Re: Cuckoo for CoCo!

Cuckoo for Costume College (CoCo), that is. Well, I finally crossed a major item off my bucket list: I attended my first Costume College, a four day event of tours, lectures, demos, hands-on workshops, and costume events. Let me say, first, for those who have wondered, yes, it is as fabulous as the hype would have you believe.
This year the event was held at a new hotel, the Warner Marriott, which had smaller guest rooms, but larger classroom areas. The Marriott was located in Woodland Hills, an hour’s drive from the Burbank Airport which was the closest airfield. And when I say “drive”, I mean a hour’s drive through California freeway traffic. The cars schooled like minnows and there was an endless supply of them. The hotel itself was nicely appointed and conveniently located across the street from a mall with many restaurants and food courts including a Macy’s at one end.
Thursday, the day before the convention, I fore-gathered in the lobby a little unsure of how I was going to recognize my tour group. The con hadn’t started yet and there wasn’t anyone costume-y hanging about. I needn’t have worried. The tour attendees immediately gravitated toward each other.
From the hotel, we drove into downtown L.A. where we toured the Fashion Design Institute. We started with a guided tour of the school itself and then explored the small museum and the FIDM Scholarship Store on our own.
We weren’t allowed to take any photos inside the school or the museum so no pictures. However, I have included a link further down to the FIDM Museum exhibits.
The main feature of the school tour was the exhibit cases which showcased student work in each of the school’s majors. Each exhibit was very professionally done and extremely visually striking. One of the highlights was an exhibit of student-designed, haute couture gowns based on Tim Burton’s “Alice in Wonderland” characters. As part of the tour, we visited the school library which, as a librarian, I found very professionally interesting. The small library is part reference center, part workroom. In addition to the print collections, the library also has a media center for students to check out an array of media equipment and a fabric center where students students can check out lengths of designer fabric–yes, you heard me right–to drape. Some fabrics can be cut and used, but others are drape-only. We saw a mannequin sporting a fitted, magenta dress and it was only when we got closer that we realized that the dress was pinned, not sewn.
There was an exhibit on the history of cotton and most of the print collection was given over to fashion magazines, including a bound copies of what had to be the entire run of Vogue, as well as art books. The library also contained the highly coveted trend reports which are forecasts of fashion trends, compiled three years in advance. Fashion designers as well as other designers use these books as inspiration when they are working on their new collections. I couldn’t help but think that this is why the same junk shows up year after year. Each trend report costs several thousand dollars a piece so I didn’t seize and destroy it, much as I wanted to.

After we finished with the school, we explored the small FIDM museum. The museum featured two exhibits–actual costumes from various TV shows such as “Bones” and “Pushing Up Daisies” and costumes from Tim Burton’s “Alice” (major squee!).  Obviously, I enjoyed the “Alice in Wonderland” costumes the most–the Red Queen is my favorite–but I didn’t care for the crass commercial display of Disney products in the exhibit area. I thought the Disney line of Alice-inspired accessories and clothes were tacky for the most part although I was inspired to do my own Cheshire Cat top hat based on one of Disney’s. Here’s a link to Flickr’s FIDM photostream which has many pictures of the Alice in Wonderland exhibits as well as the student gowns based on the movie.

Apart from the costume exhibit, the big hit of the tour was the FIDM Scholarship Store. The store is located less than a block from the school and sells cut-rate clothes and jewelry as well as heavily discounted fabrics and trims. All the proceeds fund student scholarships to FIDM.

The discounted fabrics and trims section was hidden behind a wall in the back–literally–and within minutes pretty much every member of our group had made a pilgrimage to the place and come away with some awesome deals. I got a lovely rose applique neckpiece for 50 cents as well as some white heart and leaf-shaped doilies. I also got a selection of trims probably about 5 yards roughly altogether–$4.00 for the whole thing. It was sweet!

Thursday evening was registration and then Friday kicked off the classes proper.

Kathy Lear gives a French Drape demo.

There were over 70 instructors at this year’s Costume College and really, you were spoiled for choice.  I wanted to take everything, but wound up taking two workshops and sampling a selection of demos and lectures.

Steampunk pistol class. One of the other students displays a cool gun that a third student has made. Lady in the background is our instructor, Arabella Benson.

I took a workshop on making your own Steampunk pistol from a watergun. Arabella Benson, our teacher, was a laugh riot. She kept us in stitches the whole class. If you have a chance to take a workshop from her, you should definitely do so. The water pistols were already primed and ready for painting. Everyone’s came out differently–my finished sidearm is pictured below.

Steampunk pistol class. My gun in its original state–water pistol covered in flat black spray paint.

Steampunk pistol finished.

Saturday morning was taken up with the Beginning Viking Knit workshop. It is actually a form of wire weaving that is used to make very cool jewelry. Liz Miller was our instructor and she was very helpful and enthusiastic. The class itself was limited to six people so we all got a lot of individual attention. Viking Knit looks complicated and can be a bit tricky to figure out, but it’s actually very easy once you’ve got the hang of it. The final product–a close knit wire filigree–is very attractive.

Saturday evening was the first big costume event–the Time Traveler’s Ball. I had tickets to the dinner which was very nicely done, but the highlight afterwards was the dance which non-ticketed people were invited to attend. Speaking as a dancer and a fan, I don’t think that I have ever been to a better dance event. The dancing opened to “Let’s Do the Time Warp Again”–the traditional opening song, I’m informed–and continued with a number of lively feel-good hits like “Love Shack” and so on. You haven’t lived until you’ve boogied down with a group of ladies in 18th and 19th century gowns grooving to Madonna’s “Vogue”.

And the costumes–ah, the costumes! At a certain point Saturday evening, I just gave up trying to take pictures of every costume because fabulous outfits were literally everywhere. Picture, if you will, a ballroom full of exquisite garments worn by people who were only too happy to discuss at length how they had made them. Here’s a link to the Costume College Flickr pool.

Sunday morning opened with Sunday Undies–a breakfast event where attendees could show off their period underwear. The rest of my Sunday morning was taken up with a series of lectures, mostly Steampunk-related.  Since they ended at noon, I just had time to nip upstairs and change into my costume for Sunday tea. The tea was held in a smaller conference room and fell at an awkward hour–around 2:00 p.m., too late for lunch and too early for snacks. The tea was buffet-style which baffled me as I had expected the food to be brought out to us. The tea was the only major event that I felt didn’t go off as smoothly as it could have.

What was I wearing for these costume events, you wonder? So glad you asked. I had plans–unrealistic plans–to make two complete outfits before I left, but naturally that didn’t happen so I wound up using two costumes I already had.  I was also constrained by having to fly a long way and was limited in what I could bring. I wore my long red Turkish coat to the Gala with my turquoise pantaloons underneath and my turquoise-patterned hip scarf. The ballroom was warm as these events often are and I was glad I had selected something breathable. For the Tea, I opted for a Mexican look. I wore my floral print gypsy skirt with the pink flounce and my black ruffled top. Not costume-y, but still feminine and dressed up.

Shawna Trpcic (don’t ask me how to pronounce her last name) was one of the lead speakers. Shawna was the costumer designer on “Firefly”, the much-loved Joss Whedon series, and on “Dr. Horrible’s Sing-a-Long Blog” among others. She talked about her design process and her career as a TV and film costumer. Shawna had brought along some costumes from “Firefly” to show and I touched one of Inari’s dresses (SQUEEE!).

Next year, Costume College will have a Medieval focus. I highly recommend attending at least once in your life. For me, in addition to seeing unbelievably awesome costumes, I got a major lift from being around like- minded, creative people and came back reinvigorated.


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