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Mozart Reimagined – Cosi Fan Tutte

31 Aug

Mozart Reimagined by Tyson Vick will feature photos illustrating Mozart’s “Cosi Fan Tutte”, a olden-timey romantic comedy.

Mozart Reimagined features five photos by Tyson Vick illustrating the opera Cosi Fan Tutte

Mozart Reimagined features five photos by Tyson Vick illustrating the opera Cosi Fan Tutte

Mozart Reimagined showcases nearly 100 photos that bring to life Mozart’s operas through photography. I spent a decade building props and sets, meeting models and photographing across the country to showcase what Mozart’s music has meant to me. The book also features essays written about each opera from my own unique perspective. The book humorously points out plot-holes, gives insight into past and present performances, recites a little bit of History and overflows with my own passion for the music of Mozart.


Here’s an excerpt from the book which accompanies the Cosi Fan Tutte pictures:

“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 misogyny is pretty rampant, and even now, after years of hanging out with it, I’m not sure if it’s supposed to be taken at face value or if it’s meant to be seen as satirical. After turning gender and rank on its head in Figaro and Don Giovanni, the ending of Cosi Fan Tutte seems calculated to raise some eyebrows.
The story follows two young boys who are in love with two sisters. An older philosopher 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, he is saying that women are incapable of staying true to men. The boys take offense to this. So, like any good teen comedy, they make a bet. In order to prove that their girlfriends are the embodiment of fidelity, they will do anything Don Alfonso tells them to do in an attempt to trick their girlfriends into cheating on them. If the girls remain faithful, the boys win the money, and if the girls cheat, Don Alfonso gets the money.”


Cosi Fan Tutte, Act 1 by Tyson Vick

Cosi Fan Tutte, Act 1 by Tyson Vick

Learn more about all of the costumes from this shoot here.

I’m going to be giving you a preview of photos from every chapter of Mozart Reimagined over the next month, and then it will be time for pre-orders. I will be launching pre-orders on Kickstarter on September 14th, 2015! Until then, I wanted to give you a glimpse of some of the photos and excerpts from the book so you can see what’s in store! Subscribe to the blog for every update, or check back on September 14th for the launch of the book.

Go Behind the Scenes with the Costume Sketches and Concept Art of Tyson Vick’s Photographic Mozart Illustrations

2 Feb

Whenever I take photos with big concepts, I start with concept art and costume sketches. Usually these aren’t so detailed that someone else can interpret them, but they are detailed enough for me to remember what I feel the need to include in an image. There are three types of art I can potentially do in order to help conceive my vision.

1. Costume Sketches

2. Concept Art

3. Thumbnails 

I use these three types of art to help me develop my ideas into costumes, find models and locations and compose images.


First up is a set of thumbnails I drew up for my illustrations of Ascanio in Alba. Interestingly, while I did photograph these things, I did not use any of these ideas in my final photograph.

Ascanio in Alba concept sketches

Ascanio in Alba concept thumbnails

Next is a sketch for Fiordiligi’s costume from the opera “Cosi Fan Tutte”. This character dresses up in her boyfriends military uniform.

Fiordiligi costume art for Cosi Fan Tutte

Fiordiligi costume art for Cosi Fan Tutte

Der Stein der Weisen was a fun opera to bring to life through illustration. Set in a fantastical Asian world, there was a lot to play with.

Der stein der Weisen concept sketch for Genie

Der stein der Weisen concept sketch for Genie

My genie is based off of Buddha and the maidens vying for his bird’s attention were drawn from Chinese inspiration.

Der Stein der Weisen costume concept for maiden

Der Stein der Weisen costume concept for maiden

The thumbnail below is followed by the image I produced.

Der Stein der Weisen concept sketch

Der Stein der Weisen concept sketch

Compare the thumbnail above to the finished image below to see how closely my concepts are followed.

