It has been three years since I presented my final collection as a graduating student of the Richard Robinson Fashion Academy here in Ottawa. I am, finally, taking the time and was inspired today to post some photos of and writings on the collection and my experiences in its conception and creation.
My collection was titled “Fleur Sauvage” (Wildflower) and was inspired by Marie Antoinette. I chose the title of Fleur Sauvage because Marie Antoinette was a bit of a wildflower herself. Also because she had a private chateaux and grounds that she named Petit Trianon where she grew wild flowers, gardened and farmed a bit to her heart’s content. This was a place where she felt calm and removed from all the day to day ceremony and stresses of her queenly life. It seemed to be a place that was a true reflection of who she really was.
The first fabric I chose would be the stepping off point that solidified and set the tone of the title and theme of the collection. I had the great luck of finding it buried in a clearance room of a local fabric shop. It was very inexpensive, double wide, had a perfect hand to it and reminded me of a field of wildflowers. Its floral pattern was in exactly the colour palette I was going for – buttercup yellow, light aqua blue, white, taupe and cream. All of the other fabric choices, trims and other embellishments grew from that fabric find. It was used to create a long skirt that looked like the wearer was walking in a waist high flower field. This skirt was paired with a light aqua corset/bustier that laced closed in the back and had a beaded applique of Marie Antoinette on the center front. The skirt was embellished with organza and ribbon flowers, Swarovski crystals and a lace trimmed hemline.
The floral print fabric was also used to create a jacket with a low cut square neckline and tulle underlined peplum. The peplum of the jacket was inspired by the large skirts and panniers under the skirts that the women of that time wore. The jacket was also embellished with organza and ribbon flowers, Swarovski crystals, pearls and a delicate lace trim around the neckline and short sleeved hemlines. A simple straight skirt in a buttercup yellow silk was the matching piece to the jacket. I chose the yellow to draw out that colour in the fabric and to add a further pop of colour to a collection that would have otherwise been mostly about light aqua, cream, taupe and white. This yellow was also picked up in the velvet ribbon used to lace closed the corset in the collection, in some of the embellishment flowers and some of the crystals.
One of my most dramatic pieces was what I called an opera coat. It was created from another blessed discovery from the same fabric shop – an amazing, rich and luxurious looking tone on tone cream and taupe brocade. The fabric was again double wide and at only $3/meter was a steal! I designed the coat’s hemline to be shorter in the front with a fold over long lapel and collar of sorts with a longer back hemline ending in a slight train. The coat had a wonderful cream and peachy taupe loop and fringe trim running all around the outer edge of the coat, three quarter length sleeves and as the piece de resistance – an aqua blue fleur de list outlined in rhinestone trim on the center back of the coat. Paired with the coat was a simple knee length shift dress in the same aqua coloured faux silk as the fleur de lis and corset from the other outfit. The dress had a looped trim in fan shaped motifs edging its hemline and neckline for added texture and interest.
I knew I wanted to do a cocktail or evening dress as well that would incorporate the low necklines and flounced sleeves of the Marie period. I also wanted the fabric to be satiny and luscious looking and so settled on a creamy peau de soie with a slight peach undertone to it. It was very flattering to one’s many skin tone and the dress’ body hugging simple shape lended itself very well to the addition of “not so cheap but had to have it” lace that trimmed the center of the neckline and formed the sleeve flounces. I also tried a new technique of creating slits near the hemline of the dress and lacing a band of the cream and taupe brocade through it. The same brocade fabric was used to create a removable sash belt for the waistline of the dress that closed at center back with peachy cream pearl buttons. The hemline and waistline sash were also embellished with an antiqued and very period looking beaded and crystal lace trim.
My final look in the collection was I think my overall favourite. I wanted to give a nod to Marie’s husband and France’s king at the time, Louise XVI, by designing a pair of the breeches the men wore. I also wanted to pair it with a vest with tails. The breeches and vest were made from the cream and taupe brocade. The breeches tied just below the knee with wide cream coloured ribbons and the vest closed in the center front with three bows using the same ribbon. The vest was lined with the peau de soie used in the dress and the center back of the vest had a large applique that was inspired by the fabrics used in French furniture and tapestries of the time. Another “gotta have it” beaded trim that contained all of the colours of the collection and appliques was used on the neckline of the vest and to embellish the back applique.
Four of my five models carried fans that I hunted down on the internet to match each outfit/look. My fifth model, and the one that opened my segment of the show, had a gold and ornately decorated masquerade mask on a stick that I created. I also made fingerless lace gloves for each of them to wear that again, perfectly complimented their ensemble. I think the accessories that were the most fun to create were the five wigs that all my ladies wore. I purchased five Marie Antoinette wigs just after Halloween the fall before the spring show and using feathers, birds, ribbons, strings of pearls, flowers, butterflies and bows had a fun filled Sunday afternoon with a friend in my workroom dreaming up wigs that were each more spectacular than the next. By the time we were done, glitter and feather bits were everywhere, not to mention one badly hot glue burned finger (ouch!).
The music I chose for the show was Heart of Glass by Blondie. It was easy to walk to, original compared to the popular modern tunes chosen by the other students and just seemed to fit the collection. My mom also came to the show to support me and see the culmination of all my hard work that year and it is one of her favourite songs, another reason it seemed a good fit. The friend who helped mix and edit the song to fit my required allotted time also suggested using a clip from Alice in Wonderland where the queen screams off with her head. It was just my kind of twisted humour so we added it to the beginning of my music. When the spotlight hit my first model at center stage, you heard “off with her head” and then the full stage lights came on and my music began.
I was exhausted by the end of that school year and it blew my mind to see how much work, planning, creativity and attention to detail went into what I had dreamt up and brought to fruition. I could not have done it without the my great instructors, my fabulous ladies who modeled for me, friends who lent a hand in various ways, my loves me to death, biggest fan, always supportive best friend of a husband and of course, God, without whose gifts and blessings nothing would be possible.
I am not sure why but, Marie Antoinette and the times she lived and reigned in have always held a very strong allure to me. Perhaps it is the fabrics, embellishments, costume-like fashions and her overall larger than life and tragic story that draws me in. Whatever it is, I just knew that I needed to indulge myself and try and honour Marie’s ghost with an elegant and theatrical collection and a show stopping performance at the fashion show. Based on my final marks, comments from my peers, family and those at the show and my overall feeling of satisfaction and accomplishment, I think I achieved that but, you be the judge and let me know what you think.