Saturday, 31 July 2010

Six Variations on Gambesons, Part 1

The gambesons (also known as arming jacks, aketons or padded jackets) were designed to look good under armour and on their own. As shown in the photos, they can be worn without the sleeves for a different effect. A wide range of colours are available in stock (see under the cut). Full reflections on this photoshoot another day, I'm still a little tired from visiting the breathtakingly awesome Warkworth Castle (where of course the opportunity for photos was pounced upon).

Do enquire if you fancy something in a different colour or size).

The gambesons are available at Character Kit at £60. The sword seen in these photos is (anachronistically) Character Kit's new Chinese Jian.

Photos of the gambesons under the cut.

Thursday, 29 July 2010

Preview: Cathedrals, Gambesons and Robes

Many things were accomplished today as Laced Gambesons of many colours were photographed on the Proprietor as were the results of my dabbling in Odyssey costumes (available soon from Character Kit).

(The photo to the left of the Proprietor in a red and black linen robe is captioned: Watching the Sunset with Beloved Column.)

Various mildly amusing incidents of note include: eating lunch to the eerie, ethereal choir of the Treasures of St Cutherbert exhibit at the Cathedral; the Proprietor feeling far too naked in the blue chiton; learning that Egyptians had to do their moving for them; far too much pillar-hugging; and, a priest materialising in a black robe the moment we started doing shots of a similar (but less ornate) black robe.

The two main locations we used today was the Durham Light Infantry Memorial Garden and the riverside Greek temple known as "Count's House." It was an ornamental folly built for Józef Boruwłaski, the Little Count, a Polish midget violinist in the eighteenth century.

(The photo to the right is captioned: Angry Woman in Gambeson About to Launch into a Highland Charge at Camera.)

Elsewhere in the land of anecdotes, I was playing "stick-monkey" to the Pillywiggin's archaeological survey of Durham Cathedral's Deanery (not pictured) in between lacing the Proprietor into arming jacks, standing in front neo-classical columns and wandering around the cathedral itself. My task mostly just to stand with a stick (read: prism) and to keep it level as the Archaeologist zapped it with the magic-survey-box-thing-named-Elliot (after T. S., "Total Station"). We ran out of synonyms for "ready?" and "level" quite quickly.

Also, the Laced Gambesons are now available from Character Kit in six colours (Black, Brown, Camouflage green, Dark Blue, Dark Purple and Thistle-grey) and two sizes (M, L).

Monday, 26 July 2010

Commission: The Steampunk Tailcoat

The Steampunk Tailcoat was a commission that went wrong in a variety of ways, including the customer changing their mind about what they wanted afterwards. Long story short, the Costume Mercenary had two dark red tailcoats extra. The cotton velvet one was sold to Gracewing, but the stretch velvet remains (see Red Velvet Tailcoat).

This Steampunk Tailcoat is made from a dark red cotton velvet. The contrast fabric is made from a red-on-red faux silk brocade and the whole garment is lined in red stretch silk. The large cuffs and lapels are decorated with brass buttons.

In the photos, the Tailcoat is worn over the buckle corset top, which unfortunately obscures the brass catches of the Tailcoat.

The stretch velvet version is available at Character Kit for £75. To commission a similar coat from the Mercenary would cost in the region of £85-90.

More photos under the cut.

Tuesday, 20 July 2010

Facebook Presence and the Origin Story

We now have a facebook page.

No, I'm not proud of it.

It's all rather sordid and self-promotional, starting a facebook page. Especially when it came to clicking to like myself.

Looking back, there was a chance you could instead be liking something else entirely. When this all started, the Designer and I batted around a number of rather more pretentious and stupid names, including "Robeland" (too cheap), "the Clockwork Catalogue" (inadequate and unrepresentative), "Sketchbook" (too generic), "The Lucky Wardrobe" (fumbled attempt at C S Lewis reference), "Flights" (too abstract), "Ambitious Beauty" (comes from a literal translation of my Chinese name - but again, too abstract). But as the header of this page testifies, they all fell by the wayside in favour of one that needs no rambling explanation.

Long story short, you can go like the Costume Mercenary on facebook.

(Oh, and the photo is from the infamously bad professional photoshoot that google seems to think is representative of this site.)

Monday, 19 July 2010

Blue Damask Gown

This dress owes its origins to my admiration of the "Days of Innocence" Blue Gown worn by Kiera Knightly in the recent film, The Duchess. As with many such inspirations, the desire to recreate is superseded by other impulses and the Mercenary begins to deviate from its origins. It's made from an iridescent alice blue and pale gold faux silk damask. The neckline significantly less scooped. The white ribbon roses are somewhat lost in the double row of ruffles.

The bodice is fastened down the centre front with hooks and eyes and is very lightly boned. There is lacing down the lower back, though there is a missing loop (due to an accident on the train involving a certain ex-Viscount and his stepping on the ties which had come loose, but that's entirely a different story).

The gown is worn over a white muslin chemise, the sleeves of which are quite clearly visible. Two different underskirts, a dark purple one and a pale green stretch silk one, can be evidenced in the photos. The pale green brings out the damask's gold foliage and the dark purple tones rather more the the alice blue, but neither is entirely right.

