salmon pink dress

The House We Live In: Costuming “Grey Gardens”

Good afternoon, everyone! I hope you all had a nice weekend and enjoyed the mini-reviews. It’s Monday, which means it’s time to take a look at a new show. I’ve switched gears a little bit, and I’m taking a look at a designer who I’ve mentioned on the blog but have yet to give a full review to: William Ivey Long. Mr Long is a wonderfully talented costumer who has won 6 Tony Awards in his career, out of a total of fifteen nominations (and counting). Today, I’m going to take a look at his Tony-winning designs in 2006′s Grey Gardens.

I chose Grey Gardens for my first Long-costumed production not only because I love his designs, but because I think this is a musical that deserves more attention and appreciation than it gets ten years on. I remember enjoying the cast album when it first came out, and a re-listen this weekend reminded me that it has some beautiful songs and wonderful performances from start to finish. Based on the 1977 documentary of the same name, the musical revolves around the complicated psychology of the mother-daughter relationship between Edith “Big Edie” Beale and Edith “Little Edie” Beale, the aunt and cousin of First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy respectively.

Unique, I believe, to this production is that the role of Big Edie is played by two different actresses in two different time periods, while the role of Little Edie is taken on by the actress who first plays her mother. For the original Broadway run, the role of Big Edie in Act I was taken on by Christine Ebersole, who won a Tony for her performance in the musical as a whole, while Mary Louise Wilson (who also won a Tony for her role) takes over for Act II; Ms Ebersole plays Little Edie for the duration of Act II. It’s a dramatically interesting production, and Mr Long’s designs help to make it even more worthy of a look.

One of the hallmarks of a William Ivey Long production, much like Catherine Zuber, is that he takes his cue from the original era of the musical and then adds a twist, usually involving bright and lively colors. Let’s take a look at the production, starting with Act I:

Long Island, 1941. The scene is set at a beautiful family gathering as Big Edie (Christine Ebersole, in pink) holds court in her stately New York home, kitted out in high fashion. At her feet, the young Jacqueline and Lee Bouvier listen as she animatedly sings in comic fashion.

I offer the description of the scene because I think it helps to give some context for the costume designs. I’m going to start with the most obvious piece, the one that immediately draws the eye, Ms Ebersole’s. Looking like the stately grande dame she is in Act I, Big Edie is costumed in a beautiful salmon-pink dress with an elegant floral-patterned silk robe or kimono over it. The dress is a light fabric and the color acts as a stark contrast to the grays and blues that predominate in the Beale household that forms the majority of the set. The ensemble is complemented by the addition of a long red beaded necklace that is draped so that it hangs down towards Ms Ebersole’s lap.

In contrast to the theatrical Big Edie, the children at her feet are costumed in much more muted colors. Lee (left) is costumed in a floral white shirt and blue overalls, while Jacqueline (right, played by future Modern Family star Sarah Hyland) is in a more formal blue and white floral dress. The fabric of that dress is a little rougher than that used for Ms Ebersole’s costume, and I think that is an intentional choice on the part of Mr Long. After all, clothing for children has to be a bit more durable!

Take a look at the costumes in a bit more detail here:

You can really see the 1940s styling in Ms Ebersole’s costume in this shot. The salmon-pink dress flows beautifully, with the mid-century pinch at the bosom; that makes the fabric bunch up into a beautiful set of folds that is almost reminiscent of a bow without the addition of another fabric. I’ll take a look at the robe itself in more detail in a moment, but look at the subtle color of the garment; Mr Long has managed to find a bolt of pink silk that is so light that it’s almost creamy in color and texture, and the way it catches the light is absolutely perfect for giving off the air of a rich sophisticate.

The children’s costumes continue to offer a counterpoint to their aunt’s costumes, simpler in design and scope and still muted; I like the way that Jacqueline’s costume mirrors the wallpaper of the parlor in a way, albeit in a lighter shade. It helps to tie together the vision of Mr Long as costumer with the vision of the scene/set designer (Allen Moyer for this production). I harp on it a lot, but it is so vital that the set designer and costume designer have a good relationship and work together to bring a production to life; the sign of a good Broadway production is when the costumes and sets fit together seamlessly.

I said I wanted to look at the robe in a bit more detail, and while the lighting is not perfect, I did manage to find a still that allows us to take a closer look at this beautiful garment:

In the interwar era (1919-1941, so Grey Gardens’ Act I is just under the wire), Asian-inspired designs were popular, especially when mixed with Western color schemes, and that is what we have on display here. The robe resembles a kimono with wide, sweeping sleeves that hang down and add an extra layer to the robe, and it is constructed out of thin, elegant silk in a pale, pale pink color. There are a number of floral emblems throughout, in shades of pink, gold, and brown, with the occasional touch of blue for a contrasting color.

