So often my designs are inspired by words. A paragraph, a single sentence, the shortest heartfelt lyric. Left to stew in my mind these can blossom into a concept or character, just waiting to be tweaked and evolved by pencil on paper.
My favourite creation was one such idea, inspired by Edgar Allen Poe’s masterpiece ‘The Raven‘ . Verses seven and eight in particluar…
“Open here I flung the shutter, when, with many a flirt and flutter,
In there stepped a stately raven of the saintly days of yore.
Not the least obeisance made he; not a minute stopped or stayed he;
But, with mien of lord or lady, perched above my chamber door -
Perched upon a bust of Pallas just above my chamber door -
Perched, and sat, and nothing more.
Then this ebony bird beguiling my sad fancy into smiling,
By the grave and stern decorum of the countenance it wore,
`Though thy crest be shorn and shaven, thou,’ I said, `art sure no craven.
Ghastly grim and ancient raven wandering from the nightly shore -
Tell me what thy lordly name is on the Night’s Plutonian shore!’
Quoth the raven, `Nevermore.'”
The description of the raven as stately and beguiling lead me on a path. Were the ravens intentions good or ill? Was it simply the puppet of someone behind the scenes, hoping to drive Poe to madness?
After tons of research and development, these questions lead to “The Raven Mistress”. This gown is a dark, dramatic representation of Poe’s Raven, and its ability to hide its true nature and intentions behind a beguiling facade. I explored themes including the power and decadence of high social status and manipulation through beauty.
One of the mood boards I created during the design process.
I sketched pages and pages of concepts before the final design was developed.
The Raven Mistress is a gown of raw black silk, overlayed with fine net. I sewed much of the gown by hand, using couture construction techniques. Even the huge hemline was handsewn (and what an undertaking that was!).
The velvet bodice is embellished with hand woven beaded feathers. I crafted each of these to a specific size and combination of white, silver and black Japanese glass beads to create the gradient of colour through the bodice, before individually sewing them in place. Hundreds of hours went into this process, leaving me almost as mad as Poe by the end!
More net flows elegantly from the shoulders, blending with the overlay of the gown to create layers of shifting black over the shine and texture of the silk. Long strands of faceted glass beads loop to the wrists and down the gowns train, creating a stylised Raven wings and tail.
Words can lead to things we never imagined, so go forth my friends, and read! ( I’m not suggesting you become obsessed and dedicate a few months of your life to one dress, but a smaller project could be just as enjoyable, and somewhat better for your health.)
If you’d like to explore more of Poe’s work this website is very helpful, even providing a list of Edgar’s more uncommon vocabulary with definitions.