Sunday, 29 August 2010

Prototye: Blue Chiton

Chiton made of a thick blue linen, unsurprisingly designed with Profound Decision's larp system Odyssey in mind. Worn here with beaded sandals and belted in with suede thonging. Thoroughly Greek.

This didn't begin as a blue chiton. It was originally beige until the Designer noticed a very subtle beige-on-beige fleur-de-lys pattern in the fabric that was completely invisible unless held to bright sunlight. It was printed so after some deliberation, we dyed it bright "ocean blue" (or so the packet calls it) along with a once white shirt (a red scarf snuck into the laundry).

The buttons are decorative, simply sewn to points where the cloth has been sewn together. They bear a rather nice abstract knot-beast design.

This a lot more basic and significantly less cloth than the giant red and black chiton. The Mercenary was essentially playing around with just how cheap she could make simple chitons.

The blue chiton is available from Character Kit for £15.

More photos of the blue chiton under the cut.

Saturday, 28 August 2010

Outtakes: Many Less than Dignified Moments

The Elder One (otherwise known as Carrie) said once that bloopers can give a much better idea as to how one'd look in the costumes whilst larping. Elves might not smile, but players do. I have fond memories of one larp event in which the very serious, whispered scheming that went on amidst periodic midge-swatting, as the players maintained their very serious, whispered tones and shifty expressions.

So with that in mind and with the goal of mild amusement, some outtakes from the more recent costume mercenary photoshoots, under the cut.

Of course, the more "serious" versions of these photos can be found in the costume index.

Wednesday, 25 August 2010

Dragonscales, Cogs and Filigree: Buttons from my Desk

Perhaps it's because I could never quite escape that fact that the Steampunk Coat would never have existed were it not for the cog-and-screw buttons, but at any given point in time, there's usually a dozen or so (significantly more today) buttons on my desk.

It's always a happy coincidence when various symbols meaningful in larp (chaos symbols, aquila, wings, suns...) crop up on buttons and zipper pulls, but sometimes, I'm looking button simply thinking that it should be on something but I'm not sure what. Most of these, in fact, don't end up on a prototype or even a commission. I'm half hoping that that the vaguely drafted plans for generic-but-not-quite shirts, waistcoats and coats will give me an opportunity to use some of the above on cuffs and collars. Also on the drawing board are some high medieval designs, revolve around using rows of buttons as decoration.

Of course, if you like the look of anything, drop me a line.

Monday, 23 August 2010

The Quest for the Basic Larp Shirt

The basic larp shirt is turning out to be a rather elusive on the drawing board.

There was a Rule7 discussion not long ago about the items commonly lacking in larp and among other things, basic generic kit was on the list. Reasons for this include the simple fact that reasonable approximations of generic kit can be bought from charity shops and are usually the first thing most kit-makers start with making.* The world of the generic items is surprisingly competitive. There are also a number of excellent imports from Germany and other larp-prolific countries.

But it made it onto the Mercenary's to do list, along with robes and waistcoats and coat, but the topic today is the variety of linen shirts in a reasonably wide range of colours (a test run, not unlike the gambesons ). And the question now comes down to the design. 

Perhaps it's because larp settings take inspiration from a huge number of historical periods, ranging from the dark ages to early modernity. Having a shirt that wouldn't look too out of place in all those possible worlds is difficult to say the least. Buttons immediately place it in a post-button setting (after the 13th century for most of Western Europe) which isn't necessarily desirable given the "generic" moniker. On the other hand, the buttons can be lovely and lift a garment from dull to interesting.

I'm positing some kind of sweet spot between "character specific" and "utterly generic." Something that is versatile and reusable, but interesting enough that someone looks at it and thinks "yes, I can see how that would with what I own..." In theory, things like the feathered mantle are thought to this category, but they haven't exactly been a raging success, so what would I know? Perhaps the idea of actually producing such larp kit is all vain since all characters and all settings are different, even as they draw on similar inspirations.

The shirts will priced at around £15-20 each. I would love to hear any feedback on this new enterprise.

What sort of shirt do you want to own?

* The first bit of kit I ever made was a hand-stitched Viking tunic, actually. The next thing I bought was swords and armour. It was quite a while before I handed over money for what can be termed a generic larp shirt.

Sunday, 22 August 2010

Oriental Costume Concept Sketches and Inspirations

Zhang Renyuan's
Back Home in Dream:
 Bedroom of Girl
I was in Beijing and feeling the urge to sketch something topical (and not mope about the fact that I wasn't not at Odyssey), I embarked upon a Quest for a book on Chinese historical costume. Several book stores (including one that was eight solid floors of books) later, I ended up buying several fairly cheap artbooks full of portraits (and postcards of old photographs). There seems to be a trend in modern Chinese art to paint women in historical (or pseudo-historical) clothing looking soulfully into the distance. It's really rather prevalent and whilst the artistry is certainly exquisite in many of them, I do wonder what it says about us.

