Friday, January 27, 2012

Elizabeth Taylor's Gold Gown from Cleopatra


First off, I've been obsessed with Egypt since I was a kid. I watched The Ten Commandments on infinite repeat and devoured books and programs about Egypt. I sketched hieroglyphics instead of paying attention in class, and had a porcelain cat statue I named Bast. All my imaginary friends were ancient Egyptians.

I never really got over my love of Egypt, and every once in a while, my love for it comes surging back, and things like this happen. I start to build things.

So yeah, I think I need this gown. At some point.  There's going to have to be so much hand sewing of sequins and casting of resin noodles that it's going to get pretty silly.
What dress, you ask? This one:

I admit, I originally just wanted to make the headdress. And what's a headdress without a fabulous gown to wear it with? Just a pretty display piece, that's what!  Of course, the gown is crazy in its detailing, but, thankfully, its construction is pretty simple.  After looking at some screenshots and auction pictures, I managed to work out the seams and come up with some sketches.

Yes, the quality of the pic is terrible, but you can see the seam lines pretty well. The dress itself actually has a high waist, with a princess seamed bodice. There are small darts on the skirt to make it fit smoothly over the lower torso. The skirt itself is split both front and back to reveal an undergarment, either a skirt or a dress.
To show you what I mean a bit better, here's a pic of the dress from a recent Hollywood auction.

Don't you just love that there's that crazy zipper down the centre front?  I mean, seriously, that takes some balls.
The gown is completely covered in sequins. They are in a sort of scale pattern on the upper half, becoming more dense around the hips, and then leading down into lines on the skirt itself. The sequins on the bodice aren't actually in any definite shape, like leaves or feathers, or whatever, but instead are simply four lines of sequins, looking like this:
The sequins on the skirt are in parallel, diagonal rows, all pointing down and toward the centre front and centre back splits.

 It's hard to say exactly what's going on with the under skirt/dress since it wasn't included in the auction, and available screenshots aren't close enough to give us much detail.  There are a few things I was able to work out, though.

There seem to be narrow lines going down the length of the skirt, which look to be lines of sequins, but may also be some form of pleating.

From looking at the colour photos, they may be pleats, especially looking at the hemline of the gown in the second photo. All I know for sure is that it's gold, and that there are lines that are...something.

The cloak is an interesting piece.  The top of it, around the shoulders, simulates scales or small feathers, while the rest of it is segmented to represent large feathers.  Cleopatra represented herself as the reincarnation of the Goddess Isis, so this makes sense when looking at statuary of Isis. 

What I find interesting is that the feathers are not outlined with sequins to give them their shape, but are actually surrounded by "voids" in the lamé fabric.  It seems that the entire cloak is backed with some sort of transparent fabric, which acts as a stabilizer for the lamé.  Since you can see the underside of the fabric in the shot above, the cloak is clearly unlined.  It also seems to be heavily encrusted in sequins, with the feathers having closely packed horizontal lines of sequins. The scales also have sequins on them, though it's hard to make out the pattern. It may be that they are sequined similarly to this other gold gown:

These sequined patterns are created with simple vertical rows of different lengths. I wonder, too, if this wasn't the original pattern of the sequins on the bodice of the Isis gown, since the auction described the dress as "Constructed entirely of sequined heavy gold lamé on silk, with some sequin loss, especially at shoulders." 

And now for my favourite part, the headdress.  Thankfully, we have LOTS of references for it, since it went up for auction and they took some nice shots of it for the catalog.

It's hard to describe what's happening, simply because there is SO MUCH happening.  We have the large feather crest and sun disk out of the centre top of the crown, ringed with serpents supporting small sun disks. There are small scalloped scales leading into two rows of gold feathers, leading back into what I can only describe as...fusilli. That's all I can see when I look at those spiral thingies on the back of the crown. I see pasta.  Delicious golden pasta.  Ladies and Gentlemen, Cleopatra was actually a Pastafarian.

Anyway, There are dozens of these little golden noodles on the back of the headdress, all sewn to a black cowl and secured with golden disks with blue gems in them.

So, there it is. I'm not going to push to have this finished this year since I have a huge load of costumes already on the books for this year, but researching it was fun, and I may take a stab at it at some point.

1 comment:

  1. Egypt was my obsession as a child, as well (which apparently, I did not outgrow since I have a useless BA in archaeology).

    Anyway, can't wait to see what you do with this costume and headdress! Your process and methods are always fun and educational to follow.