Der Stein der Weisen Act 1. Photo by Tyson Vick. Hair & Make-up by Lizzie Hatfield. Models: Sierra Rae, Meilyn Saychow, Kolya Cain

Der Stein der Weisen Act 1. Photo by Tyson Vick. Hair & Make-up by Lizzie Hatfield. Models: Sierra Rae, Meilyn Saychow, Kolya Cain

Die Schuldigkeit des Ersten Gebots didn’t have such a big concept process, I only needed the thumbnail to get an idea of what I wanted to get out of the final picture.

Die Schuldigkeit des Ersten Gebots concept sketch

Die Schuldigkeit des Ersten Gebots thumbnail sketch

You can compare the thumbnail above to the finished image below.

Die Schuldigkeit des Ersten Gebots, Act 1 by Tyson Vick

Die Schuldigkeit des Ersten Gebots, Act 1 by Tyson Vick

Die Entfuhrung aus dem Serail was costumed out of clothes found in my friend and fellow costumer Camille’s closest. I thought about all the pieces she had available, and then combined them on paper as seen below.

A costume sketch based on Camille's costumes and set in the yellow void.

A costume sketch based on Camille’s costumes and set in the yellow void.

Below you can see some of these costumes in the finished image.

Mozart Project. Die Entfuhrung aus dem Serail. Photo by Tyson Vick.

Mozart Project. Die Entfuhrung aus dem Serail. Photo by Tyson Vick.

The Magic Flute is an opera I have extensively illustrated. When I first heard it, I was inspired to fill an entire sketchbook.

Queen of the Night Drawing

An early drawing of mine, illustrating the Act 1 Aria “O zittre Nicht”

But when I decided to use photography to bring these ideas to life, I did not know anything about costuming. So, I started petty small. I would probably go bigger today, especially with the Queen of the Night.

Papageno concept art

Papageno concept art

My costume ideas of Tamino and the Queen of the Night were based on what I could realistically make at the time.

Costume Sketches

Act 1 Costume Sketches for Tamino and The Queen of the Night

Tamino’s outfit is influenced heavily by Japanese history and video game costumes.

Tamino Costume Sketch for  my Magic Flute photos

Tamino Costume Sketch for my Magic Flute photos

Below you can see the outfit created from the above design.


Papageno was always meant to be a sort of bird version of a faun in my final image. I based his tattoos and look of of the Egyptian art of the Ba Spirit. A half-bird/half person creature represent a person’s soul.

Papageno costume sketch for my Magic Flute photos.

Papageno costume sketch for my Magic Flute photos.

Papageno was brought to life by Jon Sollee in the image below.

Die Zauberflote, Act 2 by Tyson Vick

Die Zauberflote, Act 2 by Tyson Vick

My Don Giovanni costume sketches were fairly blank, mostly focusing on shape.

Donna Elvira costume sketch for my Don Giovanni photos

Donna Elvira costume sketch for my Don Giovanni photos

In the end, Don Giovanni got a much more complicated white doublet, but the same cut still applies.

Don Giovanni costume sketch

Don Giovanni costume sketch

My thumbnails for Don Giovanni, below.

Don Giovanni concept art

Don Giovanni concept art

A set of Il Sogno di Scipione thumbnails.

Il Sogno di Scipone concept art

Il Sogno di Scipone concept art

Don Pippo of L’oca del Cairo and Lucio Silla, of Lucio Silla, costume sketches.

Don Pippo costume sketch for L'Oca del Cairo and Lucio Silla costume sketch.

Don Pippo costume sketch for L’Oca del Cairo and Lucio Silla costume sketch.

Compare the Lucio Silla Sketch to the final image.


La Finta Semplice was originally meant to feature five or so models, but they kept dropping out. Below was my last minute attempt to create some costumes that could be pulled from what I already owned.

La Finta Semplice costume sketches

La Finta Semplice costume sketches

The Marriage of Figaro photos were inspired by the image below, something I created after first hearing the opera a decade ago.

The Marriage of Figaro concept art

The Marriage of Figaro concept art

The Marriage of Figaro photos involved so many models and stylists, that I needed a thorough map of thumbnails to keep them straight.

The Marriage of Figaro Concept art

The Marriage of Figaro Concept art

I used the page below to keep track of which photos I had taken on the day.

