Thursday, 28 January 2010

The Adventurer's Cloak

This cloak has been known as many things and as previously lamented about the writing of product descriptions, the Costume Mercenary is not really that good at thinking up snazzy names for what she sells. (This is where I beg the good readers for their wit and patience.)

Way back when the trim was first found languishing on the shelves of the Way of Flying Dragon (a manufacturer of jacquard trim, velvet ribbon and assorted other haberdasheries - not, as the name might suggest, a secret martial arts sect), the cloak was conceived and jokingly called the "Bling" cloak, due to the excessively wide and opulent-seeming nature of the trim. The Designer and myself were assured that it makes very fine curtains, handbags and cushion borders (c.f. rule #3: All good kit is made of curtains).

(Incidentally, the above photo has had a bollard photoshopped out of it. After a period of protracted agonizing over the issue, the Mercenary finally caved and removed the offending reminder of modernity from the picture.)

The Regal Cloak (its other name) is made of a thick black wool-linen blend and is lined in a polyester brocade. As evidenced in the photos, there are two variants: one lined in dark red ("wine") and the other in a light yellow ("gold").

There was an excessive amount of debate over the lining and in the end the Designer and the Mercenary compromised with having three in the yellow and two in the red. Both are pictured here in the following rather excessive array of photos.

It has been remarked upon that in order to show continuously show off the lining of the cloak, one would have to constantly be gesticulating wildly with one's arms (preferably pointing dramatically).

Like all the other cloaks, the Noble's Cloak (it's other other name) is fitted to the shoulders and designed to not choke the wearer with its weight (a full one-and-a-half kilos - this is not a flimsy cloak). It features a swirly, ornate buckle and a tight-fitting hood.

The cloak of many silly names is available at Character Kit for £95.00, lined both in red and gold.

More photos under the cut.

Website Update

Not the belabour the point, but Character Kit has updated and the links to the garments in question on the website are finally functioning.

There isn't much more to add but that here are some links and that more interesting updates are on the horizon, once a photographer, good weather, appropriate kit and a model can be coordinated to occur at the same time:

Tuesday, 26 January 2010

Still Life with Sleeves, another Padded Jacket

The Costume Mercenary is constantly battling the limitations of her photography, and here we have a case of trying to fit a large-sized gambeson (also known as the other padded jacket) on a medium-sized man. Also, we learnt that trying to lace on sleeves in the cold with numb, shivering fingers is a poor plan.

The model looks like he stole his father's arming jacket that really doesn't fit, but it almost gives it a sort of farm-boy-with-destiny charm. Almost. Sort of. Well, if you squint a lot.

The gambeson is made from a brown fake suede and padded with cotton, lined with black linen. It has many brass-coloured eyelets for the purposes of lacing on of the sleeves (pictured separately). It's machine-washable and given that one can wear this under chainmail, this could get very dirty.

We're thinking of adding another row of lacing to the back and possibly thicker padding, though it is really very warm now. That said, only a small number of events happen during the height of summer.

Here it is being worn over another of the prototypes, the elven tunic.

More photos under the cut.

Monday, 25 January 2010

The Unconventional Adventure

As the previous post stated, Character Kit and Company (well, me, which counts as company when the boredom sets in) journeyed down to Northampton's Unconventional Market. It was, in the Proprietor's words, very representational of the "very glamorous life" I'm getting myself into. (I have the odd urge to muse upon the irony of my own title Costume Mercenary - after all, if one was truly mercenary, there are many many more lucrative ventures.)

The Market was held in the Captain's Suite of a Rugby Club. We were based right at the end of the long room, right next to the toilet and the only logical space to position the chrome clothing rails ended up... well, the picture tells the rest of the tale.

The mixture of hope, pessimism and nervousness - all of which manifests as butterflies in the stomach and sheer sleeplessness - soon waned and it was all replaced by a sort of tepid boredom.

