Well that was an interesting experience! I was at the Victoria & Albert Museum tonight, for a Members Only event, a talk by Vicky Gill, who’s a dance costume designer, and is in charge of costuming for Strictly Come Dancing. I’m not a member of the V&A, but my best friend is, and she gave me the ticket because she couldn’t go.
I got there and the ticket said to use the Science Gate entrance, on Exhibition
Road, so it was like getting into the museum by the tradesman’s entrance- we were sent down a little alleyway, past the Royal College of Art and up some stairs that led us past a gilded statue entitled the Spirit of Gaiety, and through some rooms filled with paintings, and a Burne Jones piano. Then into the Silver room, where we were greeted by three life-sized silver-plated lions, and I was bedazzled by *masses* of silver, and then up to the Lydia & Manfred Gorvy Lecture Theatre. The Lecture Theatre is very pretty with Arts & Crafts style decor, and a masssive half dome. Being a singleton, I was able to sneak into a spare seat close to the front.
Vicky was a very interesting speaker (though she was a bit nervous, I get the feeling. It sounds like public speaking was outside her comfort zone!). Her background was in both Fashion and Dance Costuming. Her clients have included Girls Aloud, Cheryl Cole, Britney Spears and Kylie Minogue. But in the last ten years she’s been involved in the costuming for Strictly, which takes her through from August to December each year! It all sounds totally Full-On once the show is under way- up to 14 new sets of costumes per week, with no time for mucking around with toiles, and only one fitting on the Friday before the show. I loved the image she gave us of creating a manequin for each dancer, padded up with layers of bubble wrap, to recreate each person’s particular figure. And having to unwrap the layers, as they lose weight/change body shape as a result of so many weeks and months of intensive dance training! I wish I’d dared ask about the experience of dressing Anne Widdecombe in the Q&As!
What hit me was how much wear and tear dance costumes are subjected to. I tend not to think about it that much, because my own costumes are all in a reasonable rotation, and don’t get that much wear, and if they do, I can do whatever fettling may be needed to keep them looking good. But that’s because I treat my costumes as an investment, and I treat them well. For pop princesses, a costume is just another stage prop, and they don’t look after them themselves. They pay a wardrobe mistress to do all that. So they get old pretty damn quick. The ballroom dress on display was looking a bit tired, and Vicky said it had been worn maybe 50 times. That’s not many wears, really, but crystals get pinged off, fringe starts fraying…
Then there was the Q&A, which was fun- finding out about the feathers they use for costuming, and how they work them, to create a feathered wing effect. And the palette of colours they have available (she always tries to persuade the celebs out of wanting black costumes! I love love love her for that!). Then we got the chance to look at the three costumes she’d brought along, though the rule was No Touching, which is totally understandable, but sooo frustrating! She’d also displayed a load of design sketches and photos of her costumes. There was also a crowd of people around Vicky, asking supplementary questions…
And the V&A is terribly civilised: when that was all done, it was downstairs to the silver gallery, for a glass of wine. My head was spinning with the sheer shinyness of all that silver!