The Marriage of Figaro concept art

The Marriage of Figaro thumbnail art

Compare the middle sketch above to the final image below.


For Mitridate, I based Aspasia’s outfit’s off of Historically accurate garb.

Aspasia costume sketch for my Mitridate photos

Aspasia costume sketch for my Mitridate photos

Farnace was also based off of History, but with a fantastical tattoo addition.

Farnace costume sketch for Mitridate

Farnace costume sketch for Mitridate

Compare the costume sketch above to the final costume below. I regret selling that cool pirate belt holding his cape up.

This is the photo that I will be showing you how I made! Mitridate, Act III, by Tyson Vick.

This is the photo that I will be showing you how I made! Mitridate, Act III, by Tyson Vick.

Finally, I end with the costume sketches for Zaide, another set of costumes pulled from my friend Camille’s closet.

Zaide costume sketches

Zaide costume sketches

I hope you enjoyed viewing all this concept artwork! I have much, much more, but none of it is scanned.

If you like following the creation of my illustrations of Mozart’s operas through photography, please feel free to subscribe to the blog! All you have to do is type your email into the box and the blog will be sent directly to your inbox from here on out! You don’t need to provide any information beyond your email!

Thanks for reading!

Mozart Project Awarded a Puffin Foundation Grant!

16 Feb

The Puffin Foundation Ltd. has awarded my Mozart Project a grant to help me work on some more Mozart Project photographs! This is very pleasant news, and the grant will cover a few expenses for five or six photos, expenses  such as film, processing, costumes, and props.  I hope to use the money to work on my upcoming photos for “La Betulia Liberata”, “La Finta Semplice”, “Der Stein der Weisen”, “Mitridate” and “Idomeneo”!

Don Giovanni, Act Two by Tyson Vick. My grant will go to more photos like these.

The Puffin Foundation seeks to open the doors of artistic expression by providing grants to artists who are often excluded from mainstream opportunities.

La Finta Giardiniera, Act 3 from Tyson Vick's Mozart Project

The review board says they were impressed with the nature of my proposal and the commitment I have made to my project.  I would like to thank the Puffin Foundation for their support.

Cosi Fan Tutte, Act One from Tyson Vick's Mozart Project

Hats Off to Broadway! with Lizzie Hatfield

8 Aug

Lizzie Hatfield is my go-to girl and co-conspirator for Mozart Project, having done the make-up and hair for nearly half of my Mozart Project photos. First and foremost she is a musician and theater performer, which I believe is why she is so in synch with my project. Go big or go home, am I right? Recently, she has been asked to Music Direct an Off-Broadway musical for the New York Musical Theatre Festival, and is holding a concert and fundraiser in Missoula Montana (Aug 27, 28 2011) and Cut Bank Montana (Aug 24, 2011).

Lizzie Hatfield, my good friend and art buddy, is going to New York and needs our help to get there! Photo by Evan Thompson

While working on my project, Lizzie has not only done hair and make-up, she has also helped me with finding locations and reflecting light using the reflector board (a noble duty), but most importantly, she has fed and housed me and my models whenever we shoot with her!

My shoots with Lizzie are usually large or span weekends, and she always feeds the models whatever food they desire, always asking them if they have any preferences. Bacon, Apple and Cheese sandwiches with roasted onion mayonnaise? Check. An entire gluten free meal for the gluten intolerant, including Grilled chicken and potato salad? Got that covered! Thai take-out? If she doesn’t get it, her husband will! She even maintains a cooking blog called “The House of Hatfield” which chronicles her most successful culinary delights!

In this “Where’s Waldo” of Lizzie images from our Mozart Project, you will find her doing hair (Top Left: "Il Sogno di Scipione" with Jerry), showing up the models when I give the direction “smile” (Top Right: "Figaro" crew), holding a reflector board (Bottom Left: "Zaide", Arri and Jenna) , and taking a picture of Maria’s right eyebrow (Bottom Right: "Abduction").

