The Hannibal Elissa Costume
from "Phantom of the Opera"

Going from "slavegirl" to queen Elissa in a few seconds.
(This is achieved by removing the rope skirt and attaching a grand skirt with a false bodice continuation)


1. Minoan snake goddess statuette ca. 1600 BC.
2. Minoan goddess statuette.
3. Sarah Brightman, West End 1986.
4. Design for Christine's Elissa costume, Maria Bjørnson 1986.
5. Design for Carlotta's Elissa costume, Maria Bjørnson 1986.
6. Janine Kitzen, Stuttgart ca. 2002.
7. Susanne Elmark, Denmark 2000 (a heavy altered Swedish skirt).
8. Kiara Sasso, Brazil ca. 2005
9. West End, probably Charlotte Paige, ca. 1999.

I may be wrong about this, but I think "Phantom of the Opera" designer Maria Bjørnson was inspired by the Minoan snake goddess figures for the Elissa design. At least in Carlotta's costume. When comparing some of the elements from the figures to the Carlotta sketch there are some striking similarities: the long skirt with apron in front, the "bare" breasts, the pleated hem, the X-decorations at the hem etc.

Still, Maria Bjørnson's design is just as much an way of showing how the Victorians would envision earlier historical periods, as an attempt to recreate a specific historical epoque or style on it's own. So it's a Victorian vision of the past she has designed. So there'll be a hint of Victorian bustle style too. As far as stage costumes goes, I'm basing my own version on European versions, with an extra emphazis on UK, Germany and Denmark. The costumes used in Sweden, Denmark, Holland, Switzerland, Austria, Spain, Mexico and Belgium had a red skirt rather than the green design from most other productions (including the original). I got to see the Danish costumes up close, and loved what I saw, so I decided that I wanted to copy that colour scheme. For a long time I assumed the Christine sketch would be merely a simplified version of the Carlotta one. The Carlotta sketch is fairly detailed, with a green skirt, a red apron, hanging tabs and various drapes. But then I finally got to SEE the Christine one, and it's highly different. It barely shows any skirt at all, only the hanging tabs and a hint of an apron. It's like the tabs are replacing the rope skirt. This explains the extreme simplicity of the original Elissa costumes in West End, with the alternating green and red tabs, and it also explains why both red and green skirts has been made later on - the actual skirt wasn't meant to be there, and hence it wasn't sketched.

Elissa rule #1: You can never add too much gold. When you've added enough to decorate a whole Bollywood movie, you still need more. Always.
Elissa rule #2: Seriously, you can never have too much gold.
Elissa rule #3: Think layers. Or what Maria Bjørnson called "kritzy-kritzy". Use fabrics on fabrics, trims on trims, and decorate it even more with sequins, beads etc.
Elissa rule #4: The basic breakdown is the same in most version: bell shaped skirt, draped apron with false bodice, hanging tabs, pleated hem, and waterfall backdrapes.
Elissa rule #5: Think opposite colours: if the skirt is green, you'd want red details. And gold. If the skirt is red, you'd want green details. And gold.
Elissa rule #6: Finish all details on the pleated hem before attaching it. If golden X ribbons, tassels and gems are attached on forehand, it's easier to adjust skirt length later on.
Elissa rule #7: Even though the actual skirt may be a masterpiece, it'll look sad without a proper underskirt. All the details disappears. This cannot be skipped.
Elissa rule #8: Some stuff are cheaper and easier to make yourself. Large golden tassels, for example. It's often also cheaper to add sequins, beads and gems to appliquées oneself.
Elissa rule #9: Don't forget the back of the costume. The POTO costumes are made to be beautiful from all angles. The sides and back is in no way inferior to the front.
Elissa rule #10: Velvet is gorgeous. But it's also heavy. Use it for small details only. Go for brocades and jacquards instead, and Indian sari fabrics. Avoid plain fabrics.

Most skirts used by Christine are build up by several layers of stiff netting, while the Carlotta versions have hoop skirts. I think this is because it's easier to attach a netting version to Christine during the 10 seconds blackout, compared to a big hoop skirt. So that's what I'll use for my own costume as well. The black netting skirt is with many rows of ruffles and pleats, around 20 meters of black netting in total. I must admit I made the underskirt after I had made the overskirt. But I think the other way around would be smarter, as it would make it easier to get the right fullness and drape from the start. Whatever the case, this costume really needs a proper underskirt. I wore the ensemble once without the netting skirt, and the whole thing looked kinda sad. Didn't do all the details justice at all. So be sure to make or wear a big, fluffy netting underskirt (AKA "underskirt of doom"). Read more about that here. A crinoline, as in Carlotta's costume, also does the trick.