The gown toned surprisingly well with the green-blue bronze cast of a set of elven Norton Plate Gracewing owns and at this discovery, the idea of a "valkyrie" costume was born. Gracewing obligingly lent me the armour for an in-character masquerade ball (part of Profound Decision's Maelstrom). I am grateful for the photos taken of me, but I do wish the helmet was more cooperative. Despite use of a kitchen sponge, it refused to sit on my head in a proper and dignified way.

On something of a tangent, the same armour can be seen in the youtube short Chronicles of Durholme: Cross-Country Pantomime?, where it is worn by Dragon. The short is a documentary by Cosmic Joke about Live Action Roleplay, filmed around our local larp group. The second short In Search of Durholme, where they explore our beautifully hodge-podge setting of "Durholme", is also online.

More photos of this blue damask gown under the cut.

Wednesday, 14 July 2010

Devil in the Red Dress: Pearls and Roses

This red silk gown with freshwater pearl and ribbon rose detailing is actually one of the Designer's favourite dresses. The bodice is made from scarlet silk velvet. The skirt and sleeves are china silk, the latter with a silk chiffon ruffle.

It's one of the rather more early efforts, and to me, it does show. The gown itself is extremely basic in construction. It is fastened with a zip under the arm. Even the Designer concedes that the line and silhouette of it leaves a lot to be desired. The sleeves could do with more pleats and the skirt could do with being rather less narrow (we ran out of silk, actually).

The dress was rather underwhelming before the detailing was added to the bodice, which rather lifted the entire garment. In some ways this gown is a demonstration of the Designer's motto of the devil being in the details. The combining of different textures of fabric in a similar colour in one dress wasn't interesting enough in and of itself. Viewing the finished dress, he suggested the addition of the pearls along the collar and down the bodice, punctuated by white and red ribbon roses.

The gown is worn over a white cotton chemise, the sleeve of which is visible.

To commission a similar dress from the Costume Mercenary, complete with freshwater pearls, would cost in the region of £150.

More photos of the red silk gown under the cut.

Monday, 12 July 2010

Steampunk Shirts in Black and White

The White Steampunk Shirt, perhaps unsurprisingly, is a white and brown version of the black steampunk shirt prototype. It's made from white linen and dark brown faux suede. The buckle and eyelets are brass instead of gunmetal grey. The two rows of ruffles are wider than in the original.

The Designer feels that the entire cuff should be made of dark brown faux suede instead of just the straps, so the next run may be that way instead.

The new black prototype was last seen worn under the Green Steampunk Coat by the Proprietor. It's very much like the original except that there are three buckles on the cuff instead of two. As we scaled up the original prototype to a large, it was felt that two buckles looked a little too sparse and the third buckle was added back in.

Both colours of Steampunk Shirt are currently available in Large from Character Kit for £30.

Saturday, 10 July 2010

The Rustic Idyll

This was the original outfit before it went all Victoriental in the Ricepunk Traveller. It's fairly basic and is frequently seen in the sort of rural drama that plays on the rustic idyll that periodically airs in Hong Kong. I have rather distinct memories of the melodramatic Plain Love (following the struggles of an indentured servant and a tenant farmer in China at the cusp of World War Two).

The model is wearing beige linen Ru (襦) and black linen Ku (褲) with a wide black linen sash. She's also wearing an iconic rice hat.

I did it the designs mostly from memory (as I thought 1995 is rather too distant a past to scour the internet for, though it turns out that it is available on youtube if I can bear to watch it dubbed in Mandarin). An apron and a headscarf would probably be more evocative as accessories go, but part of my doubts that the readers of this blog would have been in any way exposed the costuming in what was probably a very forgettable TVB series (they did then make a number of spiritual sequels about the various rural workings of a tea plantation and later a rice winery.)

As an aside, the Designer points out that the white blossoms seen in the background of the shots is elderflower. Insert joke here about elderflower wine.

To commission a similar outfit from the Mercenary would cost in the region of £80-90.

More photos of the Rustic Idyll under the cut.

Friday, 9 July 2010

Odyssey Concept Sketches: Persia II

More sketches from the fantastical classical world of Odyssey. We seem to be covering Persia again, which is perhaps unsurprising given our shared affinity to purple and silly hats.

When watching the excessively long Alexander Revisits: The Final Unrated Cut with the Designer, I became rather taken with the dancing outfit Roxana (or to give her her Persian name, Rauxnaka, "little star") wore. It was beautifully swishy, but due to the nature of the scene, she was rarely still in it and only after taking some screencaptures and squinting at them excessively was I able to draw the purple version of it seen to the left. It's a little strange since the garment is drawn in motion and the figure seems stationary, but I think the concept of the dancing coat is conveyed.

The giant winged amulet of the Persian priest to the right is rather excessive, but it seemed, like many things, a good idea at the time. He is wearing a short tunic and the "trademark voluminous trousers" of Persia.

