Welcome to FrockTalk, the web’s only costume-based movie review site. The goal of Frocktalk is to shed light on the magnificent artistry of costume design in motion pictures. Reviews on this site are written by working costume designers in the entertainment industry – people who know, better than anyone, what it takes to make it all happen. The focus of FrockTalk is not to comment on the big flashy costume dramas, but to call attention to the seemingly ordinary costume design work in film that silently and persuasively moves the audience toward understanding the characters. Costume design for motion pictures is an art form that deserves more recognition than it usually gets. Fancy, pretty costumes do not always equal effective, appropriate costumes. The art of the costume is in letting the audience know who the character is, before the actor even has a chance to open his mouth. Read on, and enjoy. ** CAUTION: ALL REVIEWS CONTAIN SPOILERS! **

Comic Con: Day One

Comic Con kicked off with a bang today.  The exhibition hall was again wall-to-wall people, clamoring for glimpses of the newest, coolest, and most hard-to-find bits of popular culture.  Arriving at 12:30 – yes, late, I know, but I missed my train – I strolled the convention center floor in pursuit of good stories to share with you, Frocktalk readers.  And let me tell you, I was not disappointed.

First, let’s get the formalities out of the way.  Here (pictured, below) is the concession stand menu.  This is why you will want to bring your own food with you.  Period.

Second, I immediately ran into THIS GUY, another Indiana Jones impersonator.  Maybe I should write a book on Indy impersonators.  There is evidently no shortage of material out there.

I met up with some curiously dressed (for Comic Con) young ladies, who looked like they might be more comfortable at a Ren Faire than at Comic Con.  This is Leslie Burgess and Joely Eytel, and they are members of the Kingdom of Terre Neuve, a sovereign entity of the Adrian Empire.  Say what?

Well, of course I had to ask them a thousand questions, and it all boils down to this: there are people who belong to this club (Kingdom of Terre Neuve) who are part of a larger, national organization (Adrian Empire) who are interested in historical dress.  As a club, they arrange things like lessons in sword-fighting, weaving, archery, hair styling, chain mail, embroidery, wool spinning, you know, ye olde stuffe that most of us have long forgotten.

Joely and Leslie have made their costumes.  Joely has made parts of hers (the outer skirt and the bodice) but the chemise top and the underskirt are purchases.

Leslie made her entire costume, patterning it herself (yay, girl!), taking inspiration from a painting by Vecellio Tiziano.  I asked her about the costume, and she said, “Well, it’s 1546, and it’s Portuguese.  Its modeled after the portrait of Isabella of Portugal (pictured below).

Leslie’s friend crafted the headpiece in metal, especially for her, and she did all of the blouse tucking, beading, etc., by herself.

The funny thing is, Leslie bought her fabric at WalMart.  Say What?!  I didn’t think they had WalMart in the 1540s, but hey, whatever works!!  Look at her beautiful work with the sleeves of this dress.  It’s lovely, especially considering she patterned it herself.

What I thought was interesting about all of this is that this whole costume-interest-group is large and well organized.  This San Diego chapter has 125 members.  There are another 60 Adrian Empire people in North San Diego County and even more in Orange County.

This particular group, the Kingdom of Terre Neuve, covers costume interest from the years 1066 – 1603.  They meet up to share research and techniques for crafting things (including the great bag hanging from Joeli’s back that I unfortunately did not get a picture of…), and how to recreate all the elements of the lifestyle back then.  They come together with other groups to have a tournament, where they match wits and skills.  They do demonstrations at Comic Con, libraries and schools as an educational historical outreach to the community.

Membership fees are $30/year, and anyone can join.  Once you join, you can choose your character name (character name!), your nationality, what time period you want to play.  I asked if was a kind of “role playing deal”… and they said, “Sort of…  Not role playing to the extent that you have a storyline, like, when you do a LARP…”  Wait a second.  LARP?  I am so not a part of this world.  “LARP, “ they explained, “Live-Action-Role-Playing.  The primary difference between LARP and Kingdom of Terre Neuve is that our focus is on education and recreation of the time period, as opposed to a storyline.”

Both of these girls have real lives – Joely even has three children.  “We refer to it as a game, because in the truest sense, it is considered a hobby, “ explained Leslie.  “We all have jobs; we all have lives.  It’s a family-oriented organization, for all ages.   But real life always comes first.”

I asked the girls, “So, do you have many of these outfits?  How much closet space is devoted to these costumes?”   Joely replied, “I have more costumes than I do actual clothes.  But I can’t imagine sweeping my kitchen floor in a bodice.  This particular costume is very English for me; I usually wear Italian courtesan stuff.  This is English, like city-towns-dweller kind of class.  The colors are drab and muted.”  But girl, way to accessorize!  Look at the cool belt!

But ladies, WalMart, really?  Give me a shout and I will take you to Downtown LA, to the fabric/garment district.  We’ll make a day of it.  It was nice to meet these gals – they were very well spoken and they patiently answered my 1,000 questions.  And for that, THANKS!