For the main skirt I choose a gorgeous shot red/golden sari fabric. I bought two lengths, which in total was around 4,5 meters. I used the fabric as one long strip, lined it with matching red polyester, and box pleated it to a red waistband. The sari fabric was first decorated with crystals, but they didn't really come through. So I changed it to golden sequins, which gives a nice sparkly effect. I kept a bit of the length un-pleated in the back, so it hangs down and forms a small train in the skirt.

1. Closeup of the sari fabric used. The colour changes from intense red to golden, depending on the light.
2. Big black netting underskirt of doom. It is super light, but gives the bell shape the skirt needs.
3. Very early in the process. Trying out various fabrics and ways of draping.
4. In lack of an underskirt I draped the skirt over an oven... This shows the fullness of the skirt well.
5. Halfway there. The hem is pleated, the apron draped, and the tabs developing...

Assemble the main skirt was definitely the easiest part of this project, since I only used one long, uncut strip of fabric. The parts demanding a lot of work were the hanging tabs and the pleated hem - the former because I needed five of them, and they are extremely detailed, and the latter because it's many meters of fabric pleated and decorated. Plus, I didn't have an unlimited budged, so I made stuff instead of buying it when I could.

Since I went for a red skirt, as I had seen in Denmark and Germany, the accenting details would need to be green. I drafted the main shape for the tabs, loosely based on Susanne Elmark's Elissa skirt in Copenhagen, except they turned out a bit more pointed at the end. I cut two layers of unbleached cotton for each tab. Today I would probably have added a sort of stiffening (visilene) between the cotton layers to make the tabs sturdier, but they made a nice basis still. They were covered by a moss green polyester, and with a golden "pyramide" trim around the edges. The lower part got gold fringes as well.

I glanced at the costume Janine Kitzen wore in Stuttgart, and saw that her tabs had a sort of mid motif surrounded by long red "frames". Her tabs were broader than mine, and the design rather intricate, but I kept the "frame" idea in the back of my head. However, the actual shape was inspired by the entrance door of Carrie in "Sex and the City"... Wine red velvet was zig-zagged down to form the main shape, and trims was added on top. The costume Susanne Elmark wore in Copenhagen had alternating circles and diamond squares down the tab; I only copied the circles. The circles are embroidered pieces cut out from a metallic fabric. They were stitched to the green polyester and got a golden trim on top. The red middle field got a red sequin, to match the sparkle of the golden sequins on the embroidery.

1. Carrie Bradshaw's entrance door, from "Sex and the City".
2. and 3. Closeups of the tabs. There are five in total.
4. Loops inspired by an uniform jacket.
5. Closeup of the bottom of the tab.
6. Closeup of the trims and floral metal plate.
7. The "circles" cut out from an embroidered fabric, used in the centre of the tab.

Decorating the red velvet frames was worse. The outshape of the velvet was trimmed with two ribbons - a green spiral patterned one, and a gold floral sequin one on top. But the middle field... Not easy. I didn't copy a specific version, so I had to compose it myself. I was inspired by the oddest things. As mentioned above, Carrie's entrance door was one source of inspiration. Another was the sleeve decorations of an uniform I saw on a ferry - that became the looped pattern under the circle on the red velvet. That circle was made by using the outline of a glass, stitching down a gold cord, and adding an appliquée in the middle. Once this was done, I had the vision of the circle being the "seed", and the loop underneath the roots. So the top had to be the flower or whatever was to blossom. It was made by stitching down more of the same gold trim, and fastening a floral metal plate on top. The upper red "frame" was kept as it was, as only a little bit of it was viewable in the back, while they were all hidden in front.

Originally I wanted to try out an apron seen in the UK in 2003, in a Carlotta costume: red silk draped over a straight red velvet foundation. I would of course make it in green, but the overall idea would be the same. But then I found this funky two-coloured green fabric with gold pattern. It complimented the red skirt fabric so well, I just had to go for it. I decided the whole skirt should have lots of gold, but I would avoid all kind of yellow gold. the skirt should look almost antique, with a silverish or dusty tone to all the gold, and the reds and greens should be dark jewel colours and with a hint of gold in them as well. I added golden sequins to the whole fabric, to make it sparkle. The fabric was then draped on a base of unbleached cotton, and stitched down. The outline was trimmed with a golden fringe, and also a pyramide shaped golden ribbon reminding of the one used in the tabs. The apron is curved at front, and has a sharp curve up over the hips. It continues into the back.

