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Behind The Garter Belt: Immodesty Blaize

I’m not alone when I say I’ve been dazzled by the sublime opulence that are the costumes of international showgirl, Immodesty Blaize. Throwing out my usual questions for Behind The Garter Belt, I was honoured to be privy to Immodesty’s sketches for some of her signature show’s costumes and you, too dear readers, will get a peak from the drawing board of one of the most talented Ladies of Tease.

1. What is the importance of costuming to the burlesque performance.? Do you come up with the act or the costume first?

The costuming is so crucial to the act and theme, I think of them as a whole.

2. When did you realize that your costumes had to be custom made and not off the rack?
I would have made my own costume at first if it weren’t for the fact I’m so terrible with a needle and thread – I tried to master the sewing machine but we fought the whole time. That was why I had to find costumiers to work with so they could follow my designs!

3.What inspirations do you draw from?
Any kind of sculptural forms, paintings, high fashion, nature, architecture, fabrics, or whatever cultural reference point that inspired the act – anything, really. Having a general knowledge of historical and theatrical costuming is also useful to know what’s possible in terms of engineering.

4. Do you get inspired from vintage burlesque photography, movies or performers?

No, much like I can’t read other books while I am writing my own, I don’t look at other burlesque performers or see other acts to research my pieces. I have no interest in being like another performer or taking or ‘borrowing’ anything from other performers. I stick to my own style which develops as my artistic interests and passions change, and my own range of primary source cultural reference points that are personal to me.

5.What are your favourite costumes that you’ve made? What was the most challenging?
I don’t really have a favourite, I only think about what’s next, not what I‘ve already done. The most challenging by far has been the costume I’ve just created, but I’m not spoiling the surprise before it debuts on stage so I can’t say too much about it other than I’ve been working on it for around 3 years and ripped up 2 of my designs along the way until it worked properly for the act! The red horse costume was pretty hardcore to produce, by the time you counted all the craftsmen working on it- pattern cutters, feather suppliers, jewelers, solderers, welders etc, it came to a team of around 35. I had 5 fittings for the headdress alone, and milliner Stephen Jones had to make 3 trips to his Parisian artisan just to get the angles of the inbuilt wireframe right to take the weight of a combined 20 foot drag of 32 ply ostrich feather. It’s also still the most challenging costume to move in!

6. What is the funniest thing that has ever happened to you while making something?
I don’t sew the costumes! My stitching abilities wouldn’t be fit for a dog blanket. I can just about manage to sew myself into my dance tights if I have time before a show.

7. What materials do you get the most excited about working with?
I get most excited by the initial design phase as there’s a huge blank canvas waiting to be filled and anything’s possible. I come up with my script after listening to my music over and over, then figure out how I need the costume to work and come apart in order to create the vision in my head, and for the parts to work with the physical movements I want to do. Then I do pages and pages of drawings and keep referring back to the music and my script until they all meet.

8. Explain the importance of closures and fastenings on costumes for the burlesque artist?
Well they can make or break your act! It’s amazing how much faith we must place in these little catches, snaps and hooks. Everyone has personal preferences but whatever you decide on, fastenings have to be planned carefully and you have to work with them a lot before you debut the act so you’re comfortable making it look effortless. And I think all Velcro should be banned, it’s a dirty word.

9. What was your most bizarre costume? Discuss.
I suppose it’s about context. I don’t consider any of them to be bizarre as such, as my style tends to focus on classic glamour… although maybe wearing a giant powder puff on my head and one in each hand for the year I won Reigning Queen? Not sure it’s bizarre, but if I rocked up at Walmart like that you’d look twice. Or maybe my old Victorian pony girl ensemble as it was the most fetishistic I’ve ever gone, with the harness and tail – if that even counts as bizarre….

10.What tips can you offer those who aren’t crafty?
Exactly the same as me, find good seamstresses or costumiers who can help you to bring your vision to life. Although I do frequently rhinestone my own pieces as I find it therapeutic and meditative.

11. If you had an unlimited budget what would you make? The sky’s the limit!
I would dearly love to pay homage to Liberace’s last act which he would have performed had he lived on. He was having a cape made so vast that it was to be on wires, so once he was on stage it would be lifted at the corners and turn into the stage curtains. So his costume was basically the stage set! To create my interpretation of that would be my respectful homage to one of my dear showbiz muses.

12.There’s a recent insider controversy about how many Swarovskis one can put on a costume. Discuss.
I don’t think a Swarovski makes a performance. They are wonderful and yes I have pieces that are top to toe rhinestone, but that doesn’t make the act. Not every single theme/style/historical reference in the world suits encrusting with rhinestones…. I guess not every recipe needs seasoning! There are some really rich and wonderful fabrics, textures and effects that are equally exquisite on stage too. So for me, density of Swarovski is a side issue.

13.What batteries fuel an outfit? (eg. Charisma, smile, non-tangible thing)
In my opinion, you should wear the costume, it shouldn’t wear you. So I believe it’s best for your costume to simply add fuel to your personality, not the other way round. Plus it needs to work for you and not behave badly! So you must be a good Master, tame it, and have complete control over it!

14. What designers do you enjoy working with?
Anyone who can make my vision and drawings into reality.

Stuff your stocking with Immodesty’s latest book, Ambition.

–Tanya Cheex, Rhinestones & Whiskey, 12.06.10
All images property of Immodesty Blaize and may not be used without permission.

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