One way or another, I had my designing binge and here are some of the results. My watercolours didn't seem to be cooperating and the colours seem to be coming out more luminous than I intend them to.

Somewhere along the line I started wondering if all oriental steampunk costume has to be Victoriental in some way. The Buckle Cheongsam certainly wan't, but it really does go back to the fact that trying to communicate the technology level of your world setting in clothes is a problematic conceit. The shorthand for steampunk is well established and the ease of incorporating Victorian elements to create oriental steampunk is, in part, because one's tapping into those recognisable visual cues. When it comes to oriental steampunk, one almost has to establish one's own lexicon.

But those are design notes for another day's concept art. Today we're in the realms of knot buttons, long elegant robes and inadequate representations of brocade (one day, I'll work out how to approximate it well with watercolours). I'm spanning quite a few centuries with these designs and amalgamating quite a few ideas into a jumble of oriental-esque imagery. I vaguely had that wuxia thread in mind but much of this does deviate somewhat from "standard" wuxia fare (if there is such a thing).

Only women in this post, partly due to the overwhelming number of women in the research material (see above), but more sketches to follow. I may have to resort to looking at costuming from tv serials and those blurry photos I took from the Hong Kong culture museum.

More sketches under the cut.

Water Palace and other Places: Oriental Steampunk Inspiration

the incomplete and really rather steampunk Hall of Water

The Hall of Water was started in 1909 and was never finished. It's hidden in the less visited wings of the Forbidden City in Beijing and it's utterly gorgeous. The original intention was to have glass panes put it (hence it's other name of "Crystal Palace") and it reminded me greatly of Joseph Paxton's Crystal Palace, which is probably the most steampunk building to have every actually existed.

The Costume Mercenary is back from her stay in Beijing (long story, involves helping a lady with her Tofel) and much as I don't want to turn this into My Week in Beijing, I did come back with something of a high in terms of oriental steampunk inspiration (mostly jade cogs and geomantically-powered machinery). Perhaps it's the stepping into what appears to be a world that compulsively and ornately decorates and regulates everything.

I loved the attitudes and the splendour of the China's ancien regime and whilst I'll add that I am wary of overly romanticisming it, I don't see it as any more of a problem as the one general steampunk has with its periods of inspiration.

I learnt several things about ancient China, and the rule of thumb I keep coming back to is: however big you think it is, it's probably bigger. I was wandering out of the Palace Museum's front gate (the heart of the Imperial City, what was the Forbidden City, that is now a museum), handing in my audio guide and twenty minutes later I finally arrive at where the original gate of the Imperial City would actually have been (see map).

some of the consequent
costume sketches
As seemingly no post is complete without the Costume Mercenary in silly clothes, here's a photo of me in borrowed garb Summer Palace's Suzhou Market Street, some three hundred meters of shops and alleys (mimicking that of Suzhou city - hence the name). It's no longer populated by merchants and pedestrians imported from Suzhou, but it's still rather remarkable. It was apparently recreated in half a year for the Emperor Qianlong's homesick (ex-nun) concubine. This isn't the only recreation and there seemed to be this desire (and ability) to recreate beautiful landscapes and areas in not-very-small-at-all miniature in the palace (not unlike Marie Antoinette's Hamlet).

So, just quickly, under the cut, an illustrated steampunk ramble from Beijing. The costume sketches will probably be in another post.

Wednesday, 11 August 2010

Red and Black Zone Front Gown

Inspired by the many zone front gowns worn by Kirsten Dunst in the film Marie Antoinette, such as the Portrait Gown and the Trianon Party. Given that I'm lounging in the ruins of a bakehouse, this could hardly be called a Robe de Court, though there is something decadent about a birthday picnic amid a ruined castle (the Hermitage of ballad fame wasn't accessible that day for want of a ferryman).

It is also rather gothic, though it is the Percys' other ducal residence that got the gothic reworking.

The gown is made from a red and black cotton velveteen and is edged in black cotton lace. The large brass rose buttons leftover from the green and purple brocade Riding Coat was used.

The compere front gown is worn over this black lace dress instead of a chemise, which is really very inaccurate, but the colours work well together.

That's the Lion Tower of Warkworth Castle visible in the background against the dramatic clouds. With the exception of the "wistful" shot (that's the Designer's words, not mine), there's a shortage of photos showing the front and details of the fabric. These were the last photos we did that day and with the waning light and the desire to explore the castle at our heels, I'm not feeling too guilty for the lack.

