Charlotte and Lena Mae chat about the coming of the burlesque outfit and pearls in this one-on-one interview.
Charlotte Pacelli We’re beginning today with a step back in time. Tell me a bit about what your first ever costume was like.
Lena Mae: It was a cutesy little sailor costume, I loved it. I remember getting my first pair of nipple tassels and just being so excited, like, FINALLY I'm for real! Looking back, the costume was so plain. I'd bought the base, a lovely What Katy Did corset and some lingerie, gloves, a Dixie cup hat and I'd stuck on the smallest amount of flat-back pearls and sewn on a few ruffles - I felt like a million dollars!
In hindsight it was painfully austere. Mind you (and I know I sounds like an old lady!) it was good enough back then, passable. I was chatting with another performer recently about this, and how standards over the last 10-12 years have really rocketed.
There's so much competition now on the scene, that it feels like the debutantes and newer performers need to have such a high level of costuming to be noticed. Of course, in truth, if your act and stage presence are strong enough a basic costume won't matter, that's something you can work on over time.
CP: I hear you on that one, when I started out everyone just whacked on a bra, some gloves and those ruffle pants from What Katie Did and off they went! The aesthetic standards now have really levelled up. In that vein, which elements of a costume stand out as professional when you are watching new performers?
LM: I produce a show called Hundred Watt Club, which means I spend a lot of time watching performers including many, many videos from newer performers! Something which really stands out to me is co-ordination of the layers of costume, little things like, does the pink colour of your dress compliment the pink of your gloves and the layers beneath?
I know it sounds persnickety, but attention to those details can really make a big difference in looking aesthetically professional. Another thing I look for is originality. I love it when you can tell someone has thought about their costume and how it will work, and they haven't just bought into the current lingerie trend - so refreshing!
THE COMING OF THE BURLESQUE OUTFIT
CP: I’m also a big fan of a surprising fastening choice. So easy to please. Is there a particular film you’ve seen in which the costuming got you excited
LM: I've always loved watching the short Victorian films of Serpentine dancers, they give me that bubbling feeling of joy in my stomach.
For some reason in all the years I've been performing burlesque I'd convinced myself it wasn't my place to try and pay tribute to them but last year, spurred on by one of my best friends, I commissioned a wonderful seamstress Diana Clark to make me the burlesque outfit. She spent hours doing maths and making shapes and working out how many meters of fabric we'd need (24!) and then expertly and beautifully constructed it, making my dreams come true.
CP: For those of you that haven’t yet seen it, I can definitely recommend trying to catch Lena’s Serpentine act - the costume and lighting are spectacular. So is there anything that you can’t do? Do you have a costuming skill in relation on your bucket list?
LM: To use a bloody sewing machine! They and I, we just don't mix. I've tried countless times with different machines and we are not compatible. So my own costuming takes 50 times longer than it should because I do it all by hand.
CP: Mate, why do you think my costuming company specialises in embellishment? Sewing machines are my nemesis. So to finish off, a question that might be of interest to performers out there on a bookings hunt. As a producer, which types of act are currently lacking on the circuit?
LM: I'm always on the look-out for fresh comedy striptease acts, whether it's surreal or satirical or dark or farcical. There are a few excellent and well established examples of this on the circuit, but I want to see more!
THANKS TO OUR GUESTS
Thanks to Charlotte Pacelli and Lena Mae for taking their valuable time to chat about the coming of burlesque outfits and the challenges of sewing machines vs. hand sewn. For more information or to follow them on social media, see below.
OUR COLLECTION OF PRECIOSA PEARLS
Interview by Charlotte Pacelli (Liberty Sweet)
- Director of costume makeover service @primpmycostume (IG/ Twitter/ Facebook) / co-founder of London’s leading Burlesque Troupe @thefollymixtures/ original Hurly Burly Girly for @themisspollyrae
Photos © Scott Chalmers/ Chris Baker