Silk is a fabric that is always a joy to work with, even if it cannot stand up to a lot of abuse. Its innate sheen allows it to catch and reflect light beautifully, and it adds a richness that other fabrics simply do not possess. It makes sense for Mr Long to have used silk here; the Beales were fantastically wealthy members of the New York society set, and Big Edie would have insisted on having the finest available. The floral emblems that decorate the robe are exquisite in their styling and execution, and really make this garment pop, regardless of the lighting or Ms Ebersole’s position onstage.

The costumes in Grey Gardens’ first act continue to be sumptuous as the Act reaches its climax; take a look at this set of dresses from near the finale:

Once again, we see that Ms Ebersole in her role as Big Edie is given an outfit that contains significant elements of salmon pink, this time complemented by grays and whites. Her daughter, Little Edie (played by Erin Davie), is outfitted in a snow-white, spaghetti-strap wedding gown; the bodice is a satiny fabric, while the bell and body of the dress consist of an internal satin layer with layer upon layer of tulle. The tulle itself is decorated with a series of lacy floral elements which add to the luxury of the dress–but it is still, overall, a bit simple of a design. I think I actually like that, because it allows a contrast with the more colorfully and richly costumed character of Big Edie.

Big Edie’s dress for the end of Act I is classic William Ivey Long in that it is richly patterned and fits the actress absolutely perfectly. Custom tailoring is not easy to do, and it’s pulled off expertly here:

The bosom of the dress is once again pinched to provide layers and folds, and the dress itself is off the shoulder; if that looks familiar to you, it may be because Christine Ebersole wore a similar style of dress to the 2017 Tony Awards ceremony. There is a thick, predominantly pink cummerbund element below the bust, which then gives way to the beautiful fabric used for the body of the dress itself. I said earlier that it is a floral design, and I stand by that–but rather than being open buds, the splashes of pinks, oranges, and lavenders in this dress put one in mind of flower petals. I think that’s a neat idea for a formal dress, and it’s one that I associate with Mr Long; his twist, as it were, on style of the era of a period piece is to take the expected (florals) and make them slightly more modern (the use of petals rather than buds or blooms). Very clever technique, and it really draws the eye to the dress.

But if Act I is all about classic 1940s style and beautiful costumery, Act II is about the fall from grace experienced by the Beales by 1973, when the second half of the musical is set. By then, the women had become codependent on each other, and the musical explores their fraught modern relationship. The estate, grand and beautiful in the 1940s, has fallen into disrepair, and the costumes that Mr Long designed reflect that to some degree. While they take cues from the 1970s, there’s some intentional shabbiness that reflects the collapse in circumstances the main characters have experienced. Take a look at this costume for Little Edie, now played by Ms Ebersole, alongside one of Mr Long’s sketches:

Gone are the grand cuts and the sweeping fabrics, away have gone the detail elements, and what we are left with is a fairly simple red dress and headscarf combination. Without disrespecting Mr Long’s work, there is a shabbiness to the simplicity here, though it is intended. Little Edie really isn’t much worried with her fashion choices; she’s dressing in what’s comfortable and, perhaps more importantly, what’s available. Part of the story of Grey Gardens is that the Edies barely ever left their home, becoming famous recluses on Long Island. Indeed, until the documentary, most neighbors assumed the estate was abandoned and simply a home for feral cats.

That shabbiness and reduction in glamor and luxury is even more stark when we consider what’s happened to Big Edie, now being played by Mary Louise Wilson. Recall how beautiful her costuming was in Act I when played by Ms Ebersole; it was bright and lively, and it felt like it positively oozed luxury and beauty. Now in her dotage, her costuming is far more simple and even a little bit threadbare:

Instead of a flowing ballgown, we have what appears to be a bathrobe or housecoat in a much louder, much more mass-produced floral pattern. The silk robe of Act I is long gone and what she has now feels like it could have been store-bought rather than tailored directly to her. Mr Long is clever in his choice here, because I think the floral design–which once again includes petals!–is designed to be a direct counterpoint to the beautiful gown in which the Big Edie character ends the first Act. I love the contrast, and the simpler costuming forces the audience to really think about what has happened to these two women.