To commission a similar coat-dress from the Mercenary would cost in the region of £50.

More photos of the red and black zone front gown under the cut.

Monday, 9 August 2010

Tudor Loose Robe

The Tudor Loose Robe is made from a thick textured cotton fabric in a dark navy blue. It's lined in gold stretch silk and is edged in ribbon of the same colour.

The robe has shoulder wings and classic Tudor hanging sleeves. For all our mimicry of the shape, the Mercenary confesses that it probably isn't historically accurate and whilst we'd love make costume for reenactment, we'd probably only just pass the six-feet-and-squinting standards.

It was among some of the Mercenary's earlier efforts, but for one reason or another it never quite made it onto the blog or onto Character Kit.

The Tudor gown is available from Character Kit for the prototype cost of £80. If you would like to commission one in similar materials it would cost in the region of £100. The Tudor gown is worn with the Blue Tudor dress in the photos.

More photos of the Tudor Gown under the cut.

Sunday, 8 August 2010

Another Swirly Coat

It was originally concieved of as a cutaway coat with large lapels (as was apparantly fashionable in late 18th Century), but the lines softened over redrawings and it became what it is now.

Unlike the other coat, the pattern on this one is intentional. The coat's lush black plush fabric is subtle but lush and rather elegant.  It is also lined in black stretch silk and is fastened with hooks and eyes with large decorative brass buttons.

These photos were taken inside the keep of the beautiful Warkworth Castle, which tragically was not ideally lit.

(Tragically, not very many photos remain of the rather memorable test shoot with the completely over the top aviator glasses the night before due to a missing memory card. But a couple are under the cut nonetheless.)

The prototype has been sold. If you would like to commission one in similar materials it would cost in the region of £90-100.

More photos of the coat under the cut.

Saturday, 7 August 2010

Steampunk: What the Mercenary Means

A lot of debate surrounds the genre of Steampunk as people try to pin down the elusive beast and I won't pretend that I'm can offer any answers to the bigger question of What is Steampunk? But since the Costume Mercenary does use the word in her product descriptions and allegedly works in the genre, I should spill some internet ink over what I mean.

Firstly, yes, I do it in part because I think it will help me sell costumes. I am Costume Mercenary; it's in the name.

The rest of the really long and thread-splitting ramble is under the cut.

Thursday, 5 August 2010

Steampunk Dress:
The Unintentional Agatha Heterodyne Cosplay

The Copper Steampunk Apron-Dress is very much the old Steampunk Dress with a colour shift. It largely came about when the Mercenary stumbled upon a number of beautiful chunky copper buckles and d-rings and thus really wanted to use them in a garment.

The gaslamp fantasy influences from Girl Genius are rather more pronounced in this set of photos, largely due to Kathed's resemblance to Agatha Heterodyne. The urge to have her shout For Science! persisted throughout the shoot.

The Steampunk Dress is not based on any specific outfit's of Agatha's (though perhaps it's something she might wear). It's genesis is rather rooted in a buckle skirt owned by Gracewing that inspired the Designer to draw the Steampunk Skirt. Some sketches later, he arrived at this. The earlier prototype bore the iconic colours of green and brown, but due to the copper buckles, we opted for a slightly different colour scheme.

The Steampunk Dress is made from dark brown faux suede and dark blue wool. It has a number of copper d-rings and buckles and is trimmed with copper-braiding (if we had this to do over, perhaps we can fit more buckles onto the back of the bodice next time). The straps are fully functional and allow for the skirt (and its lining) to be hitched up. The pockets and test tube holders are not as numerous as those on the Steampunk Coat, but can still be handy for the gentlewoman inventor. The shirt is the model's own and the test tubes are courtesy of a free cycle. The clockwork key pendant is secretly a novelty bottle opener on a chain and the goggles are, as always, the beer goggles. Also appearing in the photos are a brass tube of tiny screwdriver heads.

The photos were taken by Durham's Palace Green, specifically by Durham Cathedral and The Pemberton Rooms of Durham University (not quite Transylvania Polygnostic University). The shoot was in the middle of Kathed's extremely busy day of directing Shellshock! (Go see them at the Edinburgh Fringe!), writing a dissertation and arranging a thousand other things. I am more than slightly grateful to Kathed for taking the time out to do these photos between lunch and more rehearsals.

To commission a similar dress from the Mercenary would cost in the region of £120. This pre-made Steampunk Dress, is, however available at the discounted cost of £105 at Character Kit.

More photos of the Steampunk Dress under the cut.

