Thursday, 13 September 2012

Borrowed Costume: Yang Guifei

If she turned her head and smiled she cast a deep spell, Beauties of Six Palaces vanished into nothing.
Hair’s cloud, pale skin, shimmer of gold moving,
Flowered curtains protected on cool spring evenings.
Those nights were too short. That sun too quick in rising.

The emperor neglected the world from that moment,
Lavished his time on her in endless enjoyment.
She was his springtime mistress, and his midnight tyrant.
Though there were three thousand ladies all of great beauty,
All his gifts were devoted to one person.

Yang Yuhuan, more commonly known by her title Yang Guifei (Imperial Consort Yang), is thought to be one of the four most beautiful women in Chinese history. She was, of course, so beautiful that it was a curse. Both sides of the rebellion believed her to the root cause of the Emperor's negligence and the loyalists demanded her execution. The Emperor ordered that she be taken to a Buddhist shrine and strangled to death.*

She was first married to a prince, one of Emperor Xuanzong's many sons. There various stories about how she came into the Emperor's favour, but she did and was eventually made imperial consort through a ruse that involved her briefly becoming a Taoist nun (thereby voiding her first marriage).

Like many famous female figures of folklores, there's an uncomfortable aftertaste of sexism that comes with her story. It can be said that her story revolves around the trope Love Ruins the Realm (warning: tvtropes link) for not only is she responsible for a rebellion, it also marks the beginning of the Tang dynasty's downfall. But it isn't just Love that ruins the Realm, it's the woman. It is a theme that threads through Chinese folklore: Red Dye Ruins Water.

For it is women that causes the downfall of monarchs and nations: the Emperor, wallowing in the pleasures of the flesh, gives in to her frivolous demands (famously the lychees were relayed to the capital from Guangzhou) and allow her corrupt relatives free reign at court.

Most of stories I know present her as hopelessly tragic, fatefully cursed and politically naive. She is both the root cause of the Tang dynasty's downfall and yet without true agency its cause. It is not her ambitions or her scheming that tears apart the Imperial court, but simply her transcendent, immortal beauty. She is more analogous to Helen of Troy than a true femme fatale.

As almost synonymous with beauty, Yang Guifei is also interesting for the fact that she is often held to be plump. She is alluded to in the saying about differing standards of beauty, often contrasted with Zhao Feiyan, who was said to be very slender. (Which of course, makes this a terrible cosplay of her. But there are only so many historical women who have distinctive outfits.) The way she is talked about, the way her alleged beauty is described (and sometimes discredited) is especially interesting given the various pressures on Asian women to be skinny.

Numerous poems, books, films and so forth have been inspired directly and indirectly by her. Tale of Genji, regarded by some as the first novel written by a woman, was inspired by The Song of Everlasting Sorrow (partially quoted above). Various sumptuously costumed tv series are linked to here. There is even a musical, named Sacrifice, though I feel rather ambivalent about their understanding of the story: "Ultimately the message is simple; true love means sacrifice. [...] This great story enticed three western authors to China, intoxicated by its exoticism. What they found is the perfect vehicle for drawing west and east together; a transcendent love story that is, in fact, universal."

The costume comes in three layers, though only the scarlet outer robe is really visible. The hair is not a wig, though only a portion of it is my own. The shape of the train is what makes this costume really dramatic, with the sheer expanse of red. Tang dynasty costume was very much about a high waistline, enormous flowing sleeves and long, long skirts. At one point, the skirts actually started above the breasts.

Since we've also been on the subject of costumes for Empire LRP of late, it seems worth mentioning that the shape and flow of these robes would make for good Urizen costumes, though certainly not the colours. The red is far, far too bright for the pastel-loving spire-dwellers. The use of brocade as trim has potential, but only if it were very muted in its pattern.

The full story behind these photos was told in the preview post and the other photos from that day can be found filed under Xiaolongnu. A set of robes like these can be commissioned from the Mercenary and would likely cost between £50-150, depending on number of layers and choice of materials.

More photos under the cut.


