Thursday, 13 September 2012

Borrowed Costume: Yang Guifei

If she turned her head and smiled she cast a deep spell, Beauties of Six Palaces vanished into nothing.
Hair’s cloud, pale skin, shimmer of gold moving,
Flowered curtains protected on cool spring evenings.
Those nights were too short. That sun too quick in rising.

The emperor neglected the world from that moment,
Lavished his time on her in endless enjoyment.
She was his springtime mistress, and his midnight tyrant.
Though there were three thousand ladies all of great beauty,
All his gifts were devoted to one person.

Yang Yuhuan, more commonly known by her title Yang Guifei (Imperial Consort Yang), is thought to be one of the four most beautiful women in Chinese history. She was, of course, so beautiful that it was a curse. Both sides of the rebellion believed her to the root cause of the Emperor's negligence and the loyalists demanded her execution. The Emperor ordered that she be taken to a Buddhist shrine and strangled to death.*

She was first married to a prince, one of Emperor Xuanzong's many sons. There various stories about how she came into the Emperor's favour, but she did and was eventually made imperial consort through a ruse that involved her briefly becoming a Taoist nun (thereby voiding her first marriage).

Like many famous female figures of folklores, there's an uncomfortable aftertaste of sexism that comes with her story. It can be said that her story revolves around the trope Love Ruins the Realm (warning: tvtropes link) for not only is she responsible for a rebellion, it also marks the beginning of the Tang dynasty's downfall. But it isn't just Love that ruins the Realm, it's the woman. It is a theme that threads through Chinese folklore: Red Dye Ruins Water.

For it is women that causes the downfall of monarchs and nations: the Emperor, wallowing in the pleasures of the flesh, gives in to her frivolous demands (famously the lychees were relayed to the capital from Guangzhou) and allow her corrupt relatives free reign at court.

Most of stories I know present her as hopelessly tragic, fatefully cursed and politically naive. She is both the root cause of the Tang dynasty's downfall and yet without true agency its cause. It is not her ambitions or her scheming that tears apart the Imperial court, but simply her transcendent, immortal beauty. She is more analogous to Helen of Troy than a true femme fatale.

As almost synonymous with beauty, Yang Guifei is also interesting for the fact that she is often held to be plump. She is alluded to in the saying about differing standards of beauty, often contrasted with Zhao Feiyan, who was said to be very slender. (Which of course, makes this a terrible cosplay of her. But there are only so many historical women who have distinctive outfits.) The way she is talked about, the way her alleged beauty is described (and sometimes discredited) is especially interesting given the various pressures on Asian women to be skinny.

Numerous poems, books, films and so forth have been inspired directly and indirectly by her. Tale of Genji, regarded by some as the first novel written by a woman, was inspired by The Song of Everlasting Sorrow (partially quoted above). Various sumptuously costumed tv series are linked to here. There is even a musical, named Sacrifice, though I feel rather ambivalent about their understanding of the story: "Ultimately the message is simple; true love means sacrifice. [...] This great story enticed three western authors to China, intoxicated by its exoticism. What they found is the perfect vehicle for drawing west and east together; a transcendent love story that is, in fact, universal."

The costume comes in three layers, though only the scarlet outer robe is really visible. The hair is not a wig, though only a portion of it is my own. The shape of the train is what makes this costume really dramatic, with the sheer expanse of red. Tang dynasty costume was very much about a high waistline, enormous flowing sleeves and long, long skirts. At one point, the skirts actually started above the breasts.

Since we've also been on the subject of costumes for Empire LRP of late, it seems worth mentioning that the shape and flow of these robes would make for good Urizen costumes, though certainly not the colours. The red is far, far too bright for the pastel-loving spire-dwellers. The use of brocade as trim has potential, but only if it were very muted in its pattern.

The full story behind these photos was told in the preview post and the other photos from that day can be found filed under Xiaolongnu. A set of robes like these can be commissioned from the Mercenary and would likely cost between £50-150, depending on number of layers and choice of materials.

More photos under the cut.


* The version I remember as a child was that he issued her with some dozen metres of red silk - a roundabout way of telling her to hang herself.

Wednesday, 12 September 2012

Leather Pouches

Among the other leather goods we've made by Ms Wu, we have these beautifully detailed leather pouches. She's responsible for the vambraces we're very proud of.

The belt loops are attached via a snap button such that you can remove the pouch from your belt without taking your belt off (especially annoying if your belt is also holding your trousers up). The pouches are also spacious and and are held shut with a bright silver buckle.

The green bird pouch has already been seen in the photos for Wintermark (given their love for avian-based iconography.)

The pouches are available at Character Kit for £40.

Tuesday, 11 September 2012

Empire: Facing the Monsters of Varushka

I had thought at first that we hadn't any costumes that would work with Varushka, but after some rummaging, it turns out that the elven embroidered coat works a lot better for Varushka than it does Urizen or even Navarr. The silver embroidery on dark forest green of the wool works remarkably well given the Varushkan love for complex embroidery and stark contrasts. The addition of the white fur mantle and red sash decidedly makes it Varushkan.

The stripy hero trousers belong to the Slander Rat and the cream tunic to the Designer. The firebird cloak seems now almost made for Varushka with its strong reds, ornate trim, stark contrast and a fairytale allusion.

As always, the various cloth components can be commissioned from the Mercenary. The round boar shield (£110), the sword (£50) and the embroidered coat (£110) are all available from Character Kit.

More photos of the Varushkan costumes under the cut.

