Cosi Fan Tutte – Costumes

18 Dec

“Cosi Fan Tutte”  is one of Mozart’s mature operas, and is musically very beautiful and stunning. The book is by Lorenzo da Ponte, author of three of Mozart’s most famous operas. The title, translated, means “They’re all like that” — or “All Women are Like That”, which has always struck me as a bit ironic, quite possibly the author’s intention, because it’s the men who are the lead instigators of every mishap that follows, but they blame the women.

The opera is unique in that while it’s a comedy, by the end (and I’m talking about the play itself here, not any particular production) nothing is really that funny anymore. The story follows two young boys who are in love with two sisters. An older gentlemen named Don Alfonso tells the boys that, “The Fidelity of women is like the Arabian Phoenix, everyone swears it exists, but no one has ever seen it.” Essentially saying that women are incapable of staying true to men, which the boys take offense to. So, like any good teen comedy, they make a bet. They will do anything Don Alfonso tells them to do in an attempt to trick their girlfriends into cheating on them,  which they think will prove that their girlfriends are the embodiment of fidelity.

Cosi Fan tutte

The Cosi Fan Tutte Boys (Top) and girls (Bottom) by Tyson Vick. This is one of the sets from my project that is completely finished, and features five images in total.

And, while the plot is based on silly romantic hi-jinks, it turns deadly serious when it depicts how the lying, deceit, and claims of love effect the characters psyche’s — which is handled delicately and with resonating emotional truth by both the author and the composer. Watching the characters make irreparably bad life choices, watching the hilarious maid spew vile and quite modern romantic advice (like Cosmo magazine!), and watching the patient and hardened Don Alfonso teach, through emotional pain, that a flawed human is still loveable, the comedy stops being funny, and starts being real, and when the couples are reunited at the end, the people in the audience are left to reflect on themselves, rather than the drama.

It can be a hard pill to swallow, and stage directors have had a field day interpreting it in any way they see fit: from pure comedy, to pure tragedy.

It is considered a mature opera, not because of its adult content, but because Mozart started writing operas at ten years of age, and at that time studied and followed many forms and music types. When he reached his 20s, he started making up his own styles, forms and rules of music. It is at this point his operas are considered mature.

When I started to photograph this opera for my project, I knew at once it had to be handled as if it were a movie. The characters had to be age appropriate, the costumes period appropriate, and everyone had to look roughly how I imagined them upon my first reading of the play. So, I designed the photos to look like cinematic stills. I also made a decision early on to base the color scheme off of the female lead, Fiordiligi, who, near the end of the play decides to dress up in her boyfriend’s military uniform and enlist in the army to avoid being unfaithful.

The uniform is red (the photo is not available for viewing at this point), because all of her passion has built up and come to climax. As if her heart is bursting with passion.

Knowing this, I worked backwards, and decided that the girls would begin by wearing white and pink until their affections started the change, becoming more passionate and represented by red, a place where the boys start. In my imagination, though this particular idea didn’t make it to my project, the red would drain out of the boys, as if their passion had left them, hearts broken and bled out, leaving them wearing white.


Fiordiligi (the more sensible sister) wears an Antique Pink Corset, made unaltered from Simplicity Pattern 2621. I felt that, first, I wanted her corset to have visible tabs, and second, that she should wear something old fashioned. I think Fiordiligi is an old-fashioned romantic. One who reads fairy tales and thinks happily-ever-after love exists.

Fiordiligi's Antique Pink Corset

The corset is made from dupioni silk in  a cross-weave of cream and red, which gives the illusion of being pink. It is boned liberally with every type of boning, steel, plastic and a wooden busk (the front piece that supports the bosom.) It has been distressed, partially through boning process, which makes it look antique.

Detail of the Pink Corset

Fiordiligi’s pink corset has a bias strip of ruched cream ribbon to make it seem like the icing on a cake! Her pannier is also from a Simplicity Pattern # 3635.

Dorabella (The saucier sister) wears half of an outfit, as if the girls are just getting up and getting dressed in the morning.

Her first article of clothing is a period chemise (Simplicity 3635) made of cotton and lace. This is the first thing I ever sewed back in January 2009! It is only four pieces of fabric, with fairly straight seams, and I thought it would be a good place to start with my learning.

The first thing I ever sewed from Simplicity Pattern #3635

A detail of the lace on the Chemise Neckline

Dorabella wears a pink corset made by my friend Camille. Camille has generously contributed dozens of period articles of clothing, mostly corsets, to Mozart Project. For this reason, the Mozart Project is just as much a document of various corset styles as it is of Mozart! I do not have any pictures of the corset alone.