* The version I remember as a child was that he issued her with some dozen metres of red silk - a roundabout way of telling her to hang herself.

Wednesday, 12 September 2012

Leather Pouches

Among the other leather goods we've made by Ms Wu, we have these beautifully detailed leather pouches. She's responsible for the vambraces we're very proud of.

The belt loops are attached via a snap button such that you can remove the pouch from your belt without taking your belt off (especially annoying if your belt is also holding your trousers up). The pouches are also spacious and and are held shut with a bright silver buckle.

The green bird pouch has already been seen in the photos for Wintermark (given their love for avian-based iconography.)

The pouches are available at Character Kit for £40.

Tuesday, 11 September 2012

Empire: Facing the Monsters of Varushka

I had thought at first that we hadn't any costumes that would work with Varushka, but after some rummaging, it turns out that the elven embroidered coat works a lot better for Varushka than it does Urizen or even Navarr. The silver embroidery on dark forest green of the wool works remarkably well given the Varushkan love for complex embroidery and stark contrasts. The addition of the white fur mantle and red sash decidedly makes it Varushkan.

The stripy hero trousers belong to the Slander Rat and the cream tunic to the Designer. The firebird cloak seems now almost made for Varushka with its strong reds, ornate trim, stark contrast and a fairytale allusion.

As always, the various cloth components can be commissioned from the Mercenary. The round boar shield (£110), the sword (£50) and the embroidered coat (£110) are all available from Character Kit.

More photos of the Varushkan costumes under the cut.

Empire: A Mercenary from the Free Companies

There are, in fact, so many League photos that I managed to overlook this set with the Lord of the Macaroons dressed as a mercenary from the Free Companies.

There isn't much more to add about the mercenary other than he probably should be thankful he's not involved in the complex soap opera of the other League photos. Though he does rather resemble a Warhammer figurine.

The Swiss Halberd is from Character Kit and is currently on sale at £75. The shirt with the slashed sleeves is the model's own, but one like it can be commissioned from the Mercenary. The breastplate is borrowed from Durham University Treasure Trap's Armoury. It may or may not have originally been from Mytholon. The hat also belongs to Treasure Trap.

More photos of the Free Company Member under the cut.

Prototype: Purple Embroidered Tailcoat

It has been some time since I've given news about the Embroidered Tailcoats. Prototypes of them exist in a variety of colours and should hopefully be on the website (both here and Character Kit) in the coming week costing £100-110 each.

This one is in a purple wool with silver embroidery and a silver lining.

More photos of the Purple Embroidered Tailcoat under the cut.

Empire: Three Tears Entwined

Of the multitude of costumes we've pulled together this weekend, the Kallavesi Mystic (as worn by Lord of the Macaroons) is probably my favourite. The mask is far more stylized than the ones on the wiki, but do think it works very well. With the crest of feathers, we sort of imagined that he's some sort of feathered fox, probably a trickster of sorts. 

The feathered fox mask was made from moulded leather by the Designer for a Loki-esque character he played at Ragnarok. The mantle of many furs and the goatskin skirt are both made by the Designer. Both garments have also appeared in the Navarr costumes.

Given the rather diverse inspirations Wintermark draws upon (I believe the mood board was rather flippantly described as House Stark With Eskimos at one point), its rather nice to see that there is still a sense of continuity and cohesion when you stand the three together. In these photos at least, the consistent palette of reds, browns and blacks really helped.

The sword held aloft by the Ginger Ninja is, if I recall correctly, from Saxon Violence and the helmet from Planet Trading. The jewellery and assorted belt hangings of bone and bead are made by myself. 

The various tunics, cloaks and robes can, of course, be commissioned from the Mercenary. The highly detailed vambraces (£40), the pouch (£40), small wooden shield (£50), the feathered mantle (£60), cloak with hidden pocket (£60) and the fey dagger (£15) are all available from Character Kit

More photos of the Three Entwined Tears of Wintermark under the cut.

