I have made many costumes for Leslie. Each one, different from the last, and yet uniquely hers. I always ask my clients to provide a word of phrase that we can use to narrow the visual focus of the gown, and Leslie asked me to choose for her. Good thing I kinda know her dancing! I told her that for me, the best thing about her dancing was her partnership with her husband Lee. They are really lovely to watch together, and their power for me is in how they relate to each other in their movement. I suggested that we try to emphasize their partnership in her costume. She brought in a crocheted sequinned shawl in a beautiful soft aqua, and told me that this was the color she was imagining for her gown, and I thought that sounded great as well. Plus she brought me a pile of photos from magazines of things she liked that might be encorporated into a gown.
Her personal style always has a "1950's school girl" vibe for me, and so I was not surprised to see a retrospective of Princess Grace Kelly's fashions represented, (lower left corner) and, note the soft aqua satin of the gown pictured. Just above that image, (left top) is a gown with high-contrast lace applique in black on a pale mauve. That jumped out at me right away, as a great chance to feature the black of Lee's dancewear on Leslie's gown, drawing a neat visual parallel. Certainly, there is an abundance of floral imagery in this pile of clippings, and lots more of the dark figure on light ground. I particularly like gown on Lucy Liu, (tiny image in the center) as a great example of dark floral on light blue. All these things fit neatly into Leslie's desire for pale aqua, and my goal to emphasize her partnership in her gown.
She is beautifully proportioned and fit, but not my tallest client, so we wanted a long clean look for this gown, to allow us to see nice lines without any horizontal distraction She also wanted her embellishment to spill well onto the skirt of her dress, so we decided on a lycra gown, to accomplish both the long clean lines and lengthy detailing, without having the embellishment disappear in folds of frothy skirt.
Not every gown goes along smoothly, and some clients have a very hard time visualizing the end result from the sketch and at early fittings. In all fairness, it is really hard to stand and look at yourself in a BIG mirror for an hour, while I poke, prod and pin. But Leslie freaked out entirely at our first fitting. She was convinced that we had both the wrong color and the wrong fabric. SO... she went home to think about it, and decided she wanted to proceed with the gown as designed. I felt really badly for her.
For prospective clients who might be reading this post, I will say add some advice here. When we finish our design meeting, and agree to a goal, we begin a series of decisions, some I make on behalf of my client, and some we make together. The process of buying materials, patterning, cutting, sewing, fitting, and finishing each gown is FULL of forks in the road. And when we both understand the desired end result, we can make these choices with reasonable ease and agility. Once the design train leaves the station, have faith in yourself and your ideas, and in me and my design and construction experience and ability. Our process will go smoothly, and I will do a better job on your behalf, and we can work together toward our mutual goal.
We talked about using feathers as accents on this gown. They are a recent trendy detail on many gowns, and I arranged all the large flowers in the applique lace so a few delicate feather stamen and pistils could sprout from each one. Leslie decided against this, but was in favor of feathers at her shoulders. I did these as removable bits, and I do not think she has ever actually worn them, but I would love to see them throughout the gown. I like it without them as well!
Remember I said I have a harder time making decisions of my client's behalf if I am not confident about what their goal might be? Well, I had a really hard time stoning this gown. I think part of why I love those feathers is how very black they are. And my initial plan was to use Jet on the lace. But Leslie also needs a gown that will "compete" with other gowns on the floor for attention and status, and I felt the Jet might be too quiet. I initially stoned most of the black lace at the gown front with Crystal AB, trying to get to "championship gown", because Lee and Leslie compete at that level. But after a few hours, I felt I was losing the black, which was really the overall intended visual impact
So, I picked those all off, (on my own time, and deleted the hours of application as well) and switched to Jet AB, hoping to maintain championship sparkle power, without sacrificing the beautiful black-on-pale contrast that is the core of the gown design. I also put more space between stones, to keep the black visible, and then surrounded the diagonal banners of lace with Aquamarine AB to boost the sparkle power, switching to Swarovski's new color Light Turquoise for the remainder of the gown.
Leslie had agreed to bangle bracelets, but when it came time for the necklace, I threw caution to the wind. She had asked for a symmetrical piece, and I felt it was badly out of harmony with the asymmetrical neckline. I created a necklace from lace scraps and decided she could buy it if she liked it and if she did not, I would keep it. She bought it!
I thought she looked splendid at the Snow Ball, and danced beautifully with Lee. She tells me she likes (I think her term was fully embraces) her new gown. Personally, I hope the next project follows an easier, more joyful path. But no matter how we get there, success in the end is worth the process. And I am always ready to try again.