The idea of counterpoints is strong in this Act, with many of the costumes bringing to mind earlier, more heavily designed numbers. Remember the luxurious silk robe and the beautiful dress from the beginning of the musical; there was even some accessorizing in the form of the long, elegant beaded necklace. But those are faded memories now, and what Big Edie is left with is this simple, almost homespun number:

The hat is a limp straw, more for accent than anything else, and the pink shawl–tying directly to the pink dress of the first Act–is loose and relatively inefficient. It’s not going to do much to add warmth on a blustery Long Island afternoon, and it adds an air of almost sadness to the overall look. Add in the blanket in leopard print–hardly the choice of a woman of sophistication in this era–and the overall effect is to drive home just how little these women have been left with.

One last piece of costuming deserves a bit of commentary, and it’s one of Little Edie’s numbers:

Sunning herself, Ms Ebersole gazes into a mirror in a tiger-print bathing suit and a black swimming skullcap. It’s a mournful costume, and she’s holding a mirror and gazing upon herself. The swimsuit is hardly couture (and yes, couture swimsuits do exist) while the skull cap is plain and dull, even with the addition of the brown ribboning on the sides. What Mr Long has done with this costume is drive home that these women have lost almost everything through some circumstance or another: their sense of fashion, their rich fabrics, their grand lifestyle, and in a sense, everyone in their lives except each other.

I enjoy the costumes that Mr Long produced for this musical, because they offer such stark contrasts to one another. Part of that is the split in time period between one Act and the next, but much of it is because he masterfully uses color and pattern to tell the story. What was rich and beautiful in Act I has become cheap and mass-produced in Act II, and that’s not necessarily an easy thing to pull off. There are subtle nods to the time period in each Act–the pinched bosom in Act I, and the scarf/skullcaps in Act II–but the designs are on the whole original. They are definitely worthy of a Tony not only for their designs, but for the way in which they complement and mirror one another.

Before I close out the review, I want to just offer a few brief words about the musical itself. This is one that is very much deserving of a listen and not just a look at the costumes. The music by War Paint’s Scott Frankel, the lyrics by Michael Korie, and the book by Doug Wright all combine to tell a fascinating story not only of two peripheral historical figures (Kennedy relations by marriage), but of a complex and intertwined, even codependent, mother/daughter relationship. Both Christine Ebersole and Mary Louise Wilson put in Tony-winning performances that are pretty apparent from even a cursory listen. They bring passion and drive to the production that is not always evident on Broadway or in a recording.

Overall, I think this is a musical that deserves to be appreciated more than it has been in recent years. It’s a hidden gem despite its success at the Tonys, and I really encourage you all to check it out when you have a chance. I don’t think you will regret it!

That wraps up my first foray into the costumes of William Ivey Long, but it is far from the last time I will look at his designs! I hope that you enjoyed today’s review, and as always, my dear readers, please feel free to send feedback by Ask, Submission, or by Message.

Until next time, stay tuned!

Cardcaptor Sakura Appreciation Week, Day 2: Favorite Arc

I think this is the first time I’ve ever drawn Sakura’s famous “it’s not pink, it’s salmon” dress.

My favorite arc overall is the Sakura Card arc in the comic! The pacing is excellent, the different plot lines all come to satisfying conclusions without overshadowing each other, and the personal narratives of all the major characters – not just Sakura and Syaoran, but Tomoyo, Touya, Yue and Yukito, and even Kero – unite to form a clever, honest, and often moving story with a heartfelt resolution. I think Nanase Ohkawa’s writing here is much more nuanced and mature than it was in her earlier works, which you can see most clearly in scenes like Clow’s final moments with Kero and Yue and the aftermath of Sakura’s confession to Yukito. Please do yourself a favor and read it if you haven’t already.

The animated adaptation of the Clow Card arc, on the other hand, was a fun, creative expansion of the source material, and you can clearly tell that the animation staff at Madhouse put a lot of love into the production. I think Meiling was a smart addition to the story, and a lot of the “filler” episodes (like the ones featuring The Sleep, The Create, and The Dream) went far beyond the limits of the original CCS concept. Sakura felt much more like a normal kid during her daily-life scenes, and the city of Tomoeda itself became more lifelike with the addition of all the many different minor characters and events that appeared throughout the series. On top of that, the animation quality was excellent for a weekly series – it was one of the last gasps of traditional cel animation in Japanese television. In fact, in lieu of a remake (along the veins of Sailor Moon Crystal), the first two arcs of the cartoon have been re-airing on NHK BS Premium in almost the exact same timeslot as the original series since April. A new generation of young viewers is experiencing Cardcaptor Sakura for the first time!