Empire: The Dreaming Spires of Urizen

Like many of Empire's cultures, there is a strong focus on the use of many diaphanous layers in Urizen's look and feel. If I were designing an Urizen outfit from scratch, there may well be less of an emphasis on heavy velvets and wools, which were chosen to be warm rather than ethereal. The colours are also overall a little dark and jewel-toned for Urizen, again from the fact that we're pulling this together from preexisting garments. In the absence of a brief, most people seem to veer from pastels and favour richer shades.

Given how this was the most extensive of the Empire photosets, it does appear that the Mercenary has developed an accidental specialization in Urizen costumes. We do seem to tinker and there have been many, many variants on "elven" robes in slightly different shades, cuts and weights of fabric. I do think we've come a long way from the first generation of elven robes.

The Slander Rat is in the cream renaissance gown that appeared in the League photos. The extensive train has been pinned up in these shots and form more draping folds from her waist (though it is mostly hidden by the pooling velvet robe). She also wearing the Egyptian cultural armour she and the Ginger Ninja made for Odyssey (though I believe that set is actually made for the Ninja). She is holding a Lorien Shield and a fey sword, both from Character Kit.

Attempting to arrange everyone into group shots for Urizen was difficult, if amusing. Given their cultural need for personal space, we all felt that it would be deeply inappropriate for us to huddle too close even for the purposes of these photos.

Thus were born many jokes of how flirting between Urizen couples need happen via the medium of semaphore (the Proprietor and the Slander Rat star as a pair of star crossed lovers on the opposite sides of a flying buttress who cannot bear to approach each other any further) and the inconveniences of secret wizardly cabal meetings (thus being unable to whisper properly at each other). The Proprietor also quipped that all Urizen, no matter their actual skillset, look like wizards.

These photos were around the back of St Giles Church, where once two prince bishops (one true, one false) fought for the control of County Durham. Or so I'm told. There are a lot of long, low shots with the walls and church windows, hopefully with the careful cropping give a vague sense of the spires and towers of Urizen.

The long sleeveless robes that are being worn as the outermost layer in most of these outfits do not appear to be particularly compatible with larp fields, though they are quite that long in part so that they still look good (by having sufficient drape) when you pull the train over your arm to carry it when walking. It can, of course, be commissioned shorter.

We did run out of pale under robes and the Battle Librarian is wearing a pale blue peplos under the various blue robes he has on. The Proprietor is wearing as his base layer a cream robe that could legendarily fit three people (it was once a bedsheet).

Of the props, the naginata is from Eldritch. The black leather crown is from Nordavolk. The necklace worn by the Pillywiggen, I believe, was made by Sara Emmims.

The white and gold shield (also having appeared in the Highguard shots), the pike and the fey swords can be purchased at Character Kit. The velvet robes (midnight purple, grey and beige brown), the cloak with a hidden pocket and the various sets of faux silk elven robes (greens and blues) are also on the website. The Proprietor is in a gold elven coat, which is also available in green. The various robes can be commissioned from the Mercenary in different combinations and fabrics.

More photos of the Dreaming Spires of Urizen under the cut.

Monday, 10 September 2012

Empire: The Many Paths of Navarr's Great Dance

Navarr was odd for us in that instead of doing all them as a set, we did the three sets of costumes separately and thus had no group shot. It seems that these Navarr are loners and walk their own separate but intertwined paths (after all, they do seem to be tracking each other).

This is the only set of photos that we've done with any form of Lineage makeup. We had originally intended to do one with each nation, but it was soon obvious that this would be impractical given how we had intended to do all the nations in one weekend.

The Slander Rat was originally done up as a Draughir, but due to the Designer wanting to do some gill makeup (closeups under the cut), she was swapped over to a Merrow. The pale grey (or more accurately, a lightly applied black and white) colouring the Draughir was tinted green around the eyes and mouth. The colouring around the mouth in particular gives her a more fishy, inhuman look. The fluttering gills are done with tissue paper and latex over a patch of skin coloured black and red. The Designer describes it as a sort of latex papier-mâché. The black and red snazz provides contrast with the gills as the move.

There are quite a few photographs of myself festooned in half of my troll kit, which last appeared on that Carthaginian Philosopher. The jewellery was made by myself (though that feather is borrowed off a straw tricorn).