Red and Black Chiton

The Red and Black Chiton was, unsurprisingly, designed with the live roleplay system Odyssey. Whilst the Costume Mercenary has been daydreaming much more ambitious costumes in the costume sketches, this particularly giant robe is quite modest in design.

The chiton is just a giant rectangle of a robe belted in. It is made of black and red linen, with many metal buttons.

The prototype has been sold. If you would like to commission one like it, it would cost £40-45. And that's the Chinese Jian again in the Proprietor's hands.

More photos of the red and black chiton under the cut.

In Other News: Blue Peter visited Peckforton Castle Treasure Trap (direct ancestor to our local DUTT) in 1983 and you can watch what happened in what is quite possibly the best YouTube video known to man.

Wednesday, 4 August 2010

Worm-eaten Hold of Ragged Stone

It was Jericho Zeal's birthday and thus there was an expedition to the incredibly beautiful ruins of Warkworth Castle. For all the blinking lights of the low battery display, the camera held out long enough for a number of photos to be taken and we were able to take advantage of the shattered walls, jagged shadows and dark corridors of Warkworth Castle.

The polygonal keep is one of the most unique great towers of England. It is a fantastic maze of nooks and crannies, large rooms and tiny corridors. The central light well provides light to the heart of the castle, as well as collecting rain water for the latrines. The keep is lauded as a "masterpiece of social and architectural planning, equalled only once in the English Middle Ages for ingenuity and intricacy."* It has been attributed to the fourteenth century master mason John Lewyn, who is also thought to behind Durham Cathedral.

Though highly eroded, the Lion Tower's frontage is still utterly striking. The lion, rather resembling more a feathered dog than a lion, does look like it was carved by someone who has never seen a great cat in their life. The coats of arms are no longer obvious, but it was once that of the Percys (on the right) and the Lucys (on the left).

In retrospect, it would perhaps be nice to have done some photos of the Elizabeth-inspired costumes that the Mercenary has something of a backlog of as the film (starring Cate Blanchett) was filmed there, but the entire trip was largely spur-of-the-moment.

In the coming days, as I go through the Warkworth photos, I should be posting photos of the black and red velveteen zone-front gown (see above), black coat (on Jericho above), pale-blue striped short coat (worn with a white chemise) and brocade redingcote.

* Title is a quote from Shakespeare's Henry IV, Part II.

* Andor Gomme, Alison Maguire, Design and Plan in the Country House: from Castle Donjons to Palladian Boxes (2008) p. 28

Tuesday, 3 August 2010

Red Velvet Steampunk Tailcoat

The Steampunk Tailcoat is made from a deep red stretch velvet and a red-on-red brocade of a lighter shade. The entire garment is lined in stretch silk. Brocade revers with decorative brass buttons adorn the slit at the back as well as the cuff and lapel.

The design of the coat is almost identical to the other tailcoat, due to both of them being the same commission going slightly wrong in different ways. This was the first, but due to a misunderstanding the wrong type of velvet was used and I have an extra coat on my hands. A second coat was made in time, but the customer consequently changed her mind and a third is now in the works.

The Steampunk Tailcoat would fit a UK size 10-12 and you can purchase this ready-made one at the discounted cost of £75. You can find it here on Character Kit.

The coat is worn with a white linen shirt with little brass four-screw buttons and two rows of ruffles. It is the same shirt that was worn under the Steampunk Apron Dress.

There's probably a lesson here about doing photos at the end of the day when the light is fading and both model and photographer are tired. That only a handful of a hundred and fifty are fit for the blog is probably a new low.

To commission a similar coat from the Mercenary would cost in the region of £85-90.

A couple more photos of the steampunk tailcoat under the cut.

Sunday, 1 August 2010

Egyptian Robe without Sash

Also known as a Kalsiris, this Egyptian Robe is made from a white lightly-woven linen. It is of very basic construction, can be worn with a sash or without. It has been described as very comfortable by the Proprietor but he also faults it for giving the wearer an odd funerary feeling of being prepared for immanent burial.

Despite the seeming photoshop effect, the strange cast to the photo on the left is caused by an inadvertent fumble on the part of the Designer (here acting as photographer) and not allowing the camera to compensate for the sudden shift in light conditions. The Designer also thought it an excellent idea to pose by the nearby River Wear, hoping to evoke the famous Nile.

The Egyptian Robe is available from Character Kit at £25.

The Proprietor is seen wielding his new Chinese Jian (£50) in the photos and the Mercenary is seen sporting a lapis lazuli necklace and beaded sandals (there is a surfeit of Odyssey-worthy sandals this fashion season). Large amounts of kohl eye liner was also applied.

More photos of the kalsiris under the cut.

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