Lizzie’s many talents include getting hair to stick straight up and stay there, creating entire make-up designs from my obscure phrases like “Fugitive Princessy” and “Just on the verge of looking like he’s wearing make-up”, supplying Jewelry during a Jewelry shortage, spilling booze on the reflector board, entertaining us by making her very loud cat do a kitty-cat dance, and a complete comic inability to paint different shaped lips over existing lips (Which I’m glad to say she overcame on our last shoot).

Cosi Fan tutte

Lizzie Hatfield has participated in numerous Mozart Project photos doing hair and make-up, as well as finding locations and baking, which you can see in these two "Cosi Fan Tutte images". She has also modeled as Fiordiligi (Bottom Left).

Because Lizzie has always supported me, I wanted to write a blog post about her, in hopes that my readers will support her while she raises money to get to New York and stays there for six weeks. While in New York, Lizzie will Music Direct the play “Blood” by the Mummers (Which also features Nora Gustuson who has modeled for Mozart Project). This August she is putting on a fundraiser in Montana (Missoula and Cut Bank) called “Hats Off to Broadway”, a musical revue which features all the best Broadway songs about New York, and stars Lizzie, Kendra Syrdal (another Mozart Project participant) and Dylan Rodwick. The show will be performed in Missoula Montana (Aug 27, 28 2011) and Cut Bank Montana (Aug 24, 2011). Along with the fundraiser and concert, Lizzie is holding a raffle featuring art from Montanan artists to be drawn at the final “Hats Off to Broadway” show, and she will be accepting donations throughout her entire trip.

"Hats Off to Broadway" cast - Lizzie Hatfield, Dylan Rodwick and Kendra Syrdal

The best way to get to know Lizzie is through her own words! In the following interview, Lizzie talks about Mozart Project, her trip to New York and how music has become such an important a part of her life!

You have worked with me on my Mozart project from the beginning. In your own words, what is the Mozart Project?

Lizzie: The Mozart project is an illustration of the Mozart operas using photography.  The style varies for each shoot, from steampunk to rococo to semi-modern.  It uses outrageous makeup, hair and costumes to create grandeur needed for such elaborate operas. Each shoot is extremely individual, from the lighting and sets to the visual effects and actors used.

What is your job on a typical Mozart Project shoot?

My main job on the shoots is to create the makeup and hairstyles according to Tyson’s vision. Sometimes he gives me a rough idea and I get to create the look on my own. Other times he has a very specific look in mind and brings multiple examples that I can pull inspiration from. However, my job usually doesn’t end at makeup and hair. I almost always help set up the shoot, scout locations, help actors with wardrobe and hold the light reflector. I have also housed actors, cooked food for everyone on the shoot and baked and decorated cakes and cookies for the set dressings of one shoot! I try to be as involved as possible.

Is there anything you especially enjoy about working on a shoot?

I love meeting and working with new people and seeing the vision come to life throughout the day. I have really enjoyed being with the project from the beginning and seeing it evolve. Its amazing how polished and sophisticated the photos have become over the last 5 years. For the first shoots, I was sort of doing trial and error when it came to the hair, as I had never created the crazy styles that Tyson was asking me to make. Some of the things I used to hold the hair into shape were ridiculous! One time I made a cage out of wire and pinned it to a girl’s head to hold her hair up… That didn’t work too well… It was so heavy that by the end of the shoot, her hair was sagging and drooping off her head. Not my finest achievement! But since then, I have come up with much more creative solutions to making hair defy gravity (Velcro rollers and hair glue!).  Since those first shoots, I’ve worked with wigs, hair extensions, hats, body jewels, spray-on hair color and even fake facial hair! 

Which is your favorite collaboration?

My favorite collaboration was probably the Marriage of Figaro, because of the sheer size of it. While I didn’t do all the hair and makeup (the duties were split with Elizabeth Dellwo), it was a full day of hair, make-up and shooting. There were very close-up shots, so everything had to be extremely precise. It was also one o the first times I had worked with wigs, and the one we used for Camille was huge! I also loved putting fake eyebrows on Wayne!  And the location was amazing.

