About a month and a half or so ago, my friend Dave Young asked if I would be willing to do the costume design for a music video he was planning. He's the manager for TLCTrio (and father of the pianist), and they had just done a cover of Adele's "Skyfall." It's a great song, and their cover of it is excellent as well. The video was going to involve a live chess game with some great intensity and betrayal. Dave wanted me to essentially create this chess set.
I feel the need to explain at this point that being a costume designer does not necessarily imply making all the costumes. In a theater or film context, being a costume designer means determining what each character would wear and acquiring or creating those items--or directing others to create them. A costume designer for a major theater or movie production would have a whole team and would most likely not do much, if any sewing. That last part is not true of me, but I did have help in the form of my wonderful and sexy husband and our friend Kimberli Grant.
Because of the short time frame of production, we took a trip to Hale Centre Theatre's costume department to see what they had that might work for us. The amazing Brooke Wilkins pulled a variety of options for us that she thought might work for a chess set, and several of them worked right off the bat. Keeping in mind that the costumes needed to be primarily white or primarily black to be clear which "team" they were on and that many of the costumes had to come in pairs or sets of eight, the theater had better options for the black side than for the white, but Brooke was really great at helping me come up with other options when I didn't like everything she had pulled initially. She knows their huge collection amazingly well, so you tell her what look you're going for, and she knows just what you need and where to find it.
They still didn't have what we needed for every chess piece, so we had to create some of our own costumes--most notably the Black Queen. (Note: I'm not sad about that because I love really creating things.) Hale had a dress that could have looked great for the part, but it had a train, and our Black Queen is a competitive ballroom dancer who would be dancing in the video, so a train was a bad idea. The Black Queen was supposed to be fairly edgy, so her costume was designed with a lot of leather and metal. I borrowed some of these pieces, Nanette provided her own shirt, and I made both skirts. Her tiara was from Hale.
Hale did have an excellent 18th century coat and crown that we rented for the Black King. Ryan provided everything else he wore except the sword--that belongs to my husband. He must be a really good actor because when I met him to measure him, he was one of the nicest guys I have ever met, but he played a really great Black King. (In case you haven't figured it out, the black side was supposed to be sinister.)
Hale also provided us with great Black Bishop and Knight costumes. The actors provided their own pants, the bishops had to have their own black button-up shirts, and we borrowed boots for the knights, but Hale provided us with the parts that really made the costumes--except for the weaponry. Jon and I provided the knights' swords, and someone made really cool staffs for the bishops. I don't appear to have any pictures of the Black Bishops in costume (but I can at least show you the costume piece we rented from Hale), and the Black Knight I photographed had not yet been issued his sword. I guess you'll have to watch the video.
All four rooks actually provided their own costumes according to instructions. They wore pencil dresses (black and white, respectively), with sexy tights and high heels. The Black Rooks had arm sheaths containing throwing knives, and the White Rooks had flintlock pistols (replicas, of course). The idea was to achieve a femme fatale look, and I think they really pulled it off. I have no pictures, though. You'll have to watch the video to see them too.
The pawns were probably the hardest to plan because what, exactly, should a pawn look like? I realize they represent foot soldiers, but if I dressed them like that, they would run the risk of looking too much like knights, which would be visually confusing. But Hale saved me again. They had a huge stock of black tulle cloaks--way more than the eight I would need for the Black Pawns. (I know. That doesn't sound all that pawnish, but bear with me.) Tulle is cheap and cloaks are easy to make, so we decided to make matching white tulle cloaks for the White Pawns. (Cloaks may be easy to make, but I really have to thank Kimberli for making them. I couldn't have finished everything own my own in time.) With all-black or all-white clothing on underneath, and all carrying silver poles, they looked surprisingly cool. And the difference between the worn black cloaks and the pristine, new white ones that I thought would be a problem actually worked in our favor to create this impression of the black side being sinister and the white side being good. For uniformity's sake, we bought them all scrubs pants, but they provided their own long-sleeved t-shirts. Being barefoot was not my idea, but I think it looked cool.
Hale had a great dress and crown for the White Queen, but I provided the jewelry (my pearl belt needs work and needed help to make it through the day, but it looked great as part of the costume) and the dagger.
I really struggled with the White King's costume. When Hale didn't have something I wanted to use for the Black Queen, I really quickly came up with an idea for her. Admittedly, that idea had to get modified, but that was no problem. But the White King was elusive. I didn't want him in a coat similar to the Black King. It didn't seem to fit his character. But how should he dress? And then I thought of the Student Prince. (I believe it originated as a stage musical, but as I'm familiar with it, it's a '50s movie that I thought starred Mario Lanza, but apparently does not. Oh well.) Ultimately, my White King's costume didn't end up looking that much like the Student Prince, but it is what gave me the inspiration I needed to get past my block. Hale had a white coat that looked kind of like a military officer's dress whites, and I added (in a completely non-permanent way) red and gold epaulettes, a matching red and gold collar, medals, a citation cord, and a white dress cape. With a gold cord running diagonally across his chest to hold his saber (Jon's replica Confederate saber), Austin's own grey slacks and dance shoes, and another crown from Hale, the costume really looked great.
The White Bishops also caused me some issues in planning, but eventually I settled on making them "Musketeer"-type tabards, and they were to wear all-white clothing and black dress shoes underneath. Luckily, they both owned white pants.
|This shows a sample of one of the bishops' staffs. They were each unique, but this was my favorite.|
The White Knights were another piece for which Hale could not provide anything I really loved, but the costume design was simple. Long-sleeved white shirts with sleeveless grey t-shirts over them to create the illusion of "gear," white tabards with gold sun emblems on the chests over all of that, light grey scrub pants (to make sure they would be the same color of grey), black boots and arm guards, and swords and belts.
It seems only fair to at least show you the musicians at this point, even though I was only minimally responsible for their clothing, simply because it is their video.
And for your viewing pleasure, one of their previous videos, which I was also involved in. Do you see me and Jon?
P.S. Filming for this just happened on Monday, March 11th, 2013, and there is actually more to the video than the actual live chess set, so the video won't be available until the other shoot and all of the editing have happened. I promise to post a link when it is up.