes schmancy: they both liked to quench their thirsts; they both appreciated the finer things in life; and they both fought the Black Death.”
So said The Amy Grimehouse when advertising their recent event inspired by Paris Is Burning, the American documentary film chronicling the ball culture of New York City in the late 80s and the African-American, Latino, gay, and transgender communities involved in it.
And what better way to pay homage to this invaluable piece of film making than by hosting a drag ball at the grade II listed Tudor Manor, the National Trust’s Sutton House. The masses arrived in their corsets and codpieces to indulge in cocktails, voguing workshops, portraiture sessions and a club night that had them strutting their ruffs into the early hours of the morning.
For those wishing to enhance their already remarkable attire with an accessory or two, I was on hand to lead a Tudor arts and crafts session, where ruffs and crowns were fashioned out of paper, glitter and jewels. And, then in their newly adorned splendour, revellers teamed up to sashay down the catwalk to compete for the ultimate prestige of being true queens of the ball. Delighted to have been asked to join the judging panel, I assessed participants on the realness of their drag, the beauty of their costumes and their dancing ability, although no one disappointed and high scores were thrown all over the dance floor.
Hosted by John Sizzle with irrepressible energy and perfect putdowns, the evening brought out the inner Willie Ninja in even the most unexpected of characters and special mention should go to the magnificent Legs and Coq who astounded us with their daring dance moves and made us all wish we could pull off six-inch heels and waist-cinchers with the same aplomb.
In the words of The Amy Grimehouse themselves, it was just like 1535, but with more Cheryl Lynn. And who would have thought the 16th century would be so decadently fabulous.
When Sandy Powell asked me if I wanted to be part of her costume team on the new live-action Cinderella movie for Disney, I knew my two-year-old daughter would never forgive me if I said no. Directed by Kenneth Brannagh and with stars including Cate Blanchett, Helena Bonham Carter and Lily James, this was surely going to be something special. Combine this with the incredible creative talents of production designer Dante Ferretti and costume designer Sandy Powell herself, with six Academy Awards between the two of them, and add rousing, atmosphere-enhancing music composed by Patrick Doyle, and surely that’s a treat for the senses waiting to happen.
Since its release last month, the response to this film has been more overwhelming than I ever imagined. Young girls who were already caught up in the Frozen phenomenon, well, their inner princess was always going to be fired up once more but I was a little surprised by grown men telling me that it not only made them cry but also that they couldn’t take their eyes off Cate Blanchett’s astounding costumes. It would seem that this film brings out the child in all of us and, with mottos like “Have courage and be kind”, that’s not really a bad thing.
Being part of the costume department on a film of this nature is obviously a joy but it’s also incredibly hard work and a challenge on a different scale to the norm, particularly as one of my main roles was to “look after” Cinderella’s now infamous ball gown. In doing so, I became the person responsible for pulling actress Lily James into that controversial, waist-cinching corset every day, that has since stirred up so many a ridiculous Photoshop rumour! Sandy Powell has discussed the optical illusion of this dress in countless articles and I would like to stress this further – a very well-made and supportive corset combined with the huge proportions of the skirted section and the volume of the butterfly panels around the shoulders only exaggerate Lily’s small (but normal and healthy) waist all the more. It’s clever trickery for the eye created by a dress that had months of development to get it to the dazzling end result.
Definitely not an easy dress to be wearing on a regular basis either. Made up of layers and layers of fabric and thousands of Swarovski crystals, this gown was cumbersome, rather heavy and somewhat awkward to move around in and credit is definitely due to Ms. James for her continual enthusiasm even after hours of dancing or being asked to run up and down the palace steps over and over again. And let’s not go into too much information about toilet breaks!! Needless to say these were some what of a palaver, a little time-consuming and the two of us probably became closer than most people ever need to be!!! Additionally keeping the many variations of this costume in pristine condition while faced with the challenge of several weeks of night shoots in the cold and rain had its moments.
Not including the breathtaking ballgown, I think my favourite dresses in the film were worn by the stepsisters, played by the delightful Holliday Grainger and Sophie McShera. These quirky matching outfits were colourful and playful, perfectly matching their characters, and brought to life all the more by the hilarious personalities of the actresses themselves who brought never a dull moment to the set. It’s the little touches that make these costumes all the more successful in my opinion – large vibrant earrings, painted details on stockings, patterned knitwear, oversized accessories, unusual fabrics and wonderfully contrasting colours.