The rest of the post (under the cut with many pictures) will be chronicling our most splendid adventures (it's even more dull than it sounds, so readers beware):

Saturday, 23 January 2010

The Journey Begins

The Costume Mercenary is making ready to embark upon an exciting journey to Northampton, to the Unconventional Market this Sunday. The Market's blurb describes itself as:
A new “one stop shop” for all alternative requirements, squarely aimed at people with a lifestyle, belief system, or any interesting pursuit which is not really catered for by the mainstream retail outlets.
Bringing together specialist traders and craftspeople who supply Pagans, Goths, Witches, Wicca, Re-enactors, Faeries, Role Players, Mind Body; Spirit Events, and those drawn to the Alternative, the Paranormal, and Supernatural.
Northampton, incidentally, is a black hole of transport links. Unless one is possessed of a car or lives in Milton Keynes (or London), it is nigh impossible to get to. I'm setting off at twelve thirty today with the proprietor of Character Kit and won't be arriving until the early morning of Sunday. I'll write more about how long bus journeys drive me to insanity it when I get back.

On the offchance that any readers of the blog are in the vicinity, do stop by and say hi.

Thursday, 21 January 2010

Prototype: Necromancers and Roses

I really didn't to want to call this the "Necromancer's Cloak", but there's really quite hard not to, given the only photos of it in existence at the moment are slightly blurry and show this rather dodgy looking man standing by some gravestones on a rather dark, misty day. It is hard not to leap to the conclusion that this man is summoning the dead for nefarious purposes of some sort.

The cloak is made of a black, thick wool-linen blend. It has some rose-shaped metal buttons down the front. It's lined with a silver paisley-patterned brocade (see earlier confession on the subject). The cloak also has two armholes, which makes it able to act as a sort of primitive robe.

It's quite a tight cloak, not nearly as voluminous as other available through the Mercenary and thus is more suitable for those with narrower shoulders (or not wearing huge shoulder armour).

This is also a cloak with pockets. There are two and whilst not huge, they are structured like hidden pockets on coats. Surely a cloak with the capacity of further concealment has to be up to something.

What do you think? What could a man dressed like this be doing in a graveyard at dusk?

A few more photos under the cut.

Within a Different Forest: The Elven Range

The Elven Coat show its incredibly manly side. For all the frolicking in banyan trees, they've only been worn by a female model (well, erm, me) and I've always felt that the argument of asking a man to buy clothes only pictured on a woman is a rather unconvincing one, as feminine and poncy as elves allegedly are.

Here follows a collection of photos showing the Elven Range in all its dubious glory.

The yellow (or gold, if we're feeling pretentious) version of the robe was meant to reflect a sort of High Elf aesthetic, who dwell in elegant stone cities instead of the wilderness (ala wood elves) and use a more white-and-gold palette when it comes to colour. Though it may have its merits (the cream-and-yellow ivy trim is really quite nice and mirrors the trim that edges the Forest Cloak) the yellow robe is rather inferior to the green. Both are constructed from fake suede, but the yellow is made from a stiffer sort, thus making the sleeves slightly more of an irritation to handle. In the green, the sleeves will fall pleasingly whereas in the yellow, the stiffness translates to a constant need to rearrange your sleeves in a photoshoot.

The elven garments are sized rather larger than normal, so those interested in buying are warned to read the measurements carefully.

These photos are taken in merry old England and as said in the behind-the-scenes post, the day was really very counterproductively overcast. The colours on the other photos are far more vivid not because the ensemble instantly becomes so when worn by someone in the possession of ovaries, but rather due to the location and timing of the photoshoot.

More photos under the cut.

Update: The Forest Cloak and the Elven Coat (in both Gold and Green) are now available from Character Kit.

Wednesday, 20 January 2010

Writing Product Descriptions...

The Mercenary has been writing product descriptions. Trying to do so with a straight face is difficult. As perhaps the ramblings on this blog has made clear, the Mercenary is painfully aware of her limitations and pretentions. Affectation and advertisement is all well and good but it frequently sits uncomfortably on the lips of the Mercenary, who is very aware she is by no means selling you a flawless product. (I am, however, selling clothing that I am happy to wear myself, that I believe to be reasonably attractive. That are, to the best of my knowledge, durable and easy to care for.)

I don't know who in the world buys things described on ebay as "stunning" or feels that this one word can rescue their item from the abyss. I don't know who in the world is fooled by terms like "faux" instead of "fake", but the designer believes that this makes a difference. I am probably too self-conscious about treading the line between sound a little bit better and sounding utterly ridiculous.

I start imagining the voice on the Marks and Spencer adverts reading out product descriptions in a syrupy, self-consciously titillating voice (with music that verges on that of porn soundtracks)....

