“We design clothes, but there is a lot you cannot see from the outside”
Maite & Emerita – Period Costume Designers – Interview, Spain
Mary Vareli: When did you decide to become period costume designers and how did you two meet?
Maite: We went through slightly different paths to get to a pretty similar point (that was to create our own historical gowns). Emerita herself was sewing since she can remember, that’s why she actually studied fashion design. She has always been into sewing.
I (Maite), on the other hand, studied English Literature and started sewing at around 20, without any previous knowledge whatsoever. It was our love for historical fashion that made us cross paths. We met through a reenactment forum, without realizing we actually were from the same town, and decided we could start a project together since we shared very similar aesthetic tastes and personal views.
Do you only design clothes?
Mainly, we design clothes, but there is a lot you cannot see from the outside. Each dress requires a proper foundation to make the dress “sit” properly. So we make underwear (corsets, skirt supports etc.) and also complements such as headdresses and even jewelry to go with our outfits. There is a whole world for us to be creative here!
Is it difficult to recreate designs of the past accurately? How do you prepare for this?
The first thing to bear in mind is that we will never be 100% accurate. No one can, because, for one thing, we cannot possibly know how everything was made, materials are not produced the same ways anymore and our bodies are not the same as someone’s who wore a corset since childhood.
But we can approach things to look as authentic as possible. As said, foundation garments are key; so are materials (we always tend to go for the thing that would have been used or the next most similar fabric). It is also advisable to do lots of reading and look at hundreds of paintings to grasp the “feeling” of the period.
Can you recall the most difficult work you have ever undertaken?
For example, in the past year, Emerita has made herself the whole range of costumes for two theater productions, without any assistance. I am now working on a project on witches that covers lots of different periods and it’s going to be quite challenging.
Do you also design for movies? Any known ones?
Not at the moment, we have preferred working for the stage. Costume designing for films is a monopolized market nowadays. We worked with an Oscar nominee for a TV spot recently and it wasn’t our cup of tea, we prefer having the full power of decision in artistic matters.
Where do you get your inspiration from?
Many sources for that, different period films and series, literature, even a single painting may light up the sparkle of our imagination.
Do you also model for your designs?
Generally, yes. With the knowledge of our bodies and measurements, we became the perfect “dummies” to test what we made. Also, it is difficult to find models without any visible piercings, tattoos or even with a natural hair color nowadays. It is even difficult to find someone who will accept to appear in front of the camera without any eye makeup (eyeliner is not historical, generally). We may seem picky, but there’s a time and place for everything. When we do fantasy stuff we are not so strict. But we like to separate the two genres.
Any costume designers you admire?
There are lots of people out there who are really talented. People who started from zero and now design patterns and have their own businesses. These are the kind of people worth looking up to. For more well-known people,we would like to mention Terry Dresbach, who has designed the costumes for the two Outlander seasons aired. She has done an amazing job at interpreting the 1940s in the 18th century (the show has a time-travelling plot line).
Who are your favorite collaborator photographers?
For some years now we have been closely working with Helena Aguilar Mayans, an experimental and fine art photographer who uses analogue cameras. Her approach is kind of similar to ours, in a world where clothing and (digital) images are mass produced, fewer products but in favor of better quality is a bit of a novelty. She takes her photography slowly and delights in detail, as we do when sewing.
Also, her aesthetics is Romantic, with and aura of mystery that works wonders with our designs. I would describe her work as “magical realism” since she doesn’t use heavy post-processing (the images are barely retouched), and still, convey a sense of eeriness without any photoshop. Working with her is a delight.
What do you like reading?
Unsurprisingly, historical novels. We both enjoy anything that has a well-built historical setting and a nice plot; strong female characters are also a plus. Emerita also loves comics, especially Marvel, and I’m more into other literary stuff such as poetry (especially Victorian) and anything related to feminist theory.
What are you working on presently?
We are taking care of orders and also still working on the witchcraft project we mentioned before. It is an on-going project depicting witches through the ages to show how the representation of them has varied throughout history.
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