THE HAMBURG WISHING DRESS
DISCLAIMER: I have not made this outfit.
One day, a rather random day some years ago, someone informed me that an original Hamburg "Phantom of the Opera" costume was for sale on German eBay. And not just any costume - it was the magnificent blue Wishing gown, and such a beautiful version too. The bodice might possibly be the nicest one I've seen in terms of construction and decoration. The bad thing was that I was rather broke and didn't have the asking price (nor what I suspected the dress would eventually go for). But the beauty! Aaaaah....
Enters - my grandmother. She knows of my love for "Phantom of the Opera", and for costumes in general. She called me the same day the auction ended and said - no, insisted - that I should be bidding on it. I told her it was crazy, but as mentioned she insisted. She claimed that she owed me that since my sister inherited an expensive folk costume the year before. So... in the last minute I made a bid (a crazy, high bid) and I won the dress. I seriously cried when I saw I had won the auction. I had never thought the day would come that I would own an authentic Wishing dress.
Another costume maker examined the dress before it was shipped, and she's made a wonderful research site showing the bodice and skirt from every possible angle and side. If you plan on making a replica yourself, you'll find *her site very helpful* .
When she put out info about size and such, I realized this dress was worn by a singer (Renée Knapp) whose body type wasn't too unlike my own - tall, with broad shoulders and a fairly narrow waist. And when the dress arrived, I just had to try it on. And it fit me!! Almost... The lengt was perfect, and it was almost tailor-made for me over the shoulders (=very rare). But the singer was quite a bit narrower than me in the waist and over the bust, so the boned bodice gave me boobs of doom... I've moved the eyes for the hooks just a tad, but I'm still a bit too chesty. Either how I'm not planning on wearing this dress - it is a precious item I'll cherish forever and take care of, not wear.
Pictures of me wearing the dress (when I still could squeeze into it), plus of a friend trying it on.
CONDITION OF THE DRESS
The dress had been worn by Renée Knapp. She started as an alternate in the Hamburg production when it opened in 1990, and had taken over as principal Christine by 1992. She then went back to being alternate in 1993 and 1994. The dress was later sold at an auction held by Neue Flora Theatre in Hamburg around 1995. This dress was apparently put out because it was severely faded in front. I was told that the dress might have been exhibited in a window display, which sure would explain the extreme fading. There are areas of the bodice which are almost pale green/blue rather than the clear skyblue colour the unfaded areas displays. Even the pearls on the faux vest and collar has faded. There are also tiny holes here and there, which comes from wear and tear. But they're minor, and I was surprised by the otherwise excellent condition of the costume.
There are little to do with the fading (without ruining the dress, anyway), but there are other areas where I've carefully tried to restore it. First, the tassel decorations on the bodice had turned into a fur-looking trim. This is probably because the bodice has been sent to the drycleaner more often than the skirt, and because there are more wear and movement going on. But I've noticed that different kind of tassel trim is used for the bodice and the skirt, so it might be a difference in quality as well. As of now I've carefully combed each tassel, sprayed it with water and looped a white thread around it to keep it in place. I'll try to remove the white threads later on and see if it keeps in place. If not, the white thread can stay as it is.
The bead decorations of the faux vest and collar was also coming off. It seems as if the thread had become very brittle or damaged; moreso than at the cuffs (which has the same decoration). Might come from sunray exposure, the same which caused the fading? I've bought the tiniest needles out there and I've been working on securing the existing beads with a new thread. I've also filled in the open areas, as I found an almost identical bead in France. Unfortuneately, the bead I brought with me was from the cuff, where little fading has occured. So the beads I'm filling out with, is much brighter turquoise than the faded ones in front... The good thing is that the colour is only painted on the inside, and can be scraped off. And the interesting thing is that it shows how much of the original beads has been lost.
I've also done other minor work, like attaching the bottom of one side of the backdrape to the skirt (it had come off) and basting the minor damaged areas.
PICTURES FROM HAMBURG
Alas, I have not found any pictures of Renée Knapp in her Wishing dress. I would have loved to see how the dress originally looked on her. She did the role from 1990-1994. Because of the extremely minute tailoring and bead deco in front collar and faux vest, I assume the dress was made for the Hamburg premiere of Phantom, and that it was tailor made for her. The details put into it is more extravagant and time consuming than what's found in later version. The faux vest decoration is very time-consuming to make, and was simplified sometime in the mid-90s, using appliquées instead. The backdrape is also short, typical for the early 90's dresses.
There exists a picture of Colby Thomas (Christine from ca. 1992-2001) in what can be called "the twin dress" - it has the same cut and the same beaded front, and also similar details. The dress has an additional trim next to the faux vest, and also a different kind of tassel trim. I also see differences in the lenght (and shape?) of the apron and panniers, but otherwise this is definitely a twin dress, made in the same workshop and/or at the same time. I don't know when Colby Thomas' dress was made, but she started out as Christine in Hamburg in 1992, first as understudy, then as principal. That gives us a certain time frame. What I do love about the early Hamburg versions is that the decorations on the faux vest echoes the pattern of the silk. It's a feature they kept up until 1996/1997 sometime, and it really adds the little extra. In my dress they've used beads on a metallic bronze background, but I've also seen other versions with peacock-like pattern and white appliquées. I might change my own replica to achieve this.