None of the bows in the house proved to be plastic-free enough to be photographed and in the end, there was only the beautiful quiver and some arrows. There's probably a story there.

The Navarr costume guide recommends long, close fitting boots and the only pair of those I own has a faulty zip on the right boot. Thus was necessitated the belt to hold it shut and the Navarr penchant for belts and straps is thus further fulfilled.

The armour worn by the Ginger Ninja is that set that was made for a Dragon Age cosplay some time ago. It was made by Julie Knox and is still for sale. It would fit a medium-sized man. The leather shoulderpiece is part of a matching set and was made by the Slander Rat (among her first efforts) and the goatskin skirt, inspired by Morrigan's in Dragon Age, was made by the Designer. The mantle of many furs (including rabbit, goat and sheep) is also by the Designer. The green man quiver is by Miss Wu. The dubiously functional armour I'm wearing was inspired by that from the film King Arthur.

The warpaint swirlies are drawn by The Slander Rat (of Slander Rat Crafts). She appears here as a Merrow with green fishy.

The black hooded coat (£75), fey daggers (£15), fey swords, tooled vambraces (£40) and the intricately tooled quiver (£140) can be bought from Character Kit. The Forest Cloak (£75) also makes an appearance. The spear is utterly ancient and has been tipped and repaired so many times that it's really only good for being in photos for this blog.

More photos of the Navarr under the cut.

Empire: The Whetting of the Marchers

During the photoshoot, the Pillywiggen's angry demeanor came to known as the "Angry Baker." An elaborate backstory revolving around the defense of her bakery came to be concocted. From her expression, you can tell this is Serious Business.

The Marchers were mostly dressed with laced gambesons over basic laced shirts in various combinations. The Shoddy Knight is only a gambeson with only one inside out sleeve laced on (thus contrasting with the main body of the gambeson). The grey gambeson is also worn with one sleeve. The Valkyrie, breaking this trend of asymmetry, is in a dark blue gambeson with both its sleeves.

The Proprietor and the Pillywiggen are both actually dressed in Tudor reenactment kit. The heat and the wool did not mix very well.

The laced gambesons are available from Character Kit for £60 each. The shield and polearms (pike and halberd) also available on Character Kit, the latter at the discounted cost of £75. The scythe is from Wandering Soldier.

More photos of the Marcher Rabble under the cut.

Empire: From the Streets of Holberg

The League was an immensely fun, if chaotic shoot. The direct sunlight was deeply unforgiving on our whites and creams, especially given the better camera being out of battery during this segment of Saturday. On the other hand, we had pulled together sufficient costumes that we really felt we had on our hands a lively cast of characters to pose. When reviewing the photos, a convoluted narrative of intrigue, passtion and jealousy seemed to unfold from the sequence of images, following the misadventures surrounding this odd little red leather book. It is probably best we don't dwell on it here, but suffice to say it was a deeply evocative experience.

The bravos are both in doublets and are lightly armoured on one side (for the fighting of duels! With flourish!). They are actually sharing the same set of plate which I believe is from Mytholon. The rose rapier is a custom job from Eldritch and other is a Medlock. The mask is from Durham's Georgian Window, though I don't know if they ever intended it to be worn.

Pillywiggin is wearing the same velvet gown that appeared briefly in Mirroring the Pre-Raphaelites (and did not get its own post for some reason). Other costumes on that blog that would work in League include: Early Venetian Gown (though these specific colours are a touch dark and gloomy); Winged Doublet; Tudor Loose Robe.

The various dresses pictured would cost in the region of £90-150 to commission, depending on design and materials. Both the doublets pictures can be purchased at Character Kit and fit a men's Large. Do email in for a more detailed quote.

More photos of the Streets of Holberg under the cut.

The Mercenary on Silver Goggles and Other Rambles

For those who like reading me talk about steampunk, costumes, character, the design process and larp, I've been interviewed by the very interesting and thoughtful Jha at Silver Goggles. I've probably written far too many words, but the internet seems to encourage that sort of thing given the lack of word limits.