The firebird cloak, ideal for fire mages, fire elementals, phoenix-shapeshifters, feisty pyromaniac heroines, fire-themed characters and people-who-are-on-fire.
This cloak reflects light from the red portion of the visible spectrum and absorbs all other known frequencies of light. It is amply able to prevent nudity and hypothermia in a not unattractive manner!
This cloak is made of a substance known to the ancient Chinese, but lined with one that is completely alien to them. It will probably not develop an aversion to your washing machine if you wash it at low temperatures.

The black cloak of black darkness, a veritable cloak of shadows that will encircle the wearer in a thick layer of wool known to absorb all visible frequencies of lightlight, creating a shifting void of colour! It projects and aura of darkness and is lined in a surprisingly regal shade of purple that was once reserved for only the Emperors of Rome. Whilst it would be ideal for poncy vampires and gothic heroines, it can - through the miraculous attributes of the physical world -  be also worn by cheerful halflings and angry dwarves.

Monday, 18 January 2010

A Simple Purple Cloak

The Purple Cloak (also known as the "Drow" or "Black Rose" cloak) was designed, much like the other cloaks the Costume Mercenary peddles, with the anti-choke feature: the cloak is fitted to the shoulders and therefore allowing it to not be pulled backwards my its own weight or when snared on stray brambles. It sits securly on the shoulders and will fit over armour.

This hooded cloak is made of a thick black wool-linen blend and it is lined in purple stretch silk. It is trimmed in black jacquard trim, very subtly patterned with rose. It is fastened with a gunmetal grey buckle.

The whole thing should be machine washable.
The cloak is seen here worn by an adventurer in a black frilly shirt. It's also seen worn by a lady over a dark grey Victorian-esque dress (more photos of it and the cloak here).

This cloak is available at Character Kit for £75.00 as the Black Rose Cloak.

More photos of it under the cut.

The Firebird Cloak

This red cloak, named rather pretentiously the "Firebird," is one of the many prototype cloaks. In design, it is much like the many anti-choke equipped cloaks and will sit open on the wearer.

It's made of a relatively cheap angora-wool blend and lined with black polyester brocade patterned with as though with peacock feathers. The angora-wool blend is comparatively long-haired, which makes it beautifully soft but it does mean one will have stroke it to make the grain looks neat.

The whole cloak came from the beautifully detailed "firebird" trim. The designer and I impulse bought the last thirty yards of it in the shop. Ideas for a flaming red firebird-themed dress to go with it is still the works, but beyond that whim, the Costume Mercenary has been wondering if the world would buy red and black Firebird Cloaks. The designer thinks that it would look much better on a black cloak with a red a lining instead. What do you think?

The cloak is worn over a green velvet dress. It has it's own post, here, where there are more photos of it and the cloak.

The Firebird Cloak is available at Character Kit for £120. If you would like to commission one like it, there is just about enough firebird trim for five cloaks and no more. Contact the Mercenary for a quote if you are inspired.

More photos of the cloak under the cut.

The Long Awaited Sleeves

Finally, the photos of the complete dress with sleeves.

Of course, this dress is fantasy-Tudor (or to use a much hated word "Tudorbethan") and the sleeves in no way work the way real Tudor sleeves should. On the other hand, they are utterly, ridiculously, beautifully huge.

The dress was meant to be blue from the start and finding cool shades of blue that worked with each other wasn't the difficult part of the cloth adventure. There are a finite number of shades of silk velvet (as the sleeves were meant to be of that initially) so the colours all followed from that. There are, however, a bewilderingly large selection of fakes silks (the dress is to be worn at a pseudo-medieval Banquet, where cutlery and table manners are strictly optional) so finding the correct shade was simple. It was the underskirt and the matching lace turned out to be more tricky a challenge. Much of the inspiration (Anne's Teal and the Green gowns from The Other Boleyn Girl) had on the neckline "ouches" (read: jewels) but at the time, the Mercenary had yet to locate a supplier for relatively convincing gems and the soft faux silk would probably not take kindly to the weight without boning (which makes dancing, something of a prerequisite) slightly more difficult. In the end, we settled for the matching blue-and-silver trim, a compromise that (in retrospect) the Mercenary isn't entirely sure about.