1. Maria Bjørnson's design for the blue Wishing dress, 1986.
2. to 4. Colby Thomas in the "twin" dress, from ca. 1993, with pearl embroidery deco echoing the pattern of the silk.
5. Colby Thomas in "the next generation" deco - peacock like appliquées, still echoing the pattern of the silk.
6. Carla Michalski Thamm in an even later deco - similar spacing, but with white appliquées.
7. Anne Görner (Essen) with the more standarized faux vest deco. This dress was the last version Colby Thomas wore in Hamburg.
If you DO own a picture of Renée Knapp in the dress, or more pics of Colby Thomas or Anna Maria Kaufmann in the type with a beaded front, I would be eternal grateful if you would share it with me! My email adress is operafantomet (at) hotmail (dot) com.
The blue fabric is clear sky blue, sometimes appearing turquoise, sometimes royal blue, sometimes more lilac. The fabric reminds of shot silk in the way the colour changes due to angle and light. It has an ornamental flower pattern curving upwards between stripes with a small floral motif. The actual fabric is very light-weight, and the print is black and white. We've all heard that this fabric is made especially for POTO, right? Hmmm... It might have been originally, but it has also appeared in other costumes: a golden version was used in the 1988 movie Dangerous Liaisons, and a blue version for the the newest Forsyte Saga (a blue dress used by Irene Forsyte). According to the book The complete Phantom of the Opera, the silk is from India, but dyed/printed in the UK. The printing is done by a husband-and-wife team, and as far as I've understood it's still done by hand. Quite extraordinary. They were also involved in the "Dangerous Liaisons" movie, which might explain the golden version, but I have not found any connection to the "Forsyte Saga" so far. They are however well known in the costume business in the UK, so maybe they had some spare meters of the blue one when costume makers visited their workshop.
I've even seen a purple version of the fabric, backstage in POTO in London. It was used in a skirt only. My immediate thought was that it was a worn out Wishing dress which was overdyed to get a new life. But then I discovered another purple version, worn my a Maori woman in the movie The Piano. So...
1. Golden version for a Rococo dress from the movie "Dangerous Liaisons" (1988)
2. Blue version for one of Irene Forsyte's dresses in "The Forsyte Saga" (2002)
3. Purple version, backstage at Her Majesty's Theatre (ca. 2008)
The first picture above is by Kasey, posted here, the second is a screenshot from the Forsyte DVD, the third was sent to me.
FULL-LENGHT PICTURES OF THE DRESS
Here you can see how much shorter the early backdrapes were. There's also an "extra" backdrape detail in the straight-cut panier, which folds once in the back. The paniers are rather straight-cut; later on they became more pointed (for example Anne Görner's Essen dress). The skirt doesn't have a train, but is a tad longer in the back than in front. The lines of the faux vest continues into the paniers; almost like a mantua (which this style is inspired by).
The skirt consists of four parts: the actual skirt, the backdrapes, the paniers and the apron. Everything is attached to the black waistband, and it's closed in the back by hooks-and-eyes, plus velcro. There is also a small "horsehair" bustle attached inside, as well as a petticoat and extra netting stiffness in the back. The trims of the paniers/backdrapes doesn't continue all the way up in the back, but they go all the way up in front.
The paniers are lined with a light-weight blue fabric, a tafetta-like silk. The same lining can be seen in the cuffs, the backdrapes and the bow in the back. When the paniers and apron is lifted aside, one can see how brutal the fading is. It's extreme! Oddly enough, it's not that noticeable when seeing the dress as a whole, because it's very gradual and even. But it's definitely paler than current stage costumes!
The length of the skirt has been basted up a bit, but apparently long ago, as the hem is worn and has small holes. The netting only appears in the back, to "puff up" the back of the skirt a bit and underline the bustle shape. Different kind of nettings has been used.
I cannot praise the cut and the construction enough. Whoever made it is a master in her/his field. Take a look at the back. There are five seams there; one in center back and two at the sides. Still, the stripes and flower ranks of the bodice is continued, and the stripes narrowing at the waist to emphasize the slimness of the waist. Genius!!
A similar effect is achieved under the sleeves, where two stripes meets and emerges into one. The flower ranks is also continued over the shoulders, despite the pushed-back shoulder seam.
And then there's the faux vest decoration of metallic fabric and beads. It almost looks like a negative of the flower pattern of the printed silk, also a most brilliant touch. It's highly detailed, much more than what I would expect from a stage costume (although POTO is famous for it's detailed stage costumes, as it was designer Maria Bjørnson's will). I can understand why current versions use white appliquées of various kinds instead, as it's much easier to apply. But the craftmanship and the effect of the bead embroidery is something I would have loved to see in other versions of the Wishing gown! As a side note, the faux vest is not a separate piece, but velvet sewn on top of the blue silk (apart from the modesty panel).
The whole bodice is trimmed with a broad tassel band, with a narrower navy velvet band on top. The bow has the same kind of trims. The bow has a fundament of two different kinds of netting - a fine navy one, and a stiff white one. This adds the shape and stiffness. It's "crunched" together by a band made out of the printed blue silk. The inside of the bow has blue shot tafetta, identical to the lining of the skirt and the cuffs.
The bodice is lightly boned with steel bones, some inserted into the cottom lining, some added on top of the seams, and covered in black fabric. the same black fabric is used around the bottom of the bodice, on the inside.
MY AUTHENTIC PHANTOM COSTUMES
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