Monday, October 25, 2010

Welcome to the BalletMet Costume Studio!

We create about 85% of the costumes you see in BalletMet’s shows, and our stock contains over 6,000 hand crafted pieces. We have four full time employees that work in the studio each season, as well as a handful of professional seamstresses and tailors that come work for us on individual projects as we have need. The making and maintaining of costumes for a professional company is a side of dance that is not seen often, but it is our world, and we love it!

Currently in our shop are the following lovely ladies, from left to right:

Erin, Assistant Shop Manager and Wardrobe Manager, who has worked with the company six years and does a little bit of everything, including writing this blog!

Kate, Costume Apprentice, coming to us after earning a degree at University of Michigan (no egg-ing of cars please!) to spend a year learning about costuming dance.

Rebecca, Costumes Director, who has designed and worked all over the country, including St. Louis, Florida, Oregon, and New York.

Leigh, a free-lance stitcher who frequently works with us and other companies around town, as well as backstage on many Broadway tours.

Linda, draper and stitcher extraordinaire, who is celebrating her 25th year of making tutus for BalletMet and has singlehandedly produced about a third of our stock!

At any given time, we’re working on at least three shows at once, but currently the show that is closest to production is Dangerous Liaisons.

We still have the costumes from the original production in 1996, and our plan was to pull those costumes out of stock and refresh them for the new production. Sounds fairly easy, right? Well.... it just so happens that our current company is--on average-- about four inches taller than the company that was dancing here when this show was first performed! Thankfully, many of the pieces only needed minor alterations to be usable, but in other cases some major work had to be done. Here are two transformations we’re especially proud of...

Beautiful, isn’t it? This is the dress worn by the character of Mme de Rosemonde, aunt to Valmonte. This year, the character will be played by the fabulous Courtney Muscroft. What was less fabulous was the gap-osis she was suffering the first time she put the dress on! She had at least an inch of space between the bottom of the bodice and the waistband of the skirt, and the hem was a good 4-6 inches shorter than it needed to be. The bodice could be let out, but there was no altering that skirt...It was clear we needed to make an extension. And the best way to create an extension is to make it look like you did it on purpose.

So first, we pulled out the leftover show fabric and cut an extension, then made some piping to help the extension look more like a feature.

By some miracle, the original lace used for the dress was still hanging out in our lace box, so we added a few more rows to the center inset.

The real challenge was that gold trim. We didn’t have anything remotely like it. But we found three other trims that resembled certain aspects of the original...

And we combined them to make an almost identical replica!

Here’s the final piece with its extension. Would you have guessed that wasn’t a design choice?? We love the oohs and aahs this piece is getting as it stands by the door of the studio for passers by to see.

Our second major victory was the dress for Mme de Volanges, played by Zoica Tovar and Olivia Clark. Now, Zoica and Olivia are unable to share a dress due to their difference in height. So we altered the original dress to fit Zoica and then began drafting an entirely new one for Olivia. But unlike the Rosemonde dress, there were no leftover materials to work with. In fact, not a single fabric or trim used on the original dress remained. We had to replicate the dress totally from scratch.

Can you see the differences? The brown taffeta looks the same, but it’s actually half the weight. Olivia couldn’t believe how light the finished dress was. We mimicked the bright orange of the organza in the skirt by layering a deeper rust with a bright yellow. Rebecca was lucky enough to find an almost identical black dotted tulle at JoAnns. Thank you, Halloween season! And the silver trim is covered with black mesh to dull it’s luminosity.

Between Leigh, Kate and I it took about a week to get this dress ready for fitting, and another few days to finish it. But it was worth every moment. (Well, Kate might not agree. She had to sew the 26 closures.)

So the height challenge has been an interesting one, but we’re satisfied with the result. Before we sign off, we wanted to share a few more of our favorite pieces from this show...

This is Marquis de Merteuil, which you might recognize from our brochure. Linda and Kate both love this dress, for it’s color and the effectiveness of the decoration. The trims are light and simple, but give a feeling of sumptuous wealth. Linda remembers making this dress back in ’96, and loves it still.

Here’s Rebecca’s favorite. We had to replace one men’s coat due to the height issue, and this new one was a beaut! Note the rust lining.

Sometimes it’s the little things that are the most satisfying. I thoroughly enjoyed the delicate detail work required to execute these little neck scarves, called fichus. They are for the maids, and each one is tacked so that the individual folds stay exactly in place every time they’re worn.

Leigh helped create the original Dangerous Liaisons as well as Linda, and she remembers this dress well. She made those rosettes by hand. Yup, that’s right. No store bought flowers, if you please!

Well, thanks for stopping by and coming on a tour of our little world. We’ll share more later if you’re interested. But until then, come see our beautiful costumes and talented dancers at Dangerous Liaisons next week. Merde!


  1. I remember it like yesterday! You are all so wonderful and I miss you much- Great job on making those costumes come back to life!

  2. Beautiful photos, and beautiful work...Working there is truly one of the most satisfying jobs in the world.