The sleeves, perhaps unsurprisingly, are the expensive part of this dress. They used, between them, five metres of fabric. Even whilst constructed out of a synthetic velvet (there is no other practical option given how they'll inevitably drag on the floor - the Mercenary was worried they'd catch the sunlight badly, but it seems to have turned out tolerably well) they bear a not insignificant price tag. The dress can certainly be worn without the sleeves (as can be seen here) With the sleeves, the dress really veers into fantasy rather than Tudor, though I hope not unflatteringly so. The mechanism of sleeve attachment (buttons) has yet to be tested rigorously, but I suspect it needs improvement.

The commissioning of a dress like this one from the Mercenary would cost around £80-90, and the sleeves costing an extra £20.

More photos under the cut.

Sunday, 17 January 2010

The Steampunk Gentleman Adventurer

These are hopefully the last photos that need to be done of the Steampunk Coat. Admittedly, we are still several test tubes short of fully loading up the coat to its full capacity and there are certainly more flattering possibilities for it. But at present, here are some photos showing on one of my unsuspecting male victims.

Here, this rather distinguished gentleman inventor-adventurer is holding a replica American derringer (made incidentally, by Denix, a Historical Replica Firearms manufacturer) and a sword cane.

There was a wonderfully manic expression on this gentleman during the course of the photoshoot, but sadly, due to the rather poor quality of the light and the shaking hands of the mercenary (from the cold) all that remains of it are some blurry images (under the cut for the curious).

The blue steampunk coat, as with the red, is made of a cotton velvet. It has dark silver buttons, eyelets, d-rings and buckles instead of brass ones and is matched to a blue-and-grey trim that bears a simple repeating geometric design. The buckles, incidentally, are slightly bigger (and less square) than those on the red and brass counterpart.

Funnily enough, we still have yet to realise the original green and brown conception of the coat. The real limitation is the trim, since it's really rather unlikely that we'll ever come to use three thousand yards, custom trim is out the question and scavenging the stock of Sham Shui Po is not always a fruitful endeavour. Finding thin, blue and silver trim took several long days. The ideal green and gold trim has yet to present itself (funnily enough, I have a  two inch sample of one that bears a paisley pattern that I was briefly very taken with).

The Blue Steampunk Coat is currently available in Small, Medium and Large at Character Kit for £180.00. It's also available in Red, here.

More photos under the cut.

Saturday, 16 January 2010

Preview: St Giles Church in the Cold

England. It is cold and rather dark. Both traits that make the whole photo-taking process rather difficult.

However, Durham does possess a number of extremely attractive buildings, including St Giles Church, which we stood in front of for today's photos. There isn't much more to say beyond that this doesn't really qualify as the most successful of the photoshoots to date. The cold did not improve camera-holding skills, which resulted in something of a tremulous hand.

As always, the photos will be sorted through and posted in the following days, but the curious may peer beneath the cut for the preview.

The Costume Mercenary's Secret Love for Paisley

It all began when the Costume Mercenary fell in love with a stretch of bronze paisley-patterned brocade. It eventually became an underskirt (pictured being worn with a Tudorbethan robe and dress). From that love affair came the bastard children of two cloaks lined in silver pailsey-patterned brocade.

The cloaks were brought back in due course to shores of England and when shown to the friends of the Mercenary, the remark, "it's like wearing my grandmother's curtains as a cloak."

It did not immediately sound, by any means, like a positive review. This was, in fact, the first time I had put a pattern to the term "paisley" (one often occurring with mild derogatory connotations in fiction). This eventually lead me onto a quest to understand the history of the pattern and, perhaps more importantly for my purposes, make sense of the connotations

Here follows (under the cut) a rambling account of what I have learnt as well as some photos of the paisley-bearing garments the Mercenary has made (it is very strange to discover that one has a secret love affair with a pattern)...

Thursday, 14 January 2010

The Elven Robes Once More

Yet another airing of the elven wardrobe. This time, bow in hand, showing the slightly more martial possibilities (compared to the last, more demure photos), I suppose. In terms of garments, there's not much new on display except for the prototype elven tunic. The tone is, admittedly, quite different and hopefully shows a little bit the versatility of the garments. The lady elf pictured is wearing the prototype elven tunic, an elven robe and in some of the shots, a Forest Cloak. Better discussion of the garments are on their individual pages, so I won't speak exhaustively about them here. I suppose the question posed is: How well does it all work together?

These photos were taken just outside Ha Wong Yi Au Village in Tai Po, where there stands this rather regal banyan tree. Loretta, wonderful as always, is behind the camera and throughout these photos is her stern reminder: Stop smiling. Elves don't smile.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, it's one of those remarks that triggers quite the opposite.

