The ELISSA costume
from "Phantom of the Opera"





LATEST: Finished! So finished!


STARTING POINT
Some years ago I made a replica of the costume Christine Daaé wears in the grand number "Think of Me". I based it on the versions with red skirt and green details, as often seen in Europe. I don't think I've ever worked on a more fun project. Red, green, tons of gold, and lots of ornamental elements - challenging, but fun. Long after I had finished it, I went around looking for gold and materials, my mind just didn't want to let go...

In the beginning I bought lots of gold and sent it off to my fellow costume maker Josefine, who's currently working on a splendid replica. But then I started playing with the thought of making another Elissa costume, only this time not for myself. The current version will be sold on eBay, and the money will be donated to the Pink Ribbon Campaign, a breastcancer awareness cause. This is because several family members and a good friends has had breast cancer, and they've all recovered due to good research done in the past. But I know some has been less fortunate, and this is my contribution to make the statistics better. Hopefully the dress will be finished by the summer, and put out for sale in September. We'll see...

The new version was modeled after the US versions as far as possible. This includes a green skirt with a red pleated hem, red apron, and a red backdrape with various colour details. The tabs has a specific design, in black, gold, green and red. The false bodice is short, and curved in front, and has elaborate beading underneath.




THE COSTUME DESIGN


1. Slave girl costume design I, Maria Bjørnson ca. 1986
2. Slave girl costume design II, Maria Bjørnson ca. 1986
3. Christine Daaé in Hannibal, Maria Bjørnson ca. 1986
4. An unused costume idea for the Degas costume, Maria Bjørnson ca. 1986
5. Minoan snake goddess statuette ca. 1600 BC, possible inspiration
6. Minoan goddess statuette, possible inspiration
7. Queen Elissa costume design, Maria Bjørnson, ca. 1986


PICTURES OF STAGE COSTUMES FROM THE US

1. Sarah Brightman, Broadway, 1988
2. Marni Raab, US tour, ca. 2007
3. Julie Hanson, Broadway, ca. 2005
4. Sierra Boggess, Las Vegas, 2007
5. Geena Jeffreys-Mattox, Las Vegas, 2007
6. Elena Jeanne Batman, Las Vegas, 2007



DETAILS


1. A close-up of this Las Vegas costume revealed that the background of the tabs seemed to be a sequin or fake snakeskin like black fabric. It allows the tab decorations to be in focus, creating a sort of relief effect, but it's still glittering from certain angles.

2. This US tour costume shows tabs without a broad, multicoloured outer trim. I found that interesting. The outer line seems to be made of two gold cords put directly on top of the black sequin fabric, and with various "gems" in between.

3. Another US tour picture shows a most interesting fabric being used for the skirt; a green jacquard shot with red. Very funky. This costume also reveals that the hem and backdrape is made of the same fabric as the apron. It also gave me the idea to decorate the tab appliqués with lots of sequins, I think that will give the right effect.

4. This gave me the best idea of how the tab decorations are designed, very useful


TABS
The main shape of the tabs was drafted based on pictures, with no exact measurements but I think the overall proportions are right. I cut three layers of a solid unbleached cotton. This cotton layer was dressed with a satin polyester, and on top I put a layer of the black sequin fabric. Usually I would not add that many layers, but the sequin fabric was a bit transparent.


Making of the tab deco. Red and mustard poly satin was cut into various shapes and zigzagged on unbleached cotton.

I then cut out various circles, squares and ornamental shapes from red and mustard silk. Every shape I needed was cut out in paper, which was placed on a fabric folded twice (giving me three layers), pinned on, and then the silk was cut. This gave me three layers per cutting, which saved me lots of work. Each tab has 8 "levels" of decorations, graded to be smaller op top, and larger in the bottom. The various silk appliqués was mounted on another layer of unbleached cotton, and stitched down. Everything was then zig-zagged into place, using a bright green thread to form defined outer lines. I'm almost finished with the tabs now and the zig-zagging is a lot of work, but it also gives the right look. Just need to get another supply of green thread...! I had three spools, and thought that would be enough. Not even close!