The metallic gold and silver details haven't come out quite right in the scans (incidentally, Pilot's Gold Marker is superior to Bic's Metallic Gel pens, though if one must use a metallic gel pen, Hybrid's flows better and has a slightly better sheen.)

Looking back, we've covered Egypt, Carthage, Greece and Persia (again). It does seem Rome is getting insufficient love, so I may well be attempting to scribble in that direction shortly.

For other Odyssey costuming inspiration: Silver Screen Modiste has a lovely collection of concept sketches from films about classical Rome and Egypt. and Clothes on Film have several articles on the costumes in the recent Prince of Persia film.

Wednesday, 7 July 2010

The Mercenary en Chemise

There is little excuse for it, but given roses and a chemise dress (also known as a robe en chemise or chemise a la reine), the temptation to pose as Marie Antoinette did will rise in anyone with a passing knowledge of French Revolutionary history. Or so the Mercenary could but justify this to herself.

Granted, I do not look half as grand as the French Queen in her infamous portrait by Élisabeth-Louise Vigée le Brun. (More about the portrait, Marie Antoinette en Chemise, and its complex symbolisms and scandal can be found at Tea at Trianon.) I did rather lack the feathered straw hat, gold stripped sash and a talented painter, but I was quite pleased with the outcome.

This chemise, frequently glimpsed underneath other gowns I wear, is made from a sheer white cotton (muslin or mousseline). It's modelled after the one in Norah Waugh's The Cut of Women's Clothes, 1600-1930. There is very little else to say about it other than that it could (and perhaps should) have been cut more full and I really should have worn a sash.

I'm not sure how magazines can still write as though the whole underwear as outerwear businss is in any way new. The long history of the chemise a la reine and its scandalous, revolutionary, decadent roots has been written about widely if not extensively. On the Interweb, there is, for example, this article and the more recent musings of the inimitable Dreamstress.

Even as it scandalised France, the chemise dress was immensely popular in England, "made a fashion statement for the 'natural woman', suggesting simplicity and honest sentiment."* It is also considered the ancestor of the Empire fashions of the early nineteenth century that feature heavily in any Jane Austen adaptation (which is, of course, only slightly ironic given the chaste, modest, mannerly reputation of her heroines).*

There is an abundance of portraits of women clad in chemise dresses. Kirsten Dunst wears a great variety of them in Marie Antoinette, especially in the Trianon scenes. There's also a livejournal group (Chemise Dress Madness!) devoted wholly to them.

If you would like to commission a chemise a la reine from the Costume Mercenary, it would cost in the region of £45-55.

More photos under the cut.


* Mary D. Sheriff, "The Portait of a Queen", in Marie-Antoinette: writings on the body of a queen, edited by Dena Goodman (2003) pp.45-73

* Stella Blum, Eighteenth-century French Fashion Plates in Full Color: 64 engravings from the "Galerie des modes," 1778-1787 (1982)

Tuesday, 6 July 2010

Strange Crimson Gown

I'm not sure what exactly to make of this dress. It began on the drawing board as a sacque back dress, I believe, but it wandered far, far away from the concept.

The gown now looks rather Regency due to the waistline appearing to be below the bust. The sleeves in particular don't look right around the shoulders (rather too much of an '80s shape there) and frustrate me greatly. It is made from a crimson damask and is trimmed in a red and green roses.

In the unlikely event one would like to commission a dress in similar materials from the Costume Mercenary, it would cost in the region of £65-75.

More photos under the cut.

Monday, 5 July 2010

Those Waterhouse Sketches

Rather a step away from this blog's usual fare of elves and steampunk (which seems to suggest the only logical left is the dubious realm of elfpunk, but I digress). These series of sketches were first started beck when I was wandering around the City of Dreaming Spires and was encountering the thousand and one references to their denizen, William Morris. His wife used to baffle neighbours by swanning about their home in long, flowing pseudo-medieval dresses, casting aside their fashions of complex and constricting corsetry, a thought that still makes me smile. It's probably because in some small, but very pretentious way, I like to think I'm continuing their work.

Morris was rather ridiculously prolific and I strongly suspect he just didn't sleep. He said once "If a chap cannot compose an epic poem while he is weaving tapestry, he had better shut up."

It's quite a step to start at Morris and end up sketching dresses from Waterhouse, but the former did rather famously write on the back of a canvas to his wife I love you but I cannot paint you. 

There didn't seem much point to try and draw dresses that were little more than indecently draped fabric - see Hylas and the Nymphs and Lamia (by the pond) - attractive as they are in paintings. I've mostly just dabbled with ideas, trying to replicate the shapes and shades. Whilst mimicry is fine flattery, but I can't help but feel a little sheepish since I'm not sure my art could even slightly compare.

The dress above is from Waterhouse's Miranda, from Shakespeare's Tempest. The dress to the right is from A Tale from the Decameron, though I confess to have been rather lazy with the gold detailing.

I'm not really convinced that Pre-Raphaelite dresses hang right on the distended fashion figures, but whilst I've been vowing to start using more proportional figures for quite a while now and haven't managed to kick the habit.

What do you think? Would you be interested in being the proud owner of one such dress?
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