May 11, 2018

Period Corsets is immersed in the Elizabethan Era with "Shakespeare in Love"

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Period Corsets traveled back in time to the days of Shakespeare and Queen Elizabeth I, to help costume Seattle Shakespeare Company's  production of Shakespeare in Love.
Shakespeare in Love  playing now through June 3rd
 photo compliments of Seattle Shakespeare Co., Photographer: John Ullman 


We had the honor of collaborating with one of our favorite local designers, Ms. Doris Black.  She asked us to construct the complete costumes, both the undergarments and the outerwear for her two leading ladies. Queen Elizabeth I and Lady Viola are wearing head-to-toe and from the inside out  costumes and undergarments made by Period Corsets.

Suzanne Buchard as Queen Elizabeth
  photo compliments of Seattle Shakespeare Co., Photographer: John Ullman 


The Academy Award winning film Shakespeare in Love, screenplay by Marc Norman and Tom Stoppard  was adapted for stage by Lee Hall. It is a comical and fictitious tale of William Shakespeare, set during a time of a challenging bout of writer's block.  Will is out of ideas for his current play until he finds himself in a romantic tangle with the witty and lovely  Lady Viola.  Lady Viola, an aristocrat with a desperate love of poetry, falls in love with Shakespeare's words and yearns to be on the stage.  She disguises herself as a boy in order to audition.  Queen Elizabeth I-- who needs no introduction-- is a major character in the play. These are the two strong-willed complex female characters we made costumes for.  Using Ms Blacks designs Period Corsets created both
Lady Viola and Queen Elizabeth's multi-piece ensembles with the proper historic period silhouettes and  aspects to reflect the character's natures.

Planning and gathering materials before construction begins
"The tide waits for no man, but I swear it would wait for you"- Lord Wessex to Lady Viola

Just like the tide, theater productions have specific timelines and deadlines.  Building Elizabethan-era costumes is a time consuming endeavor.  Queen Elizabeth I in full regalia can take 200+ hours to construct her multi-piece ensemble.  We were limited to a two week build period, which at the end of which all of the many pieces of each costume had to be ready to wear on stage for the dress rehearsal.  We found ourselves in the same position many of our clientele find themselves in, with a CORSET EMERGENCY!   Luckily for us, we were able get a jump on our building the outerwear by pulling the proper silhouette required for Lady Viola's outerwear from our own stock of undergarments.
 For Queen Elizabeth, we finalized a prototype drum farthingale, a project which had been put on the back burner for many years. (How often does one need one of these unique skirt supports? Not too often it seems... until now).  Lastly, regarding the stays for Queen Elizabeth.  We needed something suitable for a queen,  her stays were based loosely on the "effigy stays". We needed to finish our research, pattern,  mock-up and fit the garments.  While we  finalized the  shaping and historic details of our new Elizabeth c. 1600 stays, (as pictured below) our c. 1560 Anna stays worked as understudy, holding the drum farthingale in place.

Some draping and planning before final construction

Design Sketches and fabric selections by costume designer Doris Black


In a workroom busy fulfilling clients orders, it's often difficult to carve out time for research and development of new patterns. For some time now, we've been mulling over what would be the perfect shape for the Elizabethan-era stays to add to our retail line. We were delighted to have Shakespeare in Love provide the excuse to execute our new ideas and work on and complete two new Period Corsets products-- Elizabethan stays and a drum farthingale.

Farthingale mock-up and stays with corset sketch
(sketch by Doris Black)

To achieve this most extreme and unique shaped skirt support, Period Corsets constructed a Drum Farthingale, also known as a Wheel or French Farthingale. This steel boned circular structure ties onto the waist with an adjustable tie and is held in place with the use of an over-sized,  firmly padded bum roll. The angle of the drum farthingale is high in the back and dipped in the front. When worn with the proper stays and an over-skirt, it creates the impressive silhouette required by royalty  such as Queen Elizabeth I herself.


Brand new pieces coming soon to the Period Corsets catalog-
 Elizabethan Stays and Drum Farthingale

Queen Elizabeth I's undergarments and gown consisted of many layers- stays, farthingale with bum roll, a petticoat, an overskirt with hand stitched gold trim, a boned bodice with sleeves and matching trim and lastly, of course, her impressive collar.

Hand-stitching yards of trim to Elizabeth's boned bodice and skirt

L to R: Design sketch by Doris Black; painting of Queen Elizabeth

The final look- Suzanne Buchard as Queen Elizabeth I
photo compliments of Seattle Shakespeare Co., Photographer: John Ullman 


For our second leading lady, the character of Lady Viola required an ensemble that would not pale in comparison alongside the impressive Queen Elizabeth.  For Lady Viola we had the task of constructing the outerwear and the garments worn beneath. Normally Period Corsets garments are hidden underneath the layers of costumes that actors wear. To have the opportunity to construct the outerwear and to have our pieces seen on stage was very exciting for us.

Chiara Motley plays Viola in Shakespeare in Love
 photo compliments of Seattle Shakespeare Co., Photographer: John Ullman 



Chiara Motley as Lady Viola
 photo compliments of Seattle Shakespeare Co., Photographer: John Ullman 



Viola's boned bodice in progress

In keeping with her character,  Lady Viola's look was a softer, slightly less historically correct costume. Her gown was a romantic take on an Elizabethan look, consisting of a boned bodice and skirt made in teal blue brocade and embroidered silver fabrics. Her puffed sleeves were masterfully hand-stitched into shape and tied on to the bodice in three spots along the armscye. Worn underneath her gown, were more layers of Period Corsets undergarments consisting of a tabbed pair of stays, a 17th c. bum roll, 17th c. petticoat, our cone farthingale and a golden-hued petticoat.

The final costume as worn by Chiara Motley, made by Period Corsets
 photo compliments of Seattle Shakespeare Co., Photographer: John Ullman 


The hidden layer- our 17th c. Bum Roll, Cone Farthingale,
17th c. Petticoat, and tabbed stays 

A workroom of many layers
Lady Viola design sketch by Doris Black, Lady Viola in progress


Lady Viola's bodice with tie-on puffed sleeves, in progress


Ms. Motley:on stage as Lady Viola 
Ms Motley told me after opening: "My corset makes me feel empowered!"
 photo compliments of Seattle Shakespeare Co., Photographer: John Ullman 


The collaboration of Period Corsets and Seattle Shakespeare Company was a perfect pairing. Very few Shakespearean plays these days are done in actual Shakespearean clothing, due to its costly materials and time-consuming construction.  Luckily this show was an exception. Being about Shakespeare himself and set in his own time, Shakespeare in Love demands Shakespearean costume. Making the costumes was a  journey not to be missed.  It was an opportunity to work on a show that is set in the era that we costumers love as dearly as we love Shakespeare's plays themselves.

 photo compliments of Seattle Shakespeare Co., Photographer: John Ullman 



You can catch Seattle Shakespeare Company's adaptation of Shakespeare in Love on stage at the Cornish Playhouse in Seattle, WA. Playing now through June 3rd, 2018.


There is even "a bit with dog"
 photo compliments of Seattle Shakespeare Co., Photographer: John Ullman 







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