This month @primpmycostume speaks with one of the UK’s most in-demand and Internationally adored burlesque artistes, Vicky Butterfly - @mlle_vicky_butterfly
The daughter of an Irish showgirl and an eccentric Viennese aristocrat, her work reflects her Bohemian upbringing. Notable as a real innovator, she uses contemporary technology alongside a richly decadent, sparkling aesthetic and lavish showmanship. Her performances incorporate her background in theatrical design, alongside training in disciplines including: ballet, lyrical dance, opera and circus and an insatiable desire for literature and history.
In-demand from Paris to Bali, she has an enviable roster of clients (including Roberto Cavalli, Kensington Palace and the Moulin Rouge), co-created London’s award-winning Black Cat Cabaret and claimed for herself the trophy for “Most Dazzling Dancer” at The Burlesque Hall of Fame in Las Vegas in 2016.
Not only is Vicky a classic beauty with a true vintage look, but her skills as a trained theatrical designer have resulted in a range of spectacular and unique costumes, corsetry and eye-catching, unique props. Pieces that dazzle with the sparkle level of Swarovski and Preciosa crystals and delight with intricate attention to detail. She performs with with/on/inside her amazing set pieces, including a swinging mirror-ball moon, Victorian theatre replica, giant Fabergé egg, mirrored music box, fire platform and a living snow globe. If you are a Burlesque fan, make sure you get yourself along to one of her shows this year, you won’t regret it. I first stumbled on Vicky when she performed an en-pointe, rose petal act at an IAMX gig (2006?!) and it was the first time I’d seen really glamorous burlesque. It definitely inspired me to get myself an act together and get involved, so I have a lot to thank her for.
Charlotte Pacelli (CP): Vicky, you are a dream interviewee for a blog about costuming! Thank you for agreeing to do this, it was really difficult to narrow all my questions down to just five…
You have recently started making cocktail gowns inspired by your inimitable spider web piece. Can you explain to us have you came up with the design and describe some of its notable features? I’m sure readers will also be asking me next, where can we get hold of one?
Vicky Butterfly (VB): I've been making textiles and costume as fine art pieces since the late 90s and am particularly interested in textured layering, embellishment and appliqué techniques. One of my signature design techniques involves appliqué on tulle. I used to make myself something to wear each year for my birthday. About ten years ago it was my spider-web robe, that I went on to use for a sleight-of-hand act. Like most designs, it just came to me and I was mostly interested in its pattern construction as a challenge (I prefer draping and geometric cutting to tailoring). It took on a life of its own after Maria Varela's beautiful photographs (@mariasvarelaphoto) and has since been mis-attributed and copied quite a lot, so I can say that its noticeable feature is that it's a much trickier pattern than it looks!
The cocktail dress version takes the pattern from another gown that I've made quite a few versions of, and is one of my favourites to wear. I suffered a hand injury that I have just finishing healing from, so once I have enough completed and have offered them to the people who have already expressed an interest, they will probably be available through Instagram and a limited number in a boutique.
CP: I’ll definitely be keeping an eye out for them and sending healing vibes to your poor hand. Your costume pieces have had a large impact on the UK Burlesque revival’s legacy and have a really strong stylistic through-line. Every performer I’ve asked backstage at International shows, always reference you as a huge influence on them. The research level for each act really stands out, resulting in creatively original work. For newer artists out that that are drawn to your aesthetic, do you have any pointers towards reading materials or art that has inspired you as a stimulus?
VB: Thank you very much! I suppose that it's mostly just consuming as much art as possible. Everything from illustrators like Beardsley or Erte for line, to the more recent stunning symbolic embroidery work by Michele Clapton for Game of Thrones.
For an understanding of historical construction, which is a fantastic base for any costume construction, you can't get much better than Janet Arnold's books. If you know you will be working on a small budget, study draping and keep learning skills that will help you add to your designs with investment of time, rather than cost of materials.
I used to work in my teens restoring antique costume and clothing, and often it really is all in the small details rather than lots of expensive trims.
CP: I’m really interested in your training background. I may have been binging a lot of Project Runway in lockdown…How has studying Design for Performance at London’s Central Saint Martins supported your career? If you were to go back to run a new module on their course, what new insight do you think you could bring?
VB: It helped me know what I didn't want to do. Unfortunately, after our year-group, a lot of what we learnt would become obsolete. The year above was full of founder members of Punchdrunk and Shunt, who completely changed the game. I think what I do now is a perfect example of a career that has to stay versatile. So that would be something I would emphasise, as that's a very scary proposition for young people just starting out!
CP: Honestly, I am so confident in the Cabaret community in relation to bounce-back-ability. That versatility is so important. We need to discuss your full theatre set piece that is just casually in a barn. It’s lovely to see it revived and back in the (sort of) light of day! I’m fascinated about how you managed to transport it across London back in the time of the Boom Boom Club? What are you hoping to be using it for, pandemic permitting?
VB: Well, it's all down to the sterling work of my partner, the magician Oliver Tabor (@otabormagic), who has spent fifteen years developing a barn into a magic theatre and venue! It's meant that during lockdown we have been lucky to be able to keep on working: both streaming shows, online corporate work (which is in no way the same) and trying new work. It's given us space to take more risks!
Oliver laughed at the question about transport, because when we got it out of storage a few years back, I was adamant that it had fitted in my friend's Mini! It really, really didn't! I used to order an Addison Lee Estate taxi and just load it in the back. It's been up and down spiral staircases at Sin, Bloomsbury Bowling Lanes, Koko and more, and eventually down one to The Bathhouse for Boom Boom Club, where it lived for a couple of years.
We've used it for a socially distanced streamed show, featuring multiple artists so that staging could be alternated and cleaned in-between. I also made high-resolution images of it that performers could use for free as a background for Zoom shows.
CP: That’s a genius idea. Any performers reading this that are currently sitting around, gluing endless rhinestones and flatback crystals to anything and everything in sight and considering how to record their next live show, this is definitely worth exploring. What has kept you inspired throughout this pandemic? Are you in a place where you are dreaming up new acts?
VB: I never stop dreaming things up and have also been able to re-visit older work from another point of view.
2021 (everything permitting) is shaping up to be busy, so I have been lucky enough to actually get a bit of the break that I've been needing, after working most days for the past two decades. I am also trying to help by working on more ways for all performers to be able to go forward earning money for themselves, as opposed to big companies.
To find out more about Vicky Butterfly, here’s where to start:
YouTube – otmagicfx Illusions in Lockdown
Website - VickyButterfly.net
Facebook - @vickybutterfly.net
Twitter - @vickybutterfly
Photos by @neilnezkendall/ @mariasvarela