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Behind The Garter Belt: Scarlett James

Scarlett James, the Countess of Burlesque is the founder and executive producer of The Montreal Burlesque Festival Sept.23rd to 25th Coming up you can also view her in all her splendour’s glory July 23rd for the Toronto Burlesque Festival.

What is the importance of costuming to the burlesque performance.? Do you come up with the act or the costume first?
For me, the costume is essential to the performance, it has to be well thought and has a bit of history in it, it is important that the pieces you remove are all like pieces of art and must be treated as if.
Sometime the act comes from an idea about the costume, or a piece of music, sometime from a dream. It is never the same

When did you realize that your costumes had to be custom made and not off the rack?
From the day I saw burlesque for the 1st time! and I like to be very creative so it is definitely an opportunity for me to express my creativity

What inspirations do you draw from?
I get inspired by fairy tales and fashion, silver screen sirens.

Do you get inspired from vintage burlesque photography, movies or performers?
Yes absolutely! but I don’t want to copy I just want to understand the historical bits of the costume and create something new from there.

What are your favourite costumes that you’ve made? What was the most challenging?
Hmmm, hard to say. My champagne glass number was quite something as the lace had to be sewn bits by bits and cutting an 18 ply boa just for the seam of the dress torn my heart! The most challenging was the Exotic Bird number, the tail, but it was just a lot of work to achieve the whole!

What is the funniest thing that has ever happened to you while making something?
having my big cat running away with my feathers and having to run after him in the house to get them back?

What materials do you get the most excited about working with?
Swarovski crystals, feathers, silks and all precious material really

Explain the importance of closures and fastenings on costumes for the burlesque artist?
it is simple, they have to be strong yet flexible, should never come undone by themselves yet easy to unfasten

What was your most bizarre costume?
I don’t think I have a bizarre costume… I think I made a cape once but by the look of my husband I realize it was not a good idea! You know the look, right? One eyebrow up and the other frowned?

What tips can you offer those who aren’t crafty?
Find a good seamstress and go threw a few drawings and sketches before you give the green light, and lots of fittings!

If you had an unlimited budget what would you make? The sky’s the limit!
Oh my goodness! Unlimited budget would mean that Cirque du Soleil costumiers would go hide in shame! But since I intend to get there someday, I cannot give you my precious little ideas, sorry!

There’s a recent insider controversy about how many Swarovskis one can put on a costume.
Their is NEVER enough crystals on a costume BUT! you have to be creative in the design. You cannot just put thousands of Crystal next to each other without any thoughts to it, anyone can do that, that is not impressive.

What batteries fuel an outfit? (eg. Charisma, smile, non tangible thing)
Yes Charisma, smile, but above all generosity. You are on that stage because of the public. So you have to be generous of yourself and even though on that stage at that moment and only for a couple of minutes you are the most dazzling thing they have ever seen, you also have to remain humble.

What designers do you enjoy working with?
So far I have done all of my costume myself so I didn’t have the opportunity to enjoy a designer point of view. I would like to try that sometime, It should be fun!

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