Over the years, there has been many an interpretation of this classic fairytale but I am incredibly proud to have been a part of this version of Cinderella, and not just because of the spectacular costumes. It’s a story with heart, emotion and comedy at times that, no matter what age you are, leaves you feeling uplifted. I’m sure it will stand the test of time and that the iconic ballgown will feature on many a Best Of Hollywood Costume list in years to come.
For those of you interested in seeing a few moments from behind the scenes, complete with fleeting appearances from one particularly familiar redhead, check out the YouTube link below:
The nature of my work means that I get to work on a whole variety of projects, from incredibly high budget studio films to smaller scale shoots, trekking through woodland in the middle of the night, or boiling in the heat in the middle of an exposed field, and everything in between. But that’s why I do it and love it, because you never know what’s going to come next.
Take the small shoot I did recently with the team at Roots and Shoots in South London. The film tells the story of gardeners in London at the start of World War I being called up to fight for their country and the effect it had on both their loved ones and the beautiful gardens they left behind. The film was made to accompany the garden created by Roots and Shoots currently being displayed at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show. Filmed in Lambeth in one of the most exquisite gardens I’ve seen for a long while, the production team (producer Marc Hankins, director Chris Cronin and DOP Alex Stone) did a fantastic job making this newsreel-style, sepia film feel authentic and atmospheric and the young adults in the film (students and staff from Roots and Shoots, with no previous acting experience, some of whom helped to create the garden exhibit at Chelsea) gave endearing performances and were a joy to work with.
These gorgeous photographs, taken by Marc Hankins, are only a taster of what the team managed to achieve with very little time and an incredibly small budget. I feel very proud to have worked on this project, with such an enthusiastic group of people, and truly am glad that opportunities like this come my way.
For more information about Roots and Shoots and to see the film itself visit:
The controversial Mitford sisters really were a rather extraordinary bunch of women and last night’s event at the National Trust’s Sutton House, organised by Amy Grimehouse, completely did justice to each individual’s wild, wacky and intriguing personality.
Those unknowingly about to become completely obsessed with the sisters mingled with Mitford enthusiasts and sashayed around the incredible East London location in all manner of period dress from wannabe Bright Young Things to tweed ensembles and twinsets and pearls. There was further opportunity for dress-up in the Cecil Beaton style studio where props were grabbed and poses perfected to create stunning portraits of our newly styled bohemian crowd.
I had the pleasure of being “Mistress of the Mitford Arts and Crafts Table” and found myself surrounded by a constant hive of 1930s creativity as people adorned themselves with velvet, feathers and beads and created striking headdresses in abundance.
The climax to the evening was a screening of “Nancy Mitford: A Portrait By Her Sisters”, a fascinating and surprisingly hilarious documentary, screened with permission from the BFI, that gave a wonderful insight into the lives and relationships of all the Mitford family. The film was all the more enhanced by the informative panel discussion that proceeded it, where the experts (listed below) talked on all manner of topics from debutantes to fascism to pocket money and pets.
Never will there be again a bunch of siblings quite like these. And how better to pay tribute to them than with a thoroughly splendid and somewhat educational evening of decadence and frivolity. Amy Grimehouse, you are to be saluted once again!
The Mitford Panellists:
Mary Joannou is Professor of Women’s Writing and Literary History at Anglia Ruskin University. Mary has published on the fiction of Nancy Mitford.
Oriole Cullen is Fashion Curator at the Victoria and Albert Museum and curated the exhibitions including British Ballgowns and Hats.
Deidre Murphy is Curator at Historic Royal Palaces and was curator of The Last Debutantes exhibition at Kensington Palace and is also responsible for the Royal Dress Collection at Ken Palace.
Commuters in London were given a treat today as they scurried around Kings Cross station. For one day only, 13 brightly coloured elephants took up residence under the fabulous architecture of the new western concourse.
And what a privilege it was for me to find Razzle Dazzle in their midst.
It will always amaze me seeing where different artists glean their inspiration, as my elephant, complete with its Art Deco catwalk, was surrounded by London wildlife, the Red Arrows, flowers, butterflies, pirates, sweets, stained-glass windows and the Union Jack, all executed in the individual artists’ signature styles.