The most proud I have been of any shoot is Zaide. I think those photos turned out beautifully. I created the hairstyle using her real hair and extensions… It was extremely detailed, but I thought that it was so polished.  I also loved how the jewels looked with her makeup.

This is Lizzie's favorite work on Mozart Project. Zaide by Tyson Vick, hair and make-up by Lizzie Hatfield.

Tell us about your trip to New York.

I am going to New York to music direct a show called Blood that was written by my friend Nora’s theatre company “[By the Mummers]”.  It will be playing as a part of the New York Musical Theatre Festival in October… It will mark both my New York AND Off-Broadway debut!

What does it mean to music direct?

The music director is in charge of pretty much everything pertaining to the music in a musical.  They help cast the show, making sure that everyone can handle the music and is vocally appropriate for the parts. They teach the music to the cast, from notes to expression to clarity of lyrics. They are sometimes in charge of hiring the band and are almost always involved in working with the band/orchestra on music. Sometimes music directors also conduct the show.  I usually play piano for the shows I music direct.

Lizzie Hatfield by Evan Thompson

How can we support you before or during your trip?

I am hosting a fundraiser during the last week of August.  It is a show that was conceived and directed by me, called “Hats Off to Broadway”. It is in the style of a musical review, including songs, dance and comedy. It will play in Cut Bank, MT on August 24th, (2011) and in Missoula, MT on August 27th and 28th, (2011). It should be an extremely fun night for everyone. Two of my friends are amazing performers and are in the show with me.  We are also hosting a raffle along with the show which features Montana art from Monte Dolack, Barbara Gerard-Mitchell, Wanda Rude and this blog’s own Tyson Vick! All donations are tax deductible and will be placed in a community benefit account to be used to offset the expenses of living in New York for six weeks.

What sorts of songs will you perform at your fundraiser “Hats Off to Broadway?”

We will be performing songs from a multitude of Broadway shows. The show has a story that follows three young people as they attempt to make it into Show Business in New York. There are comedy songs, a song written by me specifically for the show as well as some of the most famous songs celebrating New York and Broadway.

Will there be prizes?

First prize of the raffle includes a signed, limited edition, framed print by Barbara Gerard-Mitchell, a Monte Dolack poster, a hand-quilted bag by Wanda Rude and a set of Gilbert and Sullivan notecards by Tyson Vick. Second prize includes a Monte Dolack poster and Tyson Vick notecards. Third prize includes a Monte Dolack poster.

Nearly everything you do is interwoven with music. You Music Direct, accompany rehearsals and auditions, sing and act in musicals, teach dance, and weave your way into the art projects of others (like my Mozart Project) which are also based on, or in, the world of music. Can you tell us what music means to you and why you are so passionately drawn to it to involve it in so much of your life?

Ever since I was a little girl, I have been surrounded by music. I started singing at a very young age and began playing piano very young also. I love the way that music and lyrics can make you feel things that words alone can’t express. The fact the children can listen to instrumental music and explain the way it makes them feel is a great testament to how important music is in our lives from a young age. I surround myself with music all the time… It has become a part of my life that can’t be separated. It is interwoven with everything I do because it is what makes me happiest. I am so lucky to be able to have work that is so fulfilling.

Thank you Lizzie!

I hope you readers enjoyed this interview, and got to know a little more about my project and about Lizzie! Please support Lizzie on her trip if you can, and thank you all for reading!


To Learn More About the things discussed or featured in this post, here are some links:

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.

Buying and Styling Historical Wigs

7 Dec

Wigs. What to do about wigs?

As any historical reenactor, cosplayer, or costumer quickly learns, you either have to be willing to pay, or be willing to learn how to style wigs if you want any semblance of quality. There are no shortcuts to attractive wigs — believe me, I’ve tried to find them. Pay, or learn — those seem to be the only two options. I have tried both processes, and I would like to share my results with you.

First of all, let me say that I think taking the time to learn how to style a wig is the best route to go.