The faux bodice is made for one reason only: to allow Christine Daaé a quick costume change in a blackout. Before the lights go down, she is dressed in the "slavegirl" costume worn by the ballet girls. When the lights comes back on, she wears a costume mimicking that of Carlotta. In some productions they wear an identical costume, in other productions it differs. The big skirt she wears after the blackout is merely placed on top of the other costume. But the faux bodice makes it appear as one unison dress, and gives her pointed bodice as Carlotta wears. Most European versions makes the faux bodice continue in the back. I didn't want this.

I've always loved the rounded appearance of the US costumes, hardly revealing any transition at all. I'm not too crazy about the big pleats they have in the back, though. But as mentioned I didn't want the large faux bodice in the back, as most European versions have. Most of all because it's hard to make it match up all around, but also because it makes the costume appear to have a too big lower bodice compared to the upper half. So I made my false bodice stop at the sides, continuing only the golden trim to the back, making a smooth transition. I was happy to discover that both a Dutch and a Japanese version appears to have been made the same (or similar) way as what I did. Made it a plausible solution. An effect I didn't expect is that the apron almost forms a V in the back, which makes it appear as if the faux bodice is continued in the back. But it's only the actual bodice seen through the V shape.

The faux bodice is made of the same materials as the slavegirl bodice, with alternating red and green viscose velvet trimmed with golden ribbons at the seams. The base is of unbleached cotton, and it's not boned. It's sewn on top of the green apron, and the golden trim used at the V in front is continued into the back.

I made the beaded belt from scratch. A feature shared by basically all Elissa skirts, be it for Carlotta or Christine, is three big brooches at the apron, with various bead deco in between. As much as I love the Danish versions of the Elissa skirt, I never quite clicked with the apron/belt part they had. So I looked to other versions. A Canadian version served as inspiration for the main shape, but I used other materials. Three big brooces were bought at Indiska. Originally they had had purple and turquoise/green stones. I replaced the purple ones with red, and kept the turquoise/green ones. I beaded strings of beads, of various lengths, and attached these in between the brooches. Each brooch also has three hanging strings of beads, ending in large glass beads of red and green. The brooches were pinned to the apron; one in front and one at each side.

. 1. Judith Gardner-Jones in West End in 2003.
2. Patti Cohenour in Toronto ca. 1992.
3. Two Dutch Christines, from Holland ca. 1993.
4. The apron/faux bodice part of my replica.
5. Frontal view of the false bodice meeting the real bodice.
6. Apron and belt seen from the side.
7. Apron and belt seen from the front.
8. How the apron meets up in the back. haven't decided on tha appliquée yet.
9. This picture shows how different the two green tones actually are.

The thought of having to sew lots of golden ribbons to a green fabric psyched me out. Both because it would be a huge expense and lots of work. And then I ran across this awesome green fabric with golden and purple stripes. I could not believe my luck! There were only two meters left, but by cutting it into strips, sewing it together into a long strip and then pleat it carefully, I would have my pleated hem. And it worked like a dream. When finished I added another golden trip on top of the finished pleats, to vary the stripes a little and to make sure the pleats were stable. But when I attached it to the skirt, it looked too narrow. It bugged me. So I ended up using a dark green fabric from my stash, very mysterious fabric too, and I pleated it and added it on top of the stripy one. The transaction between them was covered up by a narrow green/golden ribbon and a broader, looped golden ribbon.

Before I attached the hem, I added the X shaped ribbons. Basically, two 6 meter long strips of golden ribbons was folded up and down, crossing eachother at regular intervals. I stitched down where they crossed eachother and attached a "brooch" with gems. Originally these were ear clips. I had an uncle who loved flee markets and auctions, and he would often bring home treasures like these in large quantities. One day he came with these ear clips, and I kept them in my stash for years until the Elissa skirt called out for them. I removed the back and sew them on. I also made 22 golden tassels and attached to the lower half of the golden ribbons. They were decorated with a golden sequin on top.

1. Backstage picture of one of the Danish Elissa skirts.
2. The Elissa skirt with the original hem.
3. The Elissa skirt with the added green strip + golden X ribbons.
4. Ditto. 5. A closeup of the hem, whoing the different materials used.