As said in the preview, the bow held is one I bought in a streetside costume stall several years ago (on Hong Kong's famous "Steps" Street - or by its proper name, Pottinger Street). Due to it not being designed to be pulled back, it's really rather heavy. Or perhaps I'm just that wussy.

What do you think? Does it all work together as an outfit? Are the colours toning? Ranger, elf or silly oriental bint in an green cloak?

More photos of it all under the cut.

The Forest Cloak is availiable at Character Kit for £75. The Elven Robes are available in two colours, gold and green, also at Character Kit for £75. The Mercenary is also happy to take on orders for variations on such themes on similar prices. Do email her with your suggestions and requests.

In other news: I'm back in cold, cold England now, with a suitcase full of kit so hopefully in the next week or so, Character Kit should be seeing an update and the kit will finally be seen resting on manly shoulders (as per original intentions and less seeming narcissism). We have a number of exciting new things to show (as well as peddle in due course) as well as a handful of prototypes (including a padded arming jacket in purple).

The Costume Mercenary will be dragging part of her wares to the Unconventional Market. Her exciting adventure of frame-construction, train-catching and luggage-hauling may well be chronicled here.

Link I envy: Far far more beautiful photography and costumes than myself.

Storm Pearls and Green Velvet

This was meant to be a zone front dress, based loosely on the Drunken Gown worn by Kiera Knightly in the film The Duchess. As evident in the photos, instead of "Tuscan red", it's made of a dark green silk velvet. The overdress had two layers of split skirt, the one underneath being of dark green stretch silk. The dress is also trimmed with black lace and the green stretch silk.

The zone front didn't quite turn out looking quite right (the angle looks wrong) and the skirts really require more arrangement in the pictures. I almost regret this due to the fact that it really doesn't stand up to close attention and certainly doesn't look as good as the silk velvet. It has been suggested that the edges of the green stretch silk be tucked under so as to mirror the trim around the neckline, what do you think?

The storm-coloured freshwater pearls (verging on a green) actually came first. I was assured that the colour is natural, but I have my doubts. It was to find a shade to match the pearls and a fabric strong enough to hold them that the dress ended up being of this silk velvet.  I've used one and a half string of the pearls and I'm thinking of adding some to the sleeves or perhaps to continue the line around the back, but that would obscure the pleating, which is really quite nice.

Wearing the red cloak with the dark green dress seems in reterospect to be a questionable idea, but at the time with the poinsettia in front of us and Christmas so recently gone by...

Like all the photos taken during this photoshoot, the gown could really do with being worn over a corset and a properly huge skirt.

The red cloak pictured was known throughout production as the "Firebird" due to the red birds on the trim. It's made of a thick angora-wool blend and lined with black polyester brocade (with a peacock feather pattern).

To commission a dress like this one (silk velvet, lace, freshwater pearls, underskirt and all) would cost in the region of £100-120. Contact the Mercenary for more details.

More photos under the cut.

Wednesday, 13 January 2010

Green and Purple Brocade Riding Gown

This riding jacket is made of a heavy cotton brocade, lined in a thick black stretch silk (which gives the jacket some weight and stiffness). It has rose-shaped buttons made of a brass-coloured alloy. In terms of design and shape, it's based very much on Katrina's Riding Gown from the film, Sleepy Hollow and from that loosely Georgian. The back of the coat-gown hasn't been pulled up in these shots, but the effect could hopefully be imagined. This arguably allows you to see the deep pleats of the back better.

The riding jacket being worn over a high-waisted linen dress (mostly because the colours are toning beautifully rather than any proximity in era - it is in theory has pretensions of being a regency gown but we should just gloss over that).

Loretta also happens to be attempting Georgian hair after a hairdresser with '80s aspirations has been at it with way too much hairspray. Considering she's standing in front of a neo-Victorian iron gate really makes this photo one of the most historical mishmashes the Mercenary has made to date (even more so that the one where she's wearing a Tudorbethan dress in front of a neoclassical  column).

A clockwork pocketwatch is worn with the outfit. Soon to be available at Character Kit.

To commission a similar coat from the Mercenary would cost something in the region of £40-50, depending on fabrics and customisation and other such. The whole outfit would together cost something in the region of £70-80. For further enquiries, email her.

More photos under the cut.