Next, I ran into some Mandalorians.  Say what, again, what?  I just thought they were “Boba Fetts”, but they soon informed me that no, they were Mandalorians.  However, Boba Fett IS a Mandalorian.  Okay, this is getting too deep for me.  Essentially, these guys are part of a club in which membership is contingent upon the coolness and authenticity of your costume.  It is a worldwide club, and you seriously have to apply to join.  They have “certain standards”, you know.

The important part is that these guys made their own costumes themselves, with their own hands, using ingenuity, Velcro and a lot of cardboard. This is Aaron Morene on the left and Jaden Tracyn (I hope I spelled that correctly) on the right.  They tell me that there are a lot of websites that are very helpful to aspiring Mandalorians – sites that help you to source bits and pieces for the costume, and also give instruction in how to make certain pieces for yourself.  www.mandalorianmercs.com

Aaron has made his own gauntlets (forearm covering pieces with buttons and gizmos).  And do you know what he made them out of?  Cardboard.   Look closely – you can’t even tell.

Aaron also made his helmet out of… yes, cardboard.  He used templates that he found online, and made the helmet himself!  It’s painted and surfaced beautifully.  It’s great to see this kind of dedication and attention to detail from fans.  And while Aaron admits it took him six months to make the costumes, he says that being unemployed helped.

Jaden also tricked out a nerf gun to look like the official Mandalorian gun.  I mean, check these guys out – they look great.

They both wear flightsuits underneath the armor.  The armor, they also built themselves, Aaron out of PVC, and Jared out of metal.  The armor is then adhered to the kind of polyurethane, pleather-looking “flak vest” fabric with Velcro.  This is dedication.  But hey, man, they have a line of people waiting to take photographs with them.  From a costume designer’s standpoint, that is really gratifying.

It was nice to hear Jaden talk about the sense of pride he has about his costume.  “When I started, my costume was kind of crappy, but then I just kept building, and it got better, and now it looks really cool – you just have to keep building and work really hard at it.”  He smiled a big toothy grin, and it was clear that his personal pride in this accomplishment was probably worth more to him than the adoration of the photo-snapping crowd in front of us.  I guess it made the trip from Redding, CA, all worthwhile.  Sidebar:  shout out to my NorCal homies.

Thanks, Mandalorians, for sharing your stories!  Keep building – it looks great!

I wandered south, and came upon the most intriguing series of mannequins wearing Star Wars costumes.  Upon closer inspection, I found that they were actually reproductions of the costumes, and they were for sale.  Museum Replicas Ltd. owns the booth, and they are displaying their latest line of costumes (the Star Wars stuff just dropped yesterday) for sale.

Here is a Padme costume from Attack of the Clones, commonly referred to as the “blue” dress, though it is not blue, but a greenish-grey.

Note the price tag.  Not for the faint of wallet.  But look at the costume; it is pretty great if you are into that kind of thing, and definitely worth it if you are a die-hard fan.

Museum Replicas Ltd. owns a shop in India (with 7,000 employees!), and that is where all of the costumes are made, and where things as intricate as this beading are done.  All of the details in the original costumes are carried over into the reproductions.

Included in the Star Wars line are the Imperial Officer (from Empire Strikes Back)…

And an Obi-Wan Kenobi costume from Revenge of the Sith.

Note the details on the boots – they sent costume teams to Lucasfilm ranch to take measurements, color samples, swatches, and notions details from the original costumes.  Everything is meant to be as close to 100% authentic as possible.

You have to admit, it’s a really good-looking costume.  But again, not cheap.  You can buy the entire costume, or just the individual pieces of the costume that suit your needs.

All of these costumes can be made to order from your measurements.  This is a real bonus if you are big-and-tall, otherwise hard to fit, or if you have very large feet.  Museum Replicas is working on Storm Trooper and Sand Trooper costumes as well, and quite possibly some costumes for kids, like an Ewok costume, and maybe even a Yoda costume!

Museum Replicas also carries a full line of historical costuming, from pirates to musketeers, to the Tudors, to chainmail and armor, to Knights Templar, to Vikings, to gladiators, to costumes from 300, The Phantom, and many more.  How do they do this??  They have legal licensing agreements with the film studios.  The studios basically agree to let Museum Replicas use their costume designs in exchange for a cut of the profits.  Considering the prices of these costumes, that could add up quickly. Sidebar – it would be great if the costume designers responsible for those costume designs were cut in on those profits, too, but I am venturing a guess that they are not.

I spoke with Director of Sales and Marketing Dave Di Pietro at length about their process.  My first question was, “So, do you know who designed these original costumes?”  Suddenly, the crowd grew silent.  Everything moved in slow motion. Time stood still.  And then he answered.

“Well, John Mollo did the Padme costume from Episode Four, (sound of glass breaking) and we are working right now with Janty Yates on the Robin Hood movie, and with Joan Bergen on The Tudors’ stuff over in Ireland.  I am actually scheduled to go there in the first week of September to shoot all the costumes for Robin Hood, then to Warner Brothers studios to do all of the Harry Potter costumes because we just got the Harry Potter license.  From there I go to Ireland to see Joan again to do the fourth season of The Tudors.”