Other times I've written about these things include:
Water Palace and Other Places: Oriental Steampunk Inspiration which is an illustrated ramble on varous ricepunk ideas.
Steampunk: What the Mercenary Means which is a lengthy, lengthy discussion of the different layers of the word steampunk when I use it with regard to costumes and talk probably too much about the design process.

I talk more about ricepunk in Asian-influenced Steampunk and other pictures of that day can be found under the tag ricepunk.

Empire: The Shield Wall of Highguard

Given how we were pulling together these costumes from what we had about (both in terms of stock and personal kit), it was a little tricky to find the identical shields and tabards needed for the proper Highguard look. We managed to borrow one of Durham University Treasure Trap's tabards made by our patron goddess, the legendary Anne.

The base layers and much of the armour worn by the Shoddy Knight is the same as that in the Dawn photos. It is the colours of the tabard and the choice of shield and helmet (Norman, incidentally, from Planet Trading - they were bought for Ragnarok) that makes the difference here, with Dawn favouring bright primary colours and Highguard with their dark blacks and whites.

The shield is the Lorien Shield from Character Kit and the sword is again the Excalibur.

A couple more photos of the lone solider of Highguard under the cut.

Empire: The Rich Colours of the Brass Coast

As perhaps wasn't implied by the teaser post, some nations got a lot more love than others. For the earlier ones we ventured forth to the nearby church and the woods, others we did in the garden due to dwindling daylight. For some nations, like Urizen with its elven and oriental influences, we managed to pull together a multitude of outfits from past and current stock. Other nations presented more of a challenge simply due to having as much of the kit to hand.

Brass Coast was one such nation. We did these late in the afternoon of Sunday in the garden and as such there just isn't much.

It's the Slander Rat (the eponymous proprietor of Slander Rat Crafts and fuzzy things creator extraordinaire) underneath all those robes. As the Proprietor quipped as he left us, she was wearing enough clothing for about four characters.

The challenge for us in these was to get the palette right, to have both the rich, warm colours but to not clash. We had thought to reuse far more from the Carthaginian Philosopher ensemble, but the colours simply weren't working out for us as Carthage uses far cooler colours with a focus on blue. We were careful to avoid the various pitfalls listed under Look and Feel and the Designer was delighted to note that Freeborn favoured the sort of headcovering (the Tagelmust) he knew how to knot, having learnt it for Odyssey.

Of the layers, the outermost robe is an elven coat (gold faux suede, half lined, ivy trim, £75). It is not the most Freeborn of garments, but works very well here as one among many layers, especially with its sleeves. The white voile base layer is the same as that worn by the Carthaginian Philosopher, one like it would cost in the region of £25-35. The dark red skirt and orange paisley robe are both the model's own. The dark red embroidered sash has been seen before with the Embroidered Elven Robes.

The lamp belongs to the Slander Rat and I believe is from a charity shop. The scarves are from a street market in Hong Kong. The dangling waist ornament was once a necklace and was from ebay.

More photos of the Freeborn under the cut.

Miranda and Layout Update

Been playing about with photoshop and I've desecrated Waterhouse's Miranda by smooshing it with a photo we took of the Pillywiggen in the kirtle.

In other news, the blog has had a redesign and apologies for any wibbliness this may cause to your browsing experience. Also, many of the older posts are probably not happy with being viewed at this width. I know about it and it should be fixed... eventually.

Empire: For the Glory of Dawn

These photos were taken at the St Giles' Medieval Fair. They were celebrating their nine hundred year anniversary. The backdrop of historically accurate tents and tat was borrowed from the awesome Dunholm Living History, who had pitched up (we've also caught them in the back of some of these shots; simply imagine them to be yeomen).

We wondered why a knighting would be happening in front of these tents, but our theory is that it's an emergency dubbing. Perhaps due to some glorious deed recently performed by The Shoddy Knight. It doesn't quite have the dignity of Leighton's The Accolade

The linen underdress worn by the Valkyrie with the angel blue brocade gown was hand-dyed (in my kitchen out of tupperware) some years ago to be worn (along with the incredibly ornate cloak) as part of a costume for a character based on the Lady of the Lake. There are some lovely concept sketches for that outfit in its more Lady of the Lake incarnation which I will scan when they are unearthed.