Tuesday, 12 January 2010

"Boning" or the Other Side of the Story

This is a guest blog by Loretta, concerning the recent "professionally" done photoshoot:

The whole story started out months ago, a beginning wherein your Heroine contracts a healthy infatuation with a certain pinstripey Thai silk. She was mildly feverish with it. It was fortuitous also that she didn't end up with a wine-purple dress with lilac pearl trim, fate interceded and ended the coupling before it could come to fruition. Incidentally the wine-purple silk went on to live a wonderful life as the lining of a beautiful cloak, which the Mercenary is likely to have in stock soon. The lilac pearls were destined for something better and your Heroine knew it the moment she put the two together, just like she knew that Thai silk was meant for the lilac pearls – it was at first sight. Let's jump to the wedding photos…

The marriage is a happy one, except for the lack of boning, which was in your Heroine's original design for the bodice based on the Midwife's Gown from the movie Sleepy Hollow. Note that the thin Thai silk is of a fairly floppy persuasion, though your Heroine is of the opinion that while boning would make the bodice more fitted, the cut is lovely enough that the missing boning is but a peccadillo.

As for your Heroine's experience of being photographed "professionally," she has only this photo and the following caption to add to the Mercenary's stellar observations.

H: "This hair and makeup makes us look like chorus girls…"
CM: "It's good that we look like Chorus Girls, everyone wants to bone chorus girls!"

More photographs under the cut.

Saturday, 9 January 2010

The Blue Steampunk Coat

After the brief (and perhaps rather misleading - the colour correction to get my skin looking like a dinner plate is huge) glimpse of the blue Steampunk Coat, here are finally some new photos of it in natural light where the colours have not been tampered with.

It's very much like the red one in design, expect instead of red and brass, it's a dark blue and a dark silver (which the Costume Mercenary rather pretentiously likes to call "gunmetal grey"). Just as the other one, it's made of cotton velvet and faux suede. We've managed to temporarily misplace a packet of the screw-and-cog buttons, so these are made with the new "riveted" buttons. Do you think they work on the coat?

I'm slightly apprehensive since we're deviating again from the original design, especially with the much thicker trim now. Finding blue and silver trim in which the silver isn't tackily bright and plastic is really quite a difficult feat. It was a lengthy, lengthy quest and the designer and I finally found this geometric blue and grey trim in a shop named "Lucky Weaving". (The name is based of its Cantonese name, which is a brilliant pun meaning both "Good luck" and "good colours.") They serendipity of it all was palpable, though they only had enough for two coats at the time.

Note that the d-ring in the above photo is hiding (I'm really kicking myself over not noticing that earlier). The oversized eyelets really do make doing up the buckles more of a challenge than strictly necessary, but they do look much more, well, obvious from a distance.

The clockwork pocketwatches are making it into an awful lot of these photos. Once the bits and pieces are all gathered, we're intending to do some photos where the Steampunk Coat is properly bedecked in useful implements and gagetry. But more on that when it actually happens.

It was coming up to twilight when these photos were done and flash insisted on intruding on our natural light. Some of these these photos turned out oddly atmospheric and they were kept.

So, good reader, do you prefer the red or the blue? Do the changes make for interesting variation or are they are terrible mistake?

More photos under the cut.

Update: The Steampunk Coat is available from Character Kit in both Blue and Red, now in Small, Medium and Large.

Preview: Last Day in the Sun

Given my impending departure, today was very much the last day we were going to get photos in good sunlight (I've been assured England is currently suffering from a permenant haze of rain, snow and gloom - quite the impediment to good photography).

For a variety of reasons, including Loretta needing to teach this morning, we had very little time and the decision was made to scour the area around where I live in Tai Po for good scenery. We didn't have to go far, as it turned out there's a huge and very beautiful banyan tree nearby. We also found some nice wrought iron gates. We were largely ignored by the small children with lightsabres, which is almost disappointing.

Tai Po is very much in the bowels of the New Territories in Hong Kong, which most around here would assure you is practically the countryside. The sheer number of buildings, including high-rises (not quite skyscrapers) would seem to belie this assertion, but who am I to contradict local perceptions. The temperature is said to be a whole five degrees colder than in the city, which means all and sundry need deploy their woolly jumpers, argyle vests, fur coats and padded jackets.

The take home quote of the day was Loretta's repeated reminder that "elves don't smile" - something that made the Serious Expression all the more difficult to maintain.