Collective sigh.  At least he knew some of the right answers.  I asked him how business was doing in this weak economy.

DP: “Sales have been awesome.  With the advent of things like themed weddings, we have licensing for the Tudors, so some people are doing Renaissance weddings, … we have presence at Comic Con, Dragon Con, Gen Con; people love to dress up.  People buy the costumes and sometimes don’t even wear them. They will put them on a mannequin and put it in their Star Wars memorabilia room or museum room in their own home.”

KB: “People have that?”

DP: “Yes they do, and they are also requesting to buy from us poseable mannequins, so that the costumes are displayed better.

And, for Rick at filmjackets.com, here is the Museum Replica licensed version of the Terminator jacket.  They also have the Wolverine jacket for sale, as well.

Big thanks to Dave Di Petro from Museum Replicas Ltd. for sharing all of this with me.  He gave me a copy of their catalog, and it is pretty great.  Here’s their website – see for yourself! http://www.museumreplicas.com/

Dave Di Pietro, Museum Replicas Ltd.

Dave Di Pietro, Museum Replicas Ltd.

I turned around to leave the floor, when I ran into this trio of girls:

Holly Conrad, Jessica Merizan, Stephanie Boisard

Holly Conrad, Jessica Merizan, Stephanie Boisard

And I gasped at the work and general funkification of these costumes.  They didn’t look familiar to me from any kind of TV show or film, so I asked.  “What are you guys?”

HC: “Post-apocalyptic zombie hunters… it’s an original design”

I asked them about their influences in designing these costumes.

HC: “We came up with the idea originally, and started watching things like Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome, reading Tank Girl comics, looking at zombie-hunter kind of weaponry, diesel punk, military things, as well as steam punk ideas, and drawing from all aspects of history.  Mine came from a lot of video game imagery as well.  Mostly Planescape Torment. It’s a really old game, like from 1999, and it was amazing.”

KB: “That’s really old, 1999.”  (no hint of sarcasm)

HC: “Well, it’s really old for a video game.  A game from ten years ago?  Games have advanced a whole lot in the last ten years.  But I did get a lot of inspiration from it.”

Evidently, Holly has a costume she built for the masquerade (happening Saturday night) that is also based on Planescape Torment.  That costume is twelve feet tall.  I can’t wait to see this.  Her artistry is exquisite.  Check out these goggles.  Keep in mind she conceived of, designed, and made her entire costume, by herself, using epoxies, wires, glue and leather, in her garage.  Look at this!

This is the anti-zombie gun that she made out of candlesticks.  Brilliant.

Here is the back plate, from which her wings protrude.  She used dishes to create this look.

The wings are rigged so that she can open them – it’s astounding.  It’s very beautiful.  Holly wants to get a job fabricating costumes, doing armor, working in the biz.  I think that once people see this, they’d be fools not to hunt her down and hire her.  Here’s her website.  She’s really nice, too, so hook a sista up! http://www.fyriel.com/

Jessica made her costume out of bits and pieces from her late father’s paratrooper gear, using his parachute rig, uniform hat, and vest, now cropped short.  She used his shoulder-board epaulets, but put them on backwards, to great effect – you look at the costume, and while it looks militaristic, you sense that something is “off” about it – once I saw the shoulder boards, I thought, “Awesome!”  It’s a really inventive way to re-use familiar costume components in a new way to forge a new look.

Ladies, great job on these costumes.  It is really inspirational to see fresh new ideas, especially executed in such an inventive fashion.  I will look for you at the masquerade, though in a twelve-foot-tall costume, I suspect it will be easy to find you!

I scurried off to the Costume Designers Guild TV panel, moderated by Phillip Boutte Jr., with guests Amanda Friedland (designer of Terminator: the Sarah Connor Chronicles), Shawna Trpcic (designer of Dollhouse, Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog), Roland Sanchez (Lost), and Audrey Fisher (True Blood).  It was a great panel, but I am still dismayed at the amount of educating the public we are asked to do at these things.

LR: Boutte, Fisher, Sanchez, Trpcic, Friedland

L-R: Boutte, Fisher, Sanchez, Trpcic, Friedland

Someone posed the question: is it really costume design if the actor is wearing just jeans and a t-shirt?  YES!  Read Frocktalk!  Hello!  Giggle.  All in all, the panel was good, and I think it proved educational for all in attendance.

Afterward, there was an autograph session for the designers.

L-R: Friedland, Sanchez, Fisher, Trpcic

L-R: Friedland, Sanchez, Fisher, Trpcic

There was a LOT of good SWAG available to those who sought autographs, including CDG magazines and notebooks from the show Lost.

There were also signed costume illustrations from True Blood,

And free t-shirts from Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog.

After all of this, I was pretty tired, but I scampered down to the convention center floor, all the way to the other end, to get my free Travis Louie print from High Fructose (don’t hate) and to watch as he signed his beautiful signature on the print.  Now THAT makes up for missing the morning train, friends.

More to come tomorrow.  It is only the beginning, folks, and I am looking forward to bring you more stories as they develop.  Have a good night, everyone!!

— KMB

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