Dorabella also wears a matching hat and vest in pink Brocade, in the masculine style.

The hat is based off of a striking technique used by Kim Brown-Dye and her Topsy-Turvy Design shop where she “gathers” the fabric which covers the hat before applying it.

Topsy Turvy Hat, Simplicity Pattern

A Topsy Turvy Hat Design with a gathered fabric brim, a pink period outfit, and the two patterns used on the girl's costumes.

I made Dorabella’s hat without a pattern. The only way this was possible was because I made a Lynn McMaster’s hat  previously, and I understood the structure of a hat’s innards.

All I did was take a dinner plate and its matching salad plate and trace them onto buckram. I’m sorry I didn’t photograph this process, because it would have been quite amusing!

Then I did the basic millinery steps – Wire edging, felt interfacing, fabric covering — making sure to utilize the gathered fabric on the facing edge. There’s a ruched ribbon bias strip edging as well, to match Fiordiligi’s ruched bias edging.

Trevor Ivanich wearing A Silly Hat

When Trevor came for a visit he was very serious about wearing Dorabella's Hat. The only close up that I have of the hat.

Dorabella shares a vest with Don Alfonso. The vest was made for Don Alfonso, and so it will be discussed later. I just wanted a few more layers for Dorabella, and so I used the vest and matched the hat to it.

The final girl costume that I am going to show you was made for an extra in the shoot with the boys. In order to make the scene with the boys more cinematic, the coffee shop needed patrons roaming around in the background. I had hoped for two patrons, but we could only secure one on the day.  I built a fairly simple bodice jacket for the coffee shop patron, modeled by Kendra, and a pleated skirt made out of six yards of cotton.

The white bodice jacket worn by the background patron in the boy's shoot.

This bodice has a crazy design flaw. If you look at the image closely you’ll see that the darts in the front are different widths and lengths. This happened because I was dumbly designing the dress while I was cutting it. At first there were no darts, and the thing looked ridiculous. I have no dress form to work with, so I have to understand what I’m making before I jump in, and this time I didn’t. My sketchbook is filled with dozens of drawings of how I might fix it, and this is what I settled on.

If you can tolerate the crazy-darts, then the cut actually worked out.

The back of the white bodice jacket.

There are two types of embellishment on this vaguely “Robe ala Anglais-ish” jacket. The first is wire ribbon, where the ribbon was gathered down the length of the wire to create a “ruching effect” which was then sewn on to the edges. This is topped with a store bought lace.

Detail of the ribbon and lace on the White Bodice Jacket.

The lace features some cord embroidery flowers, which, like the lace, are machine made. Personally, I think the only place for machine made lace is on a detail like this where it is hidden or blended with the surrounding fabrics. I find most machine made lace stands out like a sore thumb. (Just like the conversation in “Gosford Park”.)

A Detail from the front collar of the White Bodice Jacket.

There is one other lady in “Cosi Fan Tutte”, the riotously funny and villainous maid, Despina.  She does not abide by the rules of love that the heroes follow, and therefore should not cross over into their costuming themes. Despina exists on a completely separate color scheme of browns and greens. However, since she, and the lady who modeled her, inspired this project, I think she’s best saved for another post!


Don Alfonso wears mostly white, and a touch of pink to create the illusion that he may be sentimental, but it’s all a front.

Don Alfonso is one of the great villains of opera. Based only on what he says and does, he remains ambiguous throughout the play. This part is an actor’s dream, where a million interpretations can be rendered believably for his motivation. Don Alfonso could be a man whose heart was broken by a woman, and who wants revenge on womankind. Don Alfonso could be a jealous man, who wants to ruin the relationships of the young because he can’t maintain a relationship himself. Don Alfonso could be a homosexual man who wants to ruin the relationship out of spite. Don Alfonso, in my mind, however, is that rarest of all men, the asexual man, who does not feel sexual-love, and who is intent on convincing the world that he is right, and everyone else is wrong.

Each of these choices will yield a different theme to the ending. Does Don Alfonso teach the young people how to love each other for who they are, rather than who they wanted each other to be? Or does he teach them to be as bitter and cynical as himself? I guess that’s up to you!