After searching high and low, I finally found the perfect green jacquard for the main skirt. As usual I ran all over the city, in the oddest stores, to find what I'm looking for, but I always end up in my same ol' favourite (Rainbow Tekstil) downtown. I wish their online store showed what a selection they actually have, it's textile heaven! As for the tabs, I added a Scottish "tartan" ribbon on the outlines. Each side of that ribbon was trimmed with a narrow gold ribbon. Albeit the outer lines now are stripy rather than checkered, the colours are perfect and with "gems" on top I think it'll look great. Current task is to attach the appliqué parts to the tabs (more zig-zagging). I've also started adding "gems" and sequins to the appliqués, to make them look richer. That's the fun part, to put all glittering stuff from my stash on the floor and experiment with what looks best. I came across some square red sequins (50 cent for a tube, a true bargain), and bought tons of them to decorate with. They look very right. Also found a GORGEOUS silk brocade which I wanted to use for apron and backdrapes; a red silk with gold and fuchsia pattern, very much like the fabric used in the Vegas (Carlotta) costumes. But it was too expensive for me, considering I need 6, maybe 7 meters for apron, backdrapes and possibly also the pleated hem. Ach.

I also bought three pair of earrings which was taken apart. They had crystal "gems" in the middle, which were coloured red and green with nail polish...


"Crystals" were painted red and green and attached to the outer lines of the tabs. Decorating with tons of glitter is the fun part!






SKIRT

3 meters of green jacquard was cut into three panels + inserted triangles in the back, to create a narrow waist and wide hem.


The skirt were cut of 3 meters of green jacquard. I cut two big "triangles" and one smaller. The bigger panels got an additional small triangle insert in the bottom which forms a small train in the back. The panels were all sewn together with the width in the bottom and some of the fullness in the back. This gave the skirt a nice bell shape with a flat front and a hint of a bustle shape in the back. Compared to the general US versions I'll emphasize less on the hips and instead add some of the fullness to the hem and the back,to emulate the Victorian bustle. I made a waistband of the scraps, so the skirt and the waistband is made of the same fabric. It will be attached in the back with hooks and eyes, and be adjustable app. 5 centimeters (two inches).


APRON

Making of the apron. It was draped on a base of unbleached cotton.


I gave in and bought one meter of the gorgeous silk.... The apron has two layers; a cotton base on which the silk was draped directly upon. The silk was then sewn down. Draping it was actually the hardest part, as I wanted it to have some structure but avoid too deep pleats. I had one meter of the silk, and I placed it on top like a harlequin square, as the colour looked best that way and it made the paisleys point upward. It also gave me more fabric to work with. The silk is so lush! Many US Elissa costumes use the same fabric for apron, hem and backdrapes. However, buying the silk for all these elements would be way too expensive. Luckily I found a synthetic and cheaper substitute for the hem and backdrape, and it blends really well with the apron. The synthetic one is also thinner and hence easier to pleat. The apron will be decorated with ribbons in the outer line, and also red/golden tassels and green "gems". I'll sew it directly to the skirt once the tabs has been properly placed and fastened.


PLEATED HEM


The pleated hem is made out of 2 meters of a red/golden polyester with paisley pattern. It was cut into three long strips. I used the selfedge on two of them as the part touching the floor, and on the third one got a silk ribbon to emulate the selfedge. The three pieces were sewn together, making a 6 meter long strip. Four rows of golden ribbons (of various width) were attached horizontally (24 meters in total, bleeeh). The long strip was then pleated, sewn down and ironed. Two horizontal rows of ribbons was attached in the upper part of the hem. The same trim was used upon the hem, forming X'es in the middle. Red "gems" and green/golden tassels were used to decorate the ribbon. Everything was attached before sewing the hem to the skirt, so the length of the skirt will be easy to adjust if necessary.


Meters and meters of golden trim and red brocade went into the pleated skirt hem.



TASSELS

Red and golden yarn was used to create red/gold tassels.


