This month @primpmycostume speaks with the wonderful woman behind fellow embellishment company Nose to the Rhinestone, the artist formerly known as Ruby Deshabille – Rhiannon Carpenter. Her sparkle resumé is incredibly impressive. She’s embellished pieces for: The Spice Girls (Epic!), the Olivier and Tony award-winning musical Six, Bridgerton, Crazy For You, Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Cinderella and has a long-standing position as sparkler-in-chief for House of Pyramid.
Rhiannon is my personal “go to” guru for all things bling. If I’m ever stuck, looking for new ideas or need someone to geek out with about The Blonds’ latest runway collection, she’s my woman. She was one of the very first Burlesque performers I interviewed years ago for this blog, so I’m really happy to circle back around and find out more of what she has to say about costuming, from the stand-point of her new embellishment business. Which, if it’s anything like her Burlesque career was, is really going places!
Charlotte Pacelli (CP): Well this is delightful. A reunion interview! I’ve thought long and hard about what to ask you today, because you’re by far one of the most experienced embellishers that I know. So, I want to make sure I tap your knowledge pool for the readers out there! Let’s start off with what your best tip is, if someone wanted to “level up” a pre-existing costume?
Rhiannon Carpenter (RC): Make it look like a whole. It all has to work together. No gaps. And remember that the ‘reveal’ has got to be the showpiece - whether it’s a comedic or glamorous reveal, it has to be the most spectacular part. I may be biased but using the highest quality glass stones and understanding how they work together in a design elevates any costume. And just clean your damn costumes! Ha! Always keep on top of the maintenance of your costumes, it’s too easy to let it slide but they’re always such simple jobs.
CP: You only speak the truth. Sometimes Febreeze just won’t cut it! Let’s talk millinery. What do you consider to be key elements of a great headpiece for stage?
RC: Honestly, ease of use! Too many times, you’re stuck in a dressing room at an event without a mirror or too low a ceiling or nobody else there to help you or not enough light. Ease. Of. Use!
CP: Oh I have absolutely been there – trying to perform with a feather headpiece sized too optimistically for the venue’s ceiling height. Nothing elegant about a fan dance on a crouched knee! Can you describe how UK Burlesque costumes have developed whilst you’ve been performing in the industry? Have you noticed any patterns or trends?
RC: Yes, absolutely. There’s been tons of trends over the years - Isis wings, panel skirts, mesh gloves, the Great Gatsby theme dresses are still cracking on… And oh boy, those little ruffle hot pants we all used to wear when they were 3 for £5 at Primark!! Costuming has come on in leaps and bounds. When I first started in 2008, we were all just wearing off the rack corsets and using sequin trim and appliqués, not a rhinestone in sight. It didn’t matter so much when burlesque was still the naughty, underground type of entertainment. It was very rough and ready. Then burlesque really got in the spotlight and everything had to look very expensive because if audiences couldn’t see a Dita Von Teese show, they’d see you instead and would want you to look like Dita.The thing I noticed most is the influence of drag on burlesque. The majority of burlesquers wear wigs now and their make-up is very contoured and immaculate. Literally drawing another face on top of your own. I find that this does have a negative impact sometimes, it takes away the idea of accessibility from burlesque, that the performer is just too intimidatingly perfect. The thing I love most about burlesque is that you can see behind the curtain, it is all a facade, it’s all totally accessible. But I feel that that is no longer popular thought. Everything now is incredibly sparkly, polished and sometimes can just be an exquisite looking performer moving on stage but with no passion behind the act and no engagement with the audience.
CP: Oh how I miss those frilly pants! Have you ever designed a costume for a particular theme or venue? Can you describe some of the adaptions you made to your act and/or costume?
RC: Many times! If you’re lucky enough to work full-time as a performer then you end up with a lot of varying theme acts that suit, or can be changed slightly to suit different style shows or venues. Sometimes, it’s the music, or your hair and make-up that changes to suit the style. I think I had about 20 acts by the time I retired. I was often booked to do Moulin Rouge themed events and I adapted my green fan dance to the Absinthe Fairy with a change of music and a green glitter pour from a Le Fée absinthe bottle, or I would do my green fans as Axl Rose. Sometimes it really is as simple as that. One of my favourite events that I ever did was a club night for hearing-impaired folks (I forget the brilliant company that organised it) and there was a lot of tech involved to make the audience ‘feel’ the music so I was dancing to dub-step and they were on a vibrating, light-up dance floor - incredible!
CP: That sounds so fun! What a great memory to have. Honestly, the power Burlesque performers have to adapt never fails to amaze me. One final question. Do you have any good recommendations for sourcing costume items? Can you recommend a good haberdashery or place to get stage jewellery?
RC: When I didn’t have them made, I would find costume pieces from so many places - I once found a dress in a charity shop in Yorkshire - it was hanging in the window. The lovely (and slightly perplexed) ladies in the store weren’t sure they could actually sell it to me as it appeared to be missing the front part of the dress. I found this very amusing and assured them I would make use of it and coerced them into selling it to me. That became my Luck Be A Lady dress!
We are fairly limited in the UK with trim stores but Fan New Trimmings in London is one of the best. My favourite in New York is Shine Trim and they do ship over here. Stage jewellery is often very samey so if you see something unique, get it, get it, always get it. You can always sell it on.
To find out more about Rhiannon Carpenter and Nose to the Rhinestone, here’s where to start:
IG - @nosetotherhinestone
If you’ve been inspired by Rhiannon and would like to add some more crystals to your costumes, visit the CrystalParade.co.uk to purchase from a wide range of high-quality glass crystals from the Swarovski, Preciosa and Zodiac brands, both flatback non hotfix and hotfix.
NOTE - Photos © @bencphoto/ @madeinlondon.photo/ EmmaLeeBunton/ Chichesterrft