When I first decided to start making costumes from my Mozart Project, it was because I felt I could better bring to life the operas through photography with fantastical and historical costumes. At that time I had already taken a few photos, but felt that I could do better — produce better images — and on many occasions I did re-shoots to more accurately capture my vision. I made a red gown for one of those re-shoots, but never got around to using it. The shoot fell through or never worked out, and so the dress remained.
With only one photo left to take for the project, I decided I would just use that dress, no matter what Historical context it belonged in, just because I spent so much time and money on it. Therefore, this is the dress that Vitellia wears in my “La Clemenza di Tito” images.
Elizabeth shows off Vitellia’s gown, make-up and headdress.
With no connections to Ancient Rome outside of the headdress, the gown actually seems to have a bit of a Medieval flair. Using it on Vitellia was simply a choice based on having a complex gown in the closet, made and never used. Very little thought went into how to make it work Historically, or anything. I did, however, base the headdress on ancient Roman headdresses.
When I was building this dress, my goal was to do elegant ribbon embroidery!
I bought and used numerous silk, polyester and blended ribbons to do the 3-D embroidery. I used beads and pearls, and the one thing I remember about creating this dress was that it started costing more than it was worth. I chose polyester for the gown, and the embroidery started to inflate in price 2-3 times more than the cost of the dress fabric, and as anybody with any sense knows, this is both bad and slightly inept, because the dress grows disproportionate in value if I ever wanted to resell. “Here’s a gown that cost $45 in fabric and has hundreds of dollars and hours sunk into the embroidery! Want to buy it?”
Not only was the cost of the embroidery growing out of control, it began taking so many days. I literally drained my bank account to do the embroidery, and spent at least four days just going to the store search for and buying more embroidery floss. It was awful, and I actually just gave up, calling my mom and saying, the dress is a money pit and I’m done!
I left the dress as you see it in the image directly below…
The dress from center front before the embroidery was finished.
Years later, when Catey Lockhart signed on to be my apprentice, I saw a good opportunity to finish the dress. I added thick knitting ribbon on the apex of the bosom, a spot I had initially wanted to fill with more ribbonwork flowers. I also bought a brooch shaped like leaves to finish out the center. Catey added freshwater pearls all along the bottom of the dress, which, frankly, you’ll never see.
Front detail of the ribbon embroidered dress used for Vitellia.
Looking at the dress now, I feel that it is clearly an early work — it was my third or fourth full scale gown — and all I see is embroidery that never quite got to the point I wanted it. Something that makes me feel better, however, is that my mother loves this dress. She loves the details and the colors, and because I could never resell it (money pit), I can gladly give it to her and allow her to enjoy it for the rest of her years!
A Sleeve detail (left) and back detail (right)
The sad end to this story is that my embroidery days are over. I cannot physically do it because it makes my eyes hurt, and has caused my sight to go blurry and caused at least two trips to the eye doctor. While 3-D embroidery is cool looking, and has a great texture, this was my one foray into the technique. This was the final reason for using this anachronistic costume in the “La Clemenza di Tito” photo… I wanted this health-threatening, never-ending money-pit to have some sort of payoff!
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