The particoloured surcoat worn by The Shoddy Knight was also made for the same event (Durham University Treasure Trap's Midsummer). It was designed for the leader of the Knights of the Swan after the swan on the original tabard was declared too ducklike.

The shield is sold as the Footman's Shield on Character Kit and the sword is named the Excalibur (two lenghts, 31" and 38"). The tooled sword frog is the work of our inimitable leatherworker. The chainmail is borrowed and knitted by a friend of ours over thousands upon thousands of hours of daytime television during his first year at university. It is somewhat legendary as he had apparently slept in it (not comfortably).

The two dresses have appeared on the blog before with their own writeups. The red velvet one can be found under Deep Red Elven Gown and the blue brocade one (worn with a different underdress) can be found under Angel Blue Gown.

Other gowns on the blog that could pass for Dawn include: The Ten-Gore Cotehardie (concept sketches of which is here), Winged Doublet (though leaning to League) and Kirtle (though not linen for Dawn since the rumpled look is more Marches).

To commission blue ensemble in similar materials from the Mercenary would cost in the region of £160. A red velvet dress would cost in the region of £150 in stretch velvet and £180 in silk velvet. A surcoat would cost £40 plain and £60 for an embroidered version, though it can vary wildly depending on the complexity of the design. The tooled sword frog as ornate as the one worn by The Shoddy Knight would cost in the region of £30-40.

More photos of Dawn's Glory under the cut.

The Masked Duelist: Red Shot Silk Dress

part of a series of Maelstrom-related Portraits 
done by Chris Brett

Membership of one's club is part and parcel of nobility, and one's choice of club (and a club's choice in one) is as much a testament to social standing as any other could be. Noted clubs such as Langars and Bites are old, even ancient, and their dark oak-panelled walls have seen many matters of great import discussed and fortunes made or destroyed in a single night.

I cannot quite believe how long this has languished in the Drafts folder of this blog. But here it is now, just in time for the last event of Maelstrom in less than a week.

The playing card is, of course, a reference to the prestigious Prince Edmond Dueling Club in the New World. Each member is given upon joining a playing card, signifying their status within the club and they move up the hierarchy by dueling members with the next card above theirs. The hierarchy determines things such as priority with regard to training opportunities.

Myself as the character, Odette, has probably fought far more duels masked (sometimes claiming very, very unconvincingly to be her own brother) than otherwise, so the red leather mask seemed only appropriate.

The red gown is made from a shot silk (also known as changeable taffeta) with white-and-gold embroidered panels. The difference in colour between the warp and the weft isn't particularly dramatic, being only different shades of red, but I do believe it gives a lovely depth of colour that a plain taffetta wouldn't. Unlike many of the other layered dresses on this blog, the underskirt is built as part of the dress, which makes for a cleaner line and less bulk at the waist (as well as faster costume changes) but does rather decrease potential versatility.

The dress also has two pockets hidden in the flair of the sleeves, near the elbow. Handy for fans, masks, playing cards and assorted other indispensable accouterments.

A similar gown would cost in the region of £130-40.

More photos of the Red Taffetta Dress under the cut.

Sunday, 9 September 2012

An Imperial Weekend: Costumes for PD's Empire

We spent this weekend pulling together various outfits for Profound Decisions' much anticipated live roleplay game, Empire. Since its wiki with the bulk of the nation briefs and costume guides (except for orcs) became available, we've been perusing it at all hours and such dressing up seemed the inevitable result.

There was a lot of running around and being looked at strangely by passerbys. During the course of the weekend, we also managed to borrow tents from reenactors, draw squiggles on ourselves, eat copious quantities of Chinese takeout, watch Doctor Who and even attend a medieval-themed church fair in (inaccurate) costume.

More photos and silly anecdotes to follow. See Costumes for Empire Index.
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