As the key to good photography is a lot of bad photography, I've several hundred photos to sort through before I could really post (though nothing goes through anything as complicated as colour correction or photoshopping, cropping out the cars in the background and making the composition make more sense is important - with one or two really obvious exceptions, the only process inflicted upon these photos is cropping).

However, for the curious and impatient, there are another handful of preview shots under the cut.

Friday, 8 January 2010

Why the Mercenary Shouldn't Hire Photographers

The general air of the following photos of me (yes, it is) in the Steampunk Coat is of the sort of secret agent that's played by a skinny actress with false lashes, much like Agent Sarah Walker from Chuck (who is lovely and very attractive but lacks even the mild muscle tone that would suggest she could pack a punch). I suppose I'm flattering myself by the comparison (especially since I'm really rather horrified by the way I look), but I'm what I'm trying to get at is the utter lack of any plausible threat. If these photos appeared that infamous thread, I would really not accept them as a plausible threat, even though there a distinct lack of bared flesh.

You see, in a fit of insane vanity (or vain insanity) Loretta and I decided it would be a Splendid idea to have our photos taken in a little studio I know of across the border in China. After a lot of very passionate negotiation, we handed ourselves over to the terribly professional two-man team in their studio that was only marginally bigger than a six-man tent. It was an utter Alibaba-esque cave of wonders, full of props, various silks and organzas festooning the walls (from the costumes strapped to them for storage). The was barely enough space to stand, amid the garish green plastic stools and the enormous studio lighting.

In all honesty, I really wasn't sure about posting these photos. Firstly, the phenomenal vanity of it all still staggers me and they almost amount to a secret shame. Secondly, they've not really that flattering. Thirdly, I'm really weirded out by my own vacant expression and lack of resemblance to myself.

As can be seen from the rather doll-like, almost lolita-esque appearance they've managed to force from my face through the caking on of make-up.

I had thought after being the subject of more than a handful of photoshoots over the course of the last month (well, it's not like I'm ever going to make enough to pay a model), I thought I'd be well immune to feeling self-conscious. But somehow doing it in front of stranger and in a studio made me feel rather more uncomfortable. My mind when blank and the photographer started posing me like a marionette. It was certainly amusing as experiences go.

There were rather more photos from this experience (including more of myself in other costumes as well as in this coat) with Loretta, who has promised to guest blog about her side of events sometime next week.

If you would like to see more photos from this rather experimental experience, I'm afraid you'll have to ask.

Wednesday, 6 January 2010

A Dress Salvaged

This did not start out as one of the most promising of the gowns. The lace currently visible was originally bright white in colour. It did not in any way work with the dark grey stretch wilk and equally dark grey brocade.

Many things conspired against this dress, as well as this photoshoot. For a start, these were some of the last photos we took that day and the sky was threatening to rain (it had been overcast for most of the day, leading to some splendidly bad photos). The dress was newly washed and dyed at time of photography. There wasn't time to iron it and it was still slightly damp (meaning the collar couldn't be arranged properly).

The salvaged dress was made some time ago and for that reason, it also doesn't fit as well as other gowns more recently made. Even when laced as tight as possible, it is still loose on me.

The salvaging involved redying the entire gown black (well, the intention was for the black to only partially take, thus resulting in a dark grey). I used Dylon's cold water dye and it worked surprisingly well (except that my fingers are still dyed an interesting shade of blue). Because the stretch silk and the brocade are mostly made of synthetic fibres, they did not take the dyes as well as the lace, resulting in interesting colour variation. At least in colour, the gown is now coherent.

The back of the dress was then drawn up rather hurriedly into a cloth bustle and it's slightly off centre and a bit loose. It will need to be done again at some point.

The dress should really be worn over a corset and proper ass-padding, but considering how I had started with a dress I was about write off as scrap fabric, it's not doing too badly.

The whole dress takes on a much more gothic and Victorian cast than the others. I wouldn't even pretend it's anything other than an accident of a number of unfortunate design decisions and only partially successful salvaging efforts. Though strangely enough, it now bears a passing ( and largely unintentional) resemblance to Mrs Lovett's Silver/Black dress in the film Sweeney Todd.

The purple-lined cloak worn worn with this dress will be availiable at Character Kit at the end of January.

More photos of the dress under the cut.