This costume demand a lot of tassels - for decorating the apron, and for decorating them hem. Usually the upper ones continues the red colour of the apron, while the lower ones continue the green colour of the hem. But they both have a dash of gold too. I didn't even bother to look for something similar in stores. It's likely something I would never find, and if I did each would probably cost a lot. Considering I need around 50 tassels, it's much more cost effective to make them myself. And actually, it isn't hard at all, if you have suitable yarn. What I did was to cut a rectangle in the desired length, with curved sides. These curves help the yard to stay in place. It can be cut of cardboard, plastic or anything hard that is "cutable". I used the colour yarn in the bottom, twisted around the rectangle ca. 20 times (depend on how thick your yarn is). On top I used a thinner gold yarn, twisted around ca. 15 times (the gold layer should be denser than the coloured one). The top was tied together, while the bottom was cut. As a finishing touch the tassel was tied together horisontally too (picture 5), and the bottom was cut to get even lengths. Alas I used a golden ribbon which looks awesome but frays like crap. I need to either tie each end individually or glue them. Lots of extra work, very annoying.


Studs removed from belt, painted gold, and attached to the apron trim.


The US version of the Elissa costume have lots of details I thought it would be fun to copy. Especially on the apron I've tried to stick as close to the stage costumes as possible. This included hand painting black fabric with green, red and gold paint. The black fabric used was scraps from the Aminta gold front, as they already had the perfect "pyramide" shape. Each was painted and sewn to the apron as an opposite point of the pointed trim. The outer lines were secured by a black fabric paint. The pointed trims hanging from the apron are stud decorated. These studs came from two 70% off belts from a random store. I painted the studs golden, removed them from the belt, and attached them to the apron.


FINISHING DETAILS
After having looked for a reversible green trim with black middle for ages I gave in. An impossible task! I seriously looked everywhere. I could have used the green/red one I used for the apron, and then painted the red into black. I decided not to, because that trim wasn't cheap and I would need at least 10 meters. A lot of work for that price. I could also have bought a green trim and sewn a black trim in the middle. But there's the dilemma of the trim needing to be reversible. I would need to buy 20 meters of black trim in addition to the green one, and it would be too much work compared to the actual costs. I was very content when I found a funky green trim with golden "arrow" pattern. This was affordable AND reversible. Although this meant the hem trim wouldn't correspond with the apron trim, as the stage costumes, it looked really good towards the hem fabric. So all in all I'm content.

In the costume design there is a dark area with big "brooches" with a beaded belt hanging in between. Underneath is the red apron. For the US Elissa costumes this is solved by attaching a black fabric with gold pattern in the waist. Large brooches with beaded belt is attached on top of this. There is little difference between the Carlotta and Christine versions in the US. Christine bead belt seems to have the brooches at the side closer to the front compared to the Carlotta ones. I love how it's solved in the versions Sandra Joseph (B'way) and Marni Raab (tour) wore, so I'll try to come up with a similar placement. I'm very happy with my "brooches", which I've made of Bollywood earrings and appliqués, but I've tried out two different bead belt versions, and I like neither. I need larger and bolder beads, and more gold. Always more gold... For the Christine version there is also a false bodice matching the Slavegirl ones, to allow Christine's quick costume change in "Think of Me".

Now, I needed very little black/golden fabric for the belt area. I first looked for scraps in local shops, then for fabrics by the meter. But I didn't find anything ornamental enough. There were lots of brocades, but not with the deep black base I wanted. But since I needed so little, I decided to use scraps at home and decorate it to get the effect I wanted. I had a decent piece of black velveteen, and elastic golden ribbons. The ribbons were stitched down in an ornamental fantasy pattern, as seen in the pictures underneath, and then shaped into two "half moons". These will be attached on each side of the apron, then the bead belt/brooches and then the false bodice. I was surprised by how quick it was to stitch down the golden trims! I've known how it's done, I've just never tried it... Without copying it exactly, I used a Carlotta costume Kimilee Bryant wore (in the US tour, I think) as inspiration. I liked the spirals!


Golden ribbons being attached to black velveteen.


The black base seen in close up of costume design, Anne Runolfsson's skirt worn without bodice + tryout on my version



THE BACKDRAPES
I finally started working on the backdrapes, after having gotten some money for materials. I bought five more meters of the red/golden fabric used for the hem, which will be the dominant fabric. I also bought three meters of a shot red/orange fabric, plus two meters of a stripy one. Or actually, the latter weren't meant to be stripy. It was the backside of a green Chinese brocade, and in order to get colourful flowers in the pattern, different colours has been woven in, forming a stripy backside. It had green, red and golden stripes, which was perfect, but there's also blue stripes. Those are a tad more unwanted, but I'll see if it's possible to work my way around them. Anyhow, they're not worse than the odd purple colour the US costumes often have in the backdrapes... Never been a fan of that.