Anything for my mermaid. (Emison fanfic)

“Ugh.” Emily sighed whilst moving her hands down the blue dress she was wearing.She sat down on the bed and pulled off a pair of black heels. A date tonight with Alison was on the cards, but she just could not decide what to wear. Was it the blue dress or the black dress? Or maybe the date was going to be casual. Was it too much? “Grr.” Emily croaked whilst pouting and letting some air escape her mouth which moved a stray strand of her brown locks away from her face.

“Casual or Fancy?” she tapped into her phone before sending the message to the girl of her dreams.

“You always look great, Em.” replied Alison.

“Great help.” Emily sighed. She eventually got annoyed and decided she was just going to wear the figure-hugging blue dress, which showed off her curves.
She fixed her lipstick, powdered her face a little more and grabbed her black bag and a black blazer because it was kind of chilly.

She walked out of the hotel room, locked the door and took the elevator to the ground floor. There she was met with a man who held a huge bouqeut of pink roses. Emily didn’t expect Alison to be this romantic. It was like the tables turned.She was escorted out of the beautiful hotel, which was actually quite expensive and luxurious. The man opened the door to a black limo.
“Oh my god, a limo?!” Emily gasped in surprise and admiration.Ali clearly went to a huge effort, but why?

After the ride, she pulled up to the sidewalk and the lovely chauffeur opened the door and helped her out. “Thanks.” she smiled before walking up to the blonde girl who was standing in the most beautiful dress. It was a flowing salmon pink dress, with a leg split. Alison had her hair straight. (It had grown long, again.) and a pair of silver heels.

“Hello, Em.” Alison smiled then bit her lip. “You look really beautiful.”
“Says you, Ali.” Emily blushed. Alison hooked onto Emily’s arm and they kissed, softly on the lips. Emily rested her head on Ali’s shoulder as they walked to their destination. Nothing could be more perfect. All the horrible things, all the secrets and all the lies were over. A fresh start.

Emily was expecting a little bistro or a small restaurant, but when they arrived, Emily was overjoyed. Alison looked at Emily, a grin spread across her face as she watched her girl’s eyes glisten. “You like it?” she asked.
“Like it? I love it!” Emily replied. 

Emily glanced. Wine and candles, on a blanket under the moon, right beside the Eiffel Tower. The lights sparkled, the moon seemed to wink and the stars danced. It was just perfect, Alison really thought of everything.

After they had a few glasses of wine, Emily grasped Alison’s hand.“I love you.” she whispered, placing a kiss on her bronzed cheeks.
“I mean, who doesn’t.” Alison replied bluntly. Emily paused about to speak up before a grinning Ali chuckled. “I’m just kidding,” she laughed. “I love you, more than the stars.” the two embraced in a kiss. Alison’s hands holding Emily’s hip and Emily’s hands clasping to Ali’s face, ever so gently.

“I need to ask you something.” Alison played with Em’s fingers.
“Sure.” Emily’s eyebrows frowned in confusion.

Alison looked down, moved her hands away from Emily and reached into the picnic basket, filled with wine and cookies and cheeses.

She pulled out a small pink bag, with a little tag. She passed it to Emily.
‘To Em, My love. x" Emily read the tag with a huge smile.
She opened the parcel. There was a pink box. She opened it slowly. “Oh my, Ali!” Emily giggled. “It’s beautiful.”

She held a silver necklace in her hands. It had a blue jewel, inside a heart. It dazzled, beautifully. Emily pulled her hair to the side and Alison helped her put the necklace on.

“If you like that, you’ll like this more.” Alison pulled out another box. Smaller in size. She opened it. Emily’s face dropped in surprise, joy and excitement.
“Emily Fields,” Alison bit her lip and looked down.“Would you be my wife?”
A tear came to Emily’s eye.
“You’re the girl I want to be with. I knew a long time ago I loved you and that I could never let you go, ever.I wanted this day to happen. I dreamed of it all the time. I thought of it every time I saw your smile, or your eyes. You complete me, Em.”
“Wow."Emily chuckled a little. A flicker of joy flashed across her brown eyes. "Yes, Ali.” Alison slipped the ring onto her finger. They just smiled at one another for a short while. Everything was right, in that moment.

“Now, maybe a celebratory dinner on top of the Eiffel Tower?” Ali laughed.Emily’s face dropped in disbelief. “You did not!” she put her hands over her mouth.

“Anything for my little mermaid.”