Tuesday, 5 January 2010

A Purple Polonaise

This gown is made of a dark purple coarse silk that's pattered with flowers. Partly inspired by this blue gown in the film The Duchess, the skirt is lined in a very dark green (a slight patriotic nod to a fictitious nation in the Maelstrom world setting, Flambard, which has the national colours of purple and green). The gown also bears a resemblance to this yellow walking gown in Marie Antoinette (I can't say as historian I am at all keen on the film itself and its portrayal of the young queen, but the costumes are beautiful). It has a front closure (with hooks and eyes) and is laced at the back (done up in a rather unbecoming bit of green string in these photos, also needing to be replaced). The gown is also lightly boned, but not sufficiently so for tightlacing.

This fast becoming one of my favourite dresses and I don't say that lightly. However, it does suffer from various imperfections. I am thinking of sewing some freshwater seed pearls (storm coloured or white) along the black lace design down the front of the skirts. I'd like to match it to a lighter coloured underskirt, as whilst the black lace is lovely, it also darkens the dress considerably.

Among the many inadequacies, peeking from under the skirts is a salmon pink underskirt for a very different dress, purloined for this photoshoot to give the skirts some volume. The dress should ideally be worn over a corset and a much more voluminous underskirt, but the constraints of our schedule and various other coincidences conspired against the Costume Mercenary, but perhaps next time, when the pearls are sewn on.

The cloak with the dark red brocade lining seen in some of following pictures (under the cut) is now available at Character Kit for £95.00. The Costume Mercenary does take commissions for dresses like this one, so please email me for a quote. A dress similar to this one in construction (boned bodice, coarse real silk, lacing at the back, lace underskirt), it would cost in the region of £130-40.

These photos were taken at the Hong Kong Jockey Club, sadly no horses were available for this particular set.

Many more photos under the cut.

Prototype: Steampunk Shirt

The Steampunk Shirt was inspired in no small part by the artwork in Girl Genius (but more on influences and inspirations another post). There are many, many frilly shirts availiable, but not many with the essential steampunk fastening: the buckle.

As with the Steampunk Coat and the Elven Robes, this shirt was designed for a man and modelled here on woman (erm, me) for no other reason than there wasn't one conveniently available at the time. It cannot be said to fit me, but I suppose I could claim that I'm going to the dropped-shoulder-baggy-shirt look that Elizabeth Swann sports whenever not in gorgeous dresses. But that would be a lie.

We decided on black linen, black fake suede and small gunmetal grey buckles. The linen of this shirt is rather too stiff and sheer for this and we're hoping that it'll soften out in the wash, so that less imagination is required for seeing how it's hang.

The effect of the ruffles is a tad strange and it's not exactly how the designer envisioned it to turn out. It was supposed to be much wider and resembling the ruffles on other frilly shirts of this sort.There were originally three buckles on the cuff, by the worry of weight and clutter had us reduce it two. It seems a little empty now and we do think three buckles would be superior.

The coat seen at the top of the post is (somewhat obviously) the Steampunk Coat, the costume mercenary's pride and joy, and is available for purchase here, more sizes and colours. at The cloak (with the golden brocade lining) will be available at Character Kit by the end of January.

So, what do you think? That it would look better on a man aside, any opinions, suggestions for improvement and witty incisive mockery?

One Photo with a Horse and Five without

This is one of the two photographs that has a horse in it from today's photoshoot. It seems appropriate to start with this one as we were by the Old Club House of the Hong Kong Jockey Club (Bees River, Hong Kong). Due to a series of not very interesting but complicated coincidences, the photos ended up being done there.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, for all the suggestions in that directions, we were unable to get any shots of me on a horse sidesaddle, skirts spread out and all. However, we did manage to nip one next to this horse. Unfortunately, no more horses will be appearing in the following photos.

The horses at the riding school are all retired racehorses (presumably the less insane ones) and have fetching names like "Colourful Era" and "Try Your Best." There was one named "Master of Shavers" which we couldn't make much sense of, but perhaps he once raced for someone who in the shaving equipment manufacture industry.

The day was overcast, to say the least and the light left a lot to be desired. The flash was the only resort a some points.

Two and a half hundred photographs were taken, which as always, need to be sorted through and will make it onto the web over the course of the next week or so.

The Big Red Bag which has served me well for the past few photoshoots decided to break (the plastic zip just gave up working). It has served faithfully, but not well.

The full preview (read: more photos) under the cut...

What would you like to see posted more of?

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