Babylonian Whenever I design a costume I like to take inspiration from historical fashion and then enhance it by adding sources of my own choosing, such as a classic fairytale motif, a gothic masterpiece, or other nuanced designs, which is exactly what I had in mind when I created a Regency fancy dress costume based on an 'Ishtar Gate' from ancient Babylonia.

Well, at the beginning of the 19th century, many painters, novelists, and poets were mesmerized by Eastern culture; and so they created a plethora of work based on idealized, magical, and exotic worlds. In my case, though, I decided to make my Regency dress by hand-dyeing silk crepe until I was able to get the proper “old lapis lazuli” shade of blue, before matching it up with a darker shade of georgette for the overskirt, the sleeves, and the draping (see the picture provided for the end result). Now, the most difficult part of this process was to take Babylonian art and then fit it within the light and elegant lines of Regency fashion. But fortunately enough, lotus flowers (which embellish the Throne Hall) were a very popular form of decoration in the 1810s, and so I managed to find the perfect lace fabric to cut, trim, paint in bronze, and stitch on to the end product. I was also able to find sirrush (Mesopotamian dragons) and strips of flower motifs (that were in the correct proportions) to become 'graceful embroideries' to place on the belt and the frame of the overskirt.

Edelweiss evening gown
So, as you can see, a lot of research, knowledge, and practice is required before we can understand costume design and the history behind it. Not only because it allows us to play with the idea of bending and entwining period patterns with inspirational sources, but in addition to this, it also allows us to recognize the importance of observing specific rules when you have to create a historically accurate dress.

Last year, for instance, I was visiting one of my suppliers and found the remnants of a dazzling pale green silk taffeta (with golden shades). So in my head, I figured out that this would look wonderful on a late Victorian dress (such as an 1885 Edelweiss evening gown), because I had some leftover cream silk shantung and taffeta from my other work. Well, Edelweiss are among my favorite flowers, and back in the day, they were a popular decoration for tourists coming back from visiting Switzerland or Austria. I also managed to find a pair of vintage earrings at the Old Spitalfields Market, and realized they perfectly matched the color palette for what I wanted to create. In fact, this is probably my favorite period dress among the ones I've made (again, see the corresponding picture for the final design), and I eventually wore it at the 'Prior Attire’s Victorian Ball' in Bath.

Snegurochka Another dress that I'm particularly proud of would have to be the one I made based on Rimsky-Korsakov’s 'Snegurochka' (otherwise known as 'The Snow Maiden'), which is a Russian folk tale about a young woman who was made of ice and snow. Like before, I did my research and I came up with my designs. But this time, I looked through a gallery of paintings and photographs that displayed the gorgeous masquerade balls hosted by the Romanov Royal family, only to fall in love with the beautiful gowns worn by the Tsarina's in the 1890s (once again, see the picture provided). This dress is composed of a corset, a petticoat, a crepe satin overskirt, and a bodice whose double sleeves are inspired to traditional Boyar costumes. The front panels were doubled with silvery net and embellished with hand-stitched pieces of lace fabric which I found at a bargain shop. The same materials were also used for making the kokoshnik, which is a Russian headpiece that women normally wear on important occasions.

Celeste Ratazzi - Images

In closing, I'd like to thank Annie Bertram, Timelight Photographic, and Valeria Forno for allowing me to use their photos in this article, before encouraging you to check out my Instagram and Etsy pages.


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