To make the main shape I cut the red/golden fabric into what resembled a crescent moon, or two halves of it. I used most of the five meters for this; the piece that was left was a large triangle, which I inserted in between the other pieces. This gave me a large semi circular fabric with lot of width in the bottom. I glanced more than once at Michaela de Bruce's excellent Waterfall backdrape tutorial, and made small paper versions to try and get the shape right. This helped a lot. I then lined the "invisible" inside (I.E. the middle part that will not be visible when the fabric is folded back and forth) with the shot red/orange fabric. It also got an inserted triangle in the middle to get the fullness of the overdrape. The curved sides was lined with the stripy brocade, which was quite a patchwork, as I had cut out the U shape for the peplum and it took more fabric than I expected. The stripes were added horizontally, but when it's draped they will be sloaping downwards. I suspect the actual stage costumes have the whole backdrape lined with the stripy fabric, but as I had to keep the costs down I used the two meters only where it will be visible, and chose a cheaper fabric for the invisible part.

The peplum - the big upper drape which I in the past though was a bodice continuation - is actually a continuation of the backdrape. It is made of the stripy fabric and the red/golden one. It looks like a giant U before draped. The stripes are horizontal here too, but when draped the sides become vertical. This was copied from the Vegas versions; most other US versions have the peplum stripes vertically. I like both looks, but to avoid the blue stripes the horizontal cut was most advantageous. The peplum is a natural continuation of the backdrapes; it folds back in the waist, making the stripy fabric the upper one , and the red/golden becomes the lining. I chose to make the peplum and the backdrapes as separate pieces, but they will eventually be sewn together. Now I need to experiment with the waterfall drapes to make it look good from all angles.

When everything was sewn together, I pinned the drape to the skirt and started folding the sides back and forth. This creates waterfall drapes. The top was stitched down (and boy, was that a lot of fabric!), and attached to a waistband. Then the peplum was cartridge pleated. Originally I planned to pleat it down, but I had made it too full, and no matter how much I pleated it looked clumsy. Cartridge pleats are better when gathering lots of fabric, and it worked here too. The pleats were stitched to the waistband. This waistband means the backdrapes, with peplum and all, is one unison piece which easily can be unpicked and eventually altered. The right side will be sewn to the skirt, while the left side will be attached by either hooks and eyes or velcro. This makes the drape conceal the split skirt while still being super easy to open. Eventually the apron and the beaded belt will be put on top of the peplum as well, so it might not be as dominant as it is today. It gives a nice bustle shape, though.

I'm still in doubt on whether to add trims to the backdrapes (as the real versions have), and whether or not to stitch down the waterfall drapes. I think it looks elegant with them hanging loose, but it might not be too practical. We'll see.


Various US backdrapes, plus the progress of my own version.



CURRENT STATE
Current state? Everything is sewn together. The hem was a nightmare as it's attached to a thick ribbon with decorative ribbons overneath, and the latter was ruined by sewing machine. Which meant I had to do everything by hand. It took forever. But now hem is fixed, and tabs, apron and backdrapes are attached. What remains is finishing details: sewing bead belt to apron, fixing seam on the lower train, add more sparkle to the tabs, fix + attach all tassels, add velcro here and there for seamless closing of the back. That sort of stuff. Plus, I need to make a giant netting underskirt. The skirt will look flat and a bit sad without it. but it's so boring.... And expensive. I need at least 10 meter of black netting, plus some cotton. In most pictures in this site I've used the netting underskirt from my Aminta costume. But I definitely want to keep that myself. But a big, fluffy netting underskirt (AKA "underskirt of doom") is essential to this costume. Read more about that here.