For the backdrapes I wanted the rich, separated waterfall backdrapes I had seen in West End. I used a green and red polyester satin from my stash, and also a green/golden trim I had saved for some years. The trim was perfect, but when trying to drape the fabrics I understood why the UK backdrapes are made of taffeta. It's crisper and easier to get into shape, whereas the polyester satin is slippy. But in the end I made it work. I used a red trim for the green side, and a green trim for the red side. I had seen this in a UK backdrape, although the trims used there were both gold, but with a hint of either red or green. Mine were wed or green with a hint of gold. But I made this largely of stuff in my stash.

1. A West End backdrape, probably Charlotte Paige ca. 1999.
2. Fabrics are cut and sewn together. Trying out trims and draping.
3. Hmm, getting there, but not quite...
4. This is more like it!
5. Trying out an additional red drape with scraps of the red fabric.
6. Current state of the backdrapes. Still a bit soft, but ah well.


1. The costume standing in my old costume room. The light was always so nice there.
2. to 4. Frontal view of me wearing the costume. I've since added more fluff to the underskirt.
5. Side view of the costume. I like that the skirt has a hint of a bustle shape.
6. The colours are not as bold in real life!
7. Aaaaah, the wonders of Photoshop! Sorry for artificially replacing you there, Claudia Cota...
8. The costume with the fluffed up underskirt. Very nice silhouette.
9. to 15. New pictures of the full ensemble, from April 2011.

I made a tiara in the same was as the collar and belt of the slavegirl bodice - but making a cotton base, applying a black fabric on top, and then rich trims and appliquées on top of that. It worked well for the belt, the collar and also the wrist bands, but the tiara turned out rather dull. So I want to make a new one later on. I'm working on a scarf for the costume. I've sewn green and black strips of a super thin silk to a longer red strip of the same silk. I'm currently working on decorating the seams and the middle field with various golden/green motifs. It's slow as the silk is thin and I have to paint on both sides. But I'm getting there... Looking for a light-weight fringe for the ends. The scarf is inspired by what they use on stage in West End and northern Europe, and it's super long!

1. Celia Graham, West End 2006.
2. Teresia Bokor, Copenhagen 2009.
3. Katie Knight Adams, West End 2004. I want these fringes!
4. and 5. Shawl in making. Super long, broad, of the lightest silk possible, and hand painted.
6. One of the larger motifs of my scarf.
7. Elissa scarf anno 2011. Only halfway there in terms of painting, and needs fringes too.
7. The tiara in use. It's OK, but not exactly what I wanted.


*4,5 m. of a red/golden sari fabric, with sequins added (main skirt)
*4,5 m. of a red poly lining (skirt lining)
*1,5 m. of a red cotton waistband
*2 m. of a two-nuanced green fabric with golden details + sequences sewn on (apron)
*1,5 m. of unbleached cotton from Ikea (apron base)
*3 m. of an emerald green satin (backdrapes)
*3 m. of a blood red sateen (backdrapes)
*3 m. of a stripy green/golden fabric (made into a pleated 20 cm high hem)
*1 m. of a dark green fabric for additional height to the pleated hem
*7 m. of black netting for the underskirt. Need about twice as much....
*2 m. of moss green poly lining (tabs/spears, five in total)
*1 m. blood red velvet (for tabs, from scrapped Hannibal bodice)

*2,5 m. of a broad green/golden trim (backdrapes)
*2,5 m. of a broad red/golden trim (backdrapes)
*5 m. of a golden/reddish trim for the pleated hem
*4,5 m. of a golden tassel ribbon (for tabs and apron)
*1,5 m. of a pyramide shaped golden ribbon (apron)
*12 m. of a pyramide shaped golden ribbon, with sequences (outerlines of tabs)
*9 m. of a flowery golden sequin ribbon (tabs)
*9 m. of a golden/green looped trim underneath the one above
*6 m. of a glittering golden trim (for tab decorations)
*5 m. of a green/golden narrow ribbon (for covering the transition of the pleated fabrics in hem)

*15 gold/green sequin decorated flowers, cut out from Pakistani shawl (for tabs)
*3 big brooches from the Swedish store Indiska (for the belt)
*5 big metal plates (for the tabs - bought in Rome)
+ lots and lots of beads, sequins, hooks and "jewels".

My "Phantom of the Opera" costume replicas

Back to main site

Copyright � 2001-2016: Anéa