Empire: A Mercenary from the Free Companies

There are, in fact, so many League photos that I managed to overlook this set with the Lord of the Macaroons dressed as a mercenary from the Free Companies.

There isn't much more to add about the mercenary other than he probably should be thankful he's not involved in the complex soap opera of the other League photos. Though he does rather resemble a Warhammer figurine.

The Swiss Halberd is from Character Kit and is currently on sale at £75. The shirt with the slashed sleeves is the model's own, but one like it can be commissioned from the Mercenary. The breastplate is borrowed from Durham University Treasure Trap's Armoury. It may or may not have originally been from Mytholon. The hat also belongs to Treasure Trap.

More photos of the Free Company Member under the cut.

Prototype: Purple Embroidered Tailcoat

It has been some time since I've given news about the Embroidered Tailcoats. Prototypes of them exist in a variety of colours and should hopefully be on the website (both here and Character Kit) in the coming week costing £100-110 each.

This one is in a purple wool with silver embroidery and a silver lining.

More photos of the Purple Embroidered Tailcoat under the cut.

Empire: Three Tears Entwined

Of the multitude of costumes we've pulled together this weekend, the Kallavesi Mystic (as worn by Lord of the Macaroons) is probably my favourite. The mask is far more stylized than the ones on the wiki, but do think it works very well. With the crest of feathers, we sort of imagined that he's some sort of feathered fox, probably a trickster of sorts. 

The feathered fox mask was made from moulded leather by the Designer for a Loki-esque character he played at Ragnarok. The mantle of many furs and the goatskin skirt are both made by the Designer. Both garments have also appeared in the Navarr costumes.

Given the rather diverse inspirations Wintermark draws upon (I believe the mood board was rather flippantly described as House Stark With Eskimos at one point), its rather nice to see that there is still a sense of continuity and cohesion when you stand the three together. In these photos at least, the consistent palette of reds, browns and blacks really helped.

The sword held aloft by the Ginger Ninja is, if I recall correctly, from Saxon Violence and the helmet from Planet Trading. The jewellery and assorted belt hangings of bone and bead are made by myself. 

The various tunics, cloaks and robes can, of course, be commissioned from the Mercenary. The highly detailed vambraces (£40), the pouch (£40), small wooden shield (£50), the feathered mantle (£60), cloak with hidden pocket (£60) and the fey dagger (£15) are all available from Character Kit

More photos of the Three Entwined Tears of Wintermark under the cut.

Empire: The Dreaming Spires of Urizen

Like many of Empire's cultures, there is a strong focus on the use of many diaphanous layers in Urizen's look and feel. If I were designing an Urizen outfit from scratch, there may well be less of an emphasis on heavy velvets and wools, which were chosen to be warm rather than ethereal. The colours are also overall a little dark and jewel-toned for Urizen, again from the fact that we're pulling this together from preexisting garments. In the absence of a brief, most people seem to veer from pastels and favour richer shades.

Given how this was the most extensive of the Empire photosets, it does appear that the Mercenary has developed an accidental specialization in Urizen costumes. We do seem to tinker and there have been many, many variants on "elven" robes in slightly different shades, cuts and weights of fabric. I do think we've come a long way from the first generation of elven robes.

The Slander Rat is in the cream renaissance gown that appeared in the League photos. The extensive train has been pinned up in these shots and form more draping folds from her waist (though it is mostly hidden by the pooling velvet robe). She also wearing the Egyptian cultural armour she and the Ginger Ninja made for Odyssey (though I believe that set is actually made for the Ninja). She is holding a Lorien Shield and a fey sword, both from Character Kit.

Attempting to arrange everyone into group shots for Urizen was difficult, if amusing. Given their cultural need for personal space, we all felt that it would be deeply inappropriate for us to huddle too close even for the purposes of these photos.

Thus were born many jokes of how flirting between Urizen couples need happen via the medium of semaphore (the Proprietor and the Slander Rat star as a pair of star crossed lovers on the opposite sides of a flying buttress who cannot bear to approach each other any further) and the inconveniences of secret wizardly cabal meetings (thus being unable to whisper properly at each other). The Proprietor also quipped that all Urizen, no matter their actual skillset, look like wizards.

These photos were around the back of St Giles Church, where once two prince bishops (one true, one false) fought for the control of County Durham. Or so I'm told. There are a lot of long, low shots with the walls and church windows, hopefully with the careful cropping give a vague sense of the spires and towers of Urizen.

The long sleeveless robes that are being worn as the outermost layer in most of these outfits do not appear to be particularly compatible with larp fields, though they are quite that long in part so that they still look good (by having sufficient drape) when you pull the train over your arm to carry it when walking. It can, of course, be commissioned shorter.

We did run out of pale under robes and the Battle Librarian is wearing a pale blue peplos under the various blue robes he has on. The Proprietor is wearing as his base layer a cream robe that could legendarily fit three people (it was once a bedsheet).

Of the props, the naginata is from Eldritch. The black leather crown is from Nordavolk. The necklace worn by the Pillywiggen, I believe, was made by Sara Emmims.

The white and gold shield (also having appeared in the Highguard shots), the pike and the fey swords can be purchased at Character Kit. The velvet robes (midnight purple, grey and beige brown), the cloak with a hidden pocket and the various sets of faux silk elven robes (greens and blues) are also on the website. The Proprietor is in a gold elven coat, which is also available in green. The various robes can be commissioned from the Mercenary in different combinations and fabrics.

More photos of the Dreaming Spires of Urizen under the cut.

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