Don Alfonso wears a pink brocade vest (shared by Dorabella in the photos). I wanted the collar to fold back, and so I altered a vest pattern, but when the collar folded back, I realized later that the lining would be seen (it was my early sewing days), and I didn’t have enough brocade to line the outfit. So, I used an eyelet fabric, which is a fabric with embroidered designs, with the fabric cut out or with holes punched through and then sealed with zig-zag edging.

Don Alfonso's Pink Vest Detail of lapel.

This pink vest also features covered buttons, which are metal buttons that come in two pieces, and your wrap the front piece in fabric, and then plug up the back with a shank. Listen to advice, young people, buy them in bulk or at second hand stores, otherwise your buttons will end up costing more than your period outfits.

If I were to estimate, I’d say this vest cost thirty dollars in fabrics, and if I hadn’t bought them in bulk, the buttons would have cost seventy or eighty dollars.

True story. I wouldn’t lie about something like this.

Here’s a full picture of the vest:

Don Alfonso's pink vest. I bought my cover buttons in bulk and saved big!

The two boys in the play are military men, but because of how little they seem to have to do with war, I assume they’re either like bureaucrats, filing paperwork in offices, or Seabees, designing and building military bases. They aren’t particularly war-like. Which would explain why they’re in love with an aristocrats daughters, and not in love with scullery maids.

Ferrando (the more poetic, emotional guy) goes through the biggest changes, dealing rather emotionally, and then rather badly with the effects his bet has on the girls. His outfit is a military style outfit, with lots of tabs and buttons. Both Ferrando’s jacket and Don Alfonso’s coat are based on outfits from Sofia Coppola’s  film “Marie Antoinette”

The Marie Antoinette outfits which inspired Ferrando and Don Alfonso's outfits. Jamie Dornan (Left), Tom Hardy (Right)

Let me just say, I thought Tom Hardy was pretty awesome well before it was popular (Since Star Trek). In “Marie Antoinette” he sneers like the Grand Pooh-bah of Versailles!

Ferrando’s jacket, which may be the handsomest, most masculine attractive garment I’ve ever made, was another heavily altered pattern from Simplicity.

Ferrando's Military Jacket, with tabs and buttons galore.

I had no idea how the tabs on Jamie Dornan’s “Marie Antoinette” outfit were made, because all I had was a smallish picture from Vogue to go by. I think the tabs are edged with braiding, but a type of braiding only available in major cities, and not small town JoAnn’s stores. So, I had to get creative.

I cut out and built the tabs according to a pattern of my own design. Then I sewed and turned them. Next, I used double fusible webbing on the back of the ribbon, to adhere it to the center of the tab. Next, I used a buttonhole stitch in gold thread all around the ribbon. Next, I did the same buttonhole stitch around the edge of the tab.

It’s not period accurate like braiding, but it’s pretty stylish, I think.

A detail of the tabs and buttons on Ferrando's military vest. The tabs were cut out, and a buttonhole stitch was used to sew red ribbon in the centers.

The vest was made out of a linen blend, and lined with cotton. The buttons are pushed through loops of ribbon, which is an attractive technique, and is explained in quite a few Simplicity Patterns, but I don’t have a list off the top of my head.

Ferrando's vest, front and back.

Guglielmo (the ladies man), whose name, even now, I had to look up on Google in order to spell (what’s so hard about spelling it William-o?), is the most out-going of all the characters. I made him a pullover, pin tucked vest, based off of an historical garment, but I’ve lost the picture and can’t prove it.

Guglielmo's Red Silk Vest

His vest is red dupioni silk. It features a couple dozen random pin-tucks, intended to give the upper part of the outfit an eternal crinkle. The opposite of where crinkles usually develop in an outfit. This has no significance whatever, thematically.

A close up of the pin tucks in the Red Silk vest.


4 Responses to “Cosi Fan Tutte – Costumes”

  1. liselfwench December 18, 2010 at 7:11 pm #

    Oh my gosh. I LOVE your costuming! That pink corset is so beautiful…

    • tysonvick December 18, 2010 at 7:21 pm #

      Thanks! That Simplicity Pattern 2621 is a great corset pattern. You should try it if you haven’t already. It’s very straightforward. None of those crazy boning channels of the 18th century stays. It runs a bit short, though.

  2. Herman July 5, 2012 at 5:13 pm #

    “Fernando’s jacket” looks awesome. I would love to own one. Different colors though. Dark grey vest with black tabs or something like that. Nice

    • tysonvick July 6, 2012 at 5:02 pm #

      Thanks! I think that is one of the handsomest pieces I have made!

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