Kings Cross was given a splash of colour and weary travellers were given a rather unusual place to perch while they waited for their trains. Photographs were taken in abundance and children and adults alike marvelled at these beautiful creatures in their temporary homes.
If you didn’t manage to catch the herd on its fleeting trip to London, the tour begins in earnest from Sunday 21st July 2013 for a four week stay in Watford before heading up north to Manchester.
The time has come for Razzle Dazzle the Elephant to rejoin the herd and begin its exciting tour of the UK. And 51 fashion illustrations later with a little bit of help from Harpers Bazaar and Elle Decoration, my Art Deco design is complete!
You’ve got an entire year to catch these elephants around the country and their schedule is as follows:
17 July – preview day
21 July – intu Watford (4 weeks)
19 August – intu Trafford Centre, Manchester (4 weeks)
16 September – intu Metrocentre, Gateshead (4 weeks)
14 October – intu Eldon Square, Newcastle (4 weeks)
17 November – Cardiff (various locations) (3 weeks)
5 January – intu Victoria Centre/ Broadmarsh, Nottingham (5 weeks)
9 February – intu Braehead, Glasgow (4 weeks)
9 March – intu Potteries, Stoke (4 weeks)
7 April – intu Chapelfield, Norwich (4 weeks)
5 May – intu Lakeside, Essex (4 weeks)
2 June – intu Uxbridge ( 4 weeks)
30 June – intu Bromley (4 weeks)
28 July – London (2 weeks)
It’s incredible how different artists have decided to interpret the challenge and the diversity of styles and subject matter is vast. I cannot wait to see all the elephants together, with Razzle Dazzle in the midst.
Yesterday I had the honour of being part of the judging panel for Elephant Parade designs submitted by schools in and around the Watford area. The winners will be painting their designs onto half sized elephants, which will join the intu-sponsored tour.
It was tough to pick the winners out of the vast array of incredible designs created by these youngsters as I was really impressed by the clever concepts, intricate patterns, attention to detail, bright and bold colours as well as the subtlety of some of the designs. Particular mention should go to the entries from St. Joan of Arc in Rickmansworth as the serious deliberation that took place to decide the winners proved the quality of the standard of entries and below you can see the eight shortlisted designs from that school.
Seven designs were chosen in total to adorn the surfaces of the elephant statues, with perhaps the slightly controversial decision taken to combine two designs onto one elephant. Two very detailed, beautiful submissions that had obviously both had a lot of thought and time taken over them were just too good not to be given the chance to be recreated for the tour and it was just wonderful to see the elated faces of those two students when they found out that they would be working together to bring both their designs to life. With winners ages ranging from 11 – 14 years old and designs featuring deserts, space, soldiers, flowers and Asian themes, it just goes to show that there are some exceptionally talented young people out there and I cannot wait to see their smaller elephants join Razzle Dazzle and the other full-size creations on the UK tour.
The Elephant Parade tour begins in Watford on 21st July 2013.
Back in 2010, a large herd of very colourful and diverse elephants took over the centre of London and I was fortunate enough to have created one of them. Mr William, the William Morris-inspired elephant, lived in Green Park and you can find photos of him in my portfolio. I absolutely loved being a part of Elephant Parade and being able to support such a worthwhile charity by doing something really creative.
Well, Elephant Parade is back and this time they’re going on tour! How very rock and roll! Over the course of a year, the elephants (around 100 of them) will be going up and down the country visiting at least 13 locations (including London, Nottingham, Manchester, Cardiff and Newcastle) and once again I have been chosen to bring one of my designs to life. I am delighted to be part of Elephant Parade 2013 and think it is fantastic to be educating the next generation about the importance of conservation in such a fun and exciting way.
Today, I took delivery of my elephant and I’m straight to work transforming it into my design. This time, I have taken my inspiration from the decadent jazz age of the 1920s. My art deco elephant features a central panel of fashion illustrations almost like a 1920s catwalk and aims to conjure up in people’s minds a time of luxury and glamour. Elephants always seem timeless to me and have a certain grandeur about them and I hope my design expresses these qualities with its rich colours, bold geometric shapes and lavish ornamentation.
There’s going to be a little bit of this:
And a lot of this:
But that’s all you’re getting for now! Don’t want to spoil the big reveal at the end…
Welcome to my new, bright and shiny website! Expect lots more chat from me, about all things art, film and theatre related… Now that I’ve got a blog, there’s no stopping me!!