Sunday, March 3, 2013

A Scarlet Empress

Sometimes, you really have to go big. This costume was a suggestion by my husband, after I made a few other costumes for myself from my own ideas. We both knew and loved the Scarlet Empress from the White Wolf game Exalted, a powerful and some might say fearsome ruler of the Realm. She had great style - most empresses do, along with a big crown. Why not try? I thought. So I set to work... it only took three years! I was inspired after GenCon 2007, and didn't complete and wear the costume till 2010 - but I did have a child in those three years as well! This is a picture heavy post, bear with me please, my first =)
Concept Art, Sample on doll, Sketch
 I started with artwork from the game books, made some sketches, got some fabric samples, and made a Barbie sized mock-up. Did you know making a Barbie kimono is actually pretty easy? Well after you've made an adult sized one, it is. The corsets on the doll are kept together with fabric tape and a little thread in front - to test how the fabrics look together, not for a durable toy! (For those curious, this is an Irish Barbie from a dolls of the world collection way back in the mid-90s)
Cutting and pinning the Barbie kimono, and Sketches
Colored fashion sketch
Patterns, Sketches and Concept Art
 I used four different patterns for this costume - there's the robe itself, full corset, half corset, and skirt. The first full corset I made was too short for the look I wanted, so my friend bought it off me, and I adjusted the pattern to make it longer. The half corset was also modified - I didn't attach the two halves in back, so that it could just lace up with the full corset. Oh, and gold lame bias tape is amazing! I used that instead of making my own bias tape and loved the final look. I have a handy-dandy grommet setter tool, so no hammering for the grommets. I love that tool. The skirt was the simplest piece, then the robe/kimono wasn't too hard since I had made a kimono with the same pattern before. However, the shoulders on it are way too big, so if I were to wear this costume again, I would try and fix that.

Back of half-corset
Front of corsets together before grommets
Cut out robe
Finished robe

Sewing was the easy part though!

Next came the wig and crown - neither of which I had experience working with. Always ready for a challenge though, I asked around and found a good website to order a long red wig from, browsed the craft stores, and got to work.

If you ever work with a wig, get a styrofoam head form and synthetic hair conditioner spray. Those were essential to the wig styling. Oh, and prepare for a LOT of shedding! The styrofoam head is stuck on a fan stand, a jury-rigged idea that was really handy. I started out just brushing, brushing, brushing. Then I sectioned out pieces for the bump-up, the part to go over the crown center, the front wrapped locks and the side loops (which I braided at the hotel as a last minute change). A lot of sectioning, with lots of ribbon and clips and pins, but so worth it to get the right look! I did some backcombing for the bump-up and used one of those Conair accessories to help hold it up, which worked well. That's the only part of the wig that got hairspray, the rest just hung as it was. I cut the front wrapped locks short to match my concept photo, the trimmings of which later came in handy for the crown.

 For the crown, I needed something SHINY! What I finally found, after a lot of searching, was a roll of brass craft metal, in the clock making section at Hobby Lobby. Together with foam core board, metal tape, foil tape, a gold colored sheet of poster board, LOTS of spray adhesive, a headband and electrical tape, I made a crown. 

 I started by gluing the metal (which had to be flattened) to the board, and the gold poster board on back, then making my stencil for the crown. Some handy paper on the wall was helpful in getting the crown the right size - big enough to balance the costume, but not so big I couldn't get through doors! This was before my fab pre-con haircut. I cut some cardboard templates, tested them together, then traced and cut out the many layered crown pieces. Making the three dimples on each side was fun. But cutting out the pieces was not. I finished though, then edged them with foil tape, taped them all together in the middle with electrical tape, then onto the headband the same way. The trimmed hair edges wrapped over the tape and around between the crown and headband gaps for coverage and cushion, tied and glued in place. The final touch on the crown was the wire going between the top bars with a little pearl on it. Altogether, the crown isn't very heavy, and the headband makes it easy to put on and take off. The foil tape was a little annoying to apply - but I needed something to guard from sharp metal and cover the foam core.

Crown taped together

Crown with wire, pearl, and hair
Back of crown - not as shiny

Finding the perfect shoes took a lot of footwork - literally, because that day I was walking to all the shops. I lived near a mall at the time with more shopping centers on connecting roads, but no car at my disposal meant pushing the stroller around a lot. I wasn't exactly sure what I was looking for - my make-it-work idea was getting some platform flip-flops and bejeweling them with lots of pretty gold stuff. I didn't find anything that worked at DSW or many of the mall stores, but Bakers had these gold darlings that were just perfect! And I got the gold lace I needed to finish the corsets that day, so it was a gold-strike!

A gold medallion on a chain completed the wig and crown ensemble, and a bag from my wedding was perfect to hold my camera and essentials - my husband carried the rest of the important stuff. I had fun with the makeup, using mostly gold and bronze shades along with a gold eyeliner that also made the dots under my eyes. I tried finding stick-on face gems but nothing was the right shape or size, so paint-on was the way to go. Plus I didn't have to worry about them falling off! My lipstick was a Covergirl colorstay style - paint on the color then seal with the clear gloss. It worked well, and though I had to reapply after eating, it stayed perfect when on the con floor.

Of course, I was making the costume for GenCon. So we had to drive quite a ways for the convention. Transporting the costume from Detroit to Indianapolis was fun... the biggest hurdle was the wig, which I carefully wrapped in scarves and placed in a box just the right size, and also brought the fan stand with for keeping the wig nice in the hotel. I didn't wear this costume until Saturday, and GenCon starts on Thursday. So I had the perfect big amazing costume sitting waiting for two days. I like my other costumes, and get asked for pictures in them some at the convention, but I was most excited for my new costume.

The morning I was going to wear the Scarlet Empress costume was fun - it took a lot of work to get dressed up in it, but so worth it in the end. There's something about being in costume and seeing the awe on others' faces that is fun, it's like the feeling I get when someone really likes the jewelry I made or my daughter's costumes, except it's on me.

I had a lot of fun walking around in the costume, posing for pictures even though I felt a little awkward sometimes - I thought it would be in character to look serious, but instead in most of the photos I look simply blah. Next time, mysterious smiles might work better. One of the best parts was going to the White Wolf panels and showing off my costume to the game developers, and going to the White Wolf party at the Industrial Club and sitting up on the VIP stage in it. Outside of the White Wolf group and my friends, not many recognized the character, but that's okay. One girl called me Azula, which made me smile - Azula and the Scarlet Empress would probably get along.

For my first specific character cosplay, I think I did pretty well. There are some things I will change the next time I wear it, but overall, it was a good costume and a fun experience. I love showing pictures of me in costume to friends who haven't seen it, then they ask, "What's that?" And I say, "That's me, I made that!" They might think I'm weird, but I like being a costume nerd.

I'd like to thank White Wolf and the Exalted development team and Melissa Uran for her Scarlet Throne Artwork Without them, I wouldn't have had a costume like this to make!