Soooo.... Current state now, some weeks later: Giant underskirt of doom is made! I made a calf-length cotton base, and added various layers of gathered netting to it. 15 meters in total, it's puffy all right! But the overskirt is heavy, so it looks a lot smaller when everything is put together. Many of the US versions worn by Christine are very "padded" over the hips, like Rococo paniers, while the rest hangs straight down. Unlike European versions, the inside seems to be constructed like a farthingale (I.E. a narrow hoop skirt). That's at least what a backstage picture shows, though I'm not sure exactly how this works re: the quick costume change and the split in the back. I assume the ring of hoops are split too. I chose the "European" approach for the underskirt and made a cotton base with lots of netting layers instead. It's light weight and gives a nice silhouette. I focused much of the volume around the hem and knees, as this is where the skirt needs a lift. The Elissa skirt just doesn't look right without some "ooomph"! The actual shape is closer to the Vegas Carlotta costume than the "padded hips" versions Christine use. Some Christines has had bell shaped skirts, though, Julie Hanson comes to mind. I loved her version. Before and after underskirt:

----------->


Apart from the layers of netting I've also added two rigilene hoops just to stiffen it up a bit. The skirt has a split in the back, and is sewn to the Elissa skirt. As of now everything is sewn together, and even the beaded belt is attached (hooray!). Not much remains! I need to decorate the tabs some more. I need to fix + attach all tassels (especially at the hem). I need to re-iron the hem. I need to gently tuck down the waterfall drapes. And I need to add some velcro here and there. And then it's finished. Finished, I say!


1. Hoop fundament for an US tour costume
2. Giant underskirt of doom, almost finished
3. Current state of the skirt


I have one thing to say: FINISHED!!!! So finished!

I took care of some finishing details this week, mainly sewing on velcro, cutting off all loose threads, fixing tassels, sewing one some more gems and glitter etc. I only have to make a writeup for eBay before I can auction it off. It feels SO fantastic to finish such a heavy project. And to be honest, I'm very happy with it.


Closing patent in the back, a combination of hooks+eyes and velcro.


Detail shots of the skirt.


The finished skirt from various angles.



MATERIALS USED FOR THE ELISSA SKIRT (so far..)

TABS:
*1,5 meter unbleached cotton (base for tabs and appliqués)
*1 meter black satin polyester (base for sequence fabric)
*1 meter black sequin fabric (main surface for tabs)
*0,5 meter mustard silk (for cutting tab appliqués)
*0,5 meter red silk (for cutting tab appliqués)
*1,5 spool of green thread for each tab (zig-zag seams around appliqués)
*6 meters of a "Scottish" checkered ribbon (outer lines)
*12 meters of a narrow gold trim with red squares (outer lines)
*3 pair of earrings, taken apart, to be used on the tabs
*Lots of sequences, gems and beads (appliqué deco)


SKIRT:
*3 meters of an emerald green jacquard with flower pattern (main skirt)
*1 hook and three eyes (closing/adjusting the skirt in the waist)
*15 meters of black netting (underskirt)
*2 meters of solid black cotton (underskirt)
*6 meters of rigilene (underskirt
*A strip of velcro for the waist and back


APRON:
*0,5 meter unbleached cotton (apron base)
*1 meter of red/golden/fuchsia silk (apron)
*3 meters green/red striped ribbon (apron deco)
*20 green "gems" on the points of the striped ribbon
*3 pair of earrings (for girdle decorations on apron)
*5 balls of yarn (2 red, 2 green, 1 gold) for tassels
*60 studs for apron trim
*Black velveteen scrap (apron)
*Golden ribbons (decorate velveteen)
*Lots of various red, green and golden beads (belt)
*5 ornamental red/golden earrings ("brooches" for belt)


HEM:
*2 meters of red/golden polyester (pleated hem)
*24 meters of various golden ribbons (pleated hem)
*1 spool of red thread
*1 spool of golden thread
*2 meters of red silk ribbon (faking selvedge)
*10meters of green/golden ribbon (X deco and horizontal bands)


BACKDRAPES:
*5 meter of red/golden polyester (main drape + peplum lining)
*3 meters of a shot red/golden fabric (invisible lining)
*2 meters of a stripy brocade (visible lining + peplum)
*1 spool of red thread

TOTAL COST SO FAR: Ca. NOK 3500,- ($580).




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