In her blog, Demode, Kendra Van Cleave offers perhaps the most extensive and useful Rococo wig tutorial available. Her “1770s pouf tutorial” is both useful to someone who wants to re-create her style, or someone who wants a bit of a jumping off point to learn what steps to take in order to achieve their goals. At some point, I hope to create my own tutorial on wig styling, but until then, check out Demode. (UPDATE: My Tutorial is up in its own Blog Post!)

Only recently did I come across the Demode tutorial, and for quite some time I was content to use the well-made and re-styleable Empress Wig available in many colors all over the internet.

Empress Wig Styles

The Widely available Empress Wig (Left) comes in many natural colors and can be styled many different ways. Six examples of how I have styled this wig on the right.

I highly recommend this wig for purchase. It comes in Blonde, Black, Brown, Auburn (Red), White, Pink and Purple.

The Empress Wig is both affordable, and attractive. It can be re-styled many times, and you can add hair pieces into it, as well as any sort of decorations you care to try! It is attractive straight out of the package, but once ratted, it loses its “sheen”, though it can be re-styled back into its original shape.

There are a few problems with the Empress Wig, which a casual wig wearer would probably not encounter. One problem is that it really only has two styles that it can maintain without hair extensions or a lot of work with pins and curlers. The first style it can maintain is the  “as is” style, the way that it comes out of the package (The top and bottom images in my first example column). The second style is the ratted* out style (the second two images in the column).  If you are willing to add hair extensions and hell-a lot-a pins (The examples in third column), you’d probably be just as willing to style a pouf wig from the very beginning anyway.

A second problem is that it stretches the more it is worn, and the more stuff you put in it (Hats, Flowers) will start to cause it to drift about aimlessly. It can’t really be attached satisfactorily to the person’s actual hair beneath without rigging your own clips into it. Poor hair, it wanders.

The Empress wig does come in white, which some people may think looks more historical at first sight, but it is actually not. As one wig expert said, unless you had a very large collection of very elderly ladies with very long silvery hair, it would be rather unlikely that you could have ever made a white wig in the 1700s. That is, unless, you used horse hair. And wearing horse hair in the 1700s is just about as likely and fashionable as wearing horse hair today. In other words, don’t do it.

It is better to wear a wig of your actual hair color and powder it, if you want a white wig. Today, they make white and silver hairspray (I go through about a can a month), which is available at Beauty Salons like the chain “Sally’s” or at Halloween stores and aisles during the spookier seasons of the year.

As for men’s wigs, I have not yet found a satisfactory wig for purchase.

Men's Wig Styles

Here are two commonly available 1700s wigs (the big images), and next to each are two examples of how I have styled them (The small images).

The men’s wigs I have used are fairly cheap halloween wigs, and they are frustrating to style, require extensions to fill in the wide gaps between hair wefts,  and never quite sit like real hair. I cannot recommend any 1700s men’s wig that I have purchased.

However, once I discovered the Demode “1770s pouf tutorial”, I found that buying a shoulder length wig with a center parting (generally a woman’s wig) worked extremely well for creating 1700s men’s wigs! Styling your own is the only way to go if you want a convincing men’s wig!

There are quite a few attractive wigs  that I have not yet had the chance to purchase or try out. Here are some links to a few that I have bookmarked:

Lacey Farm Girl at

Madame Macabre wig at

French Curl Wig at

In the Future, I hope to bring you a web tutorial, showing how I style wigs for my photography projects. I have made some pretty neat hairstyles out of some pretty cheap wigs, but they have yet to be photographed.

Currently, I have only purchased wigs from “Spook Shop” and “”, and both are trustworthy sites.

  • Ratting is the process of back-combing the hair. Pulling the hair out straight, one starts at the tip and combs “backwards” down to the scalp, causing the hair to gather in clumps and bunches and stick up in a wild and carefree sort of manner. In a wig it takes a good wash and shampoo and a lot of combing to remove the ratting.
  • Demode Blog:
  • Demode Pouf Tutorial:
  • UPDATE, Feb 26, 2011: Visit My Wig Tutorial!