Charlotte Pacelli delves deep with performer Ooh La Lou, who shares her process of creating group costumes with rhinestones, feathers and ooh la la.
I’ve been looking forward to this month’s blog, as this time I get to interview a partner in crime, fellow co-founder of The Folly Mixtures Burlesque troupe, Ooh La Lou. Over the past decade, we’ve spent many a day together, powering through rhinestone fatigue. I know that she has a lot of insider info on costuming (over more years than we care to remember - one of our friends recently introduced her on stage as ‘Old La Lou’…). I’m going to go straight into the nitty gritty details, with an angle of group costume process. So, onto the questions!
GROUP COSTUME PROCESS
CP - Question 1: Can you share some rhinestone tips for new performers?
Ooh La Lou -Definitely check which size crystal you are buying - SS16 to SS20 is usually a good way to go. SS20 is the size you’d recognise as ‘standard’. The last thing you want is to end up with 5000 crystals the size of a grain of sand, that promptly get lost down the back of your nail/on the dog/in your hair, rather than on your costume. Saying that, a mix of colours/shapes and sizes is always nice to give a professional look. You’re also going to want a good glue - you want them to stay after putting in all that hard work! Trusty Gem Tac or Eimass glue are great. If you are going to use E6000, which has a reputation for being the most powerful, make sure you wear a mask and crystal near an open window, as the fumes are toxic.
CP - You should have seen the widespread Facebook panic when a few years ago, the British Burlesque circuit all suddenly realised this!)
OLL - Invest in a one of those sticky wax pencils or jewel setters or improvise with a bit of blue tac on the end of a normal one! This speeds things up when trying to pick up the rhinestones.
CP - I cannot agree more on this one - wax pencils are a game changer! (There is the Crystal Katana rhinestone pick up tool but it’s quite expensive).
OLL - When you think your gem tac has run out, cut the bottle open and use a hair pin to get the leftovers - there's always enough for an extra pair of gloves in there. Mixing some top quality Swarovski or Preciosa stones with some more affordable ones in the same colour, or with an AB coating, is a good to way to keep the sparkle without breaking the bank!
CP - On behalf of all newer performers out there, thank you for going through the turmoil of making all those mistakes for us so we can get all that advice straight off the bat! Ok, you’re about to make a new set of costumes for a troupe of performers.
CP - Question 2: What is it important to consider before you start?
OLL - The single most important thing to consider in the group costume process is when sitting down to start blinging a whole set of matching costumes is... do you have a supply of wine and chocolate nearby? You will need it.
CP - In addition to this, always start with the biggest sized items first so it feels like going downhill later on. I also separate my crystal supply into piles of the amount of items I have, so I don’t go crystal crazy on item one and then run out later on.
OLL - Also, plan your patterns and how many stones you will use on each costume in advance. You might want to start with a more sparse and spaced out pattern, if you need to get a set of matching costumes ready by a certain date - you can always go back and make the more elaborate at a later date.
CP - Noted. Wine and chocolate. Very important part of the group costume process. Next I’d like to ask about transporting. You can often be found navigating large baggage around the London underground network.
CP - Question 3: What’s your hardest piece of costume to travel? How do you handle this?
OLL - Feather fans are always hard to travel with whilst protecting them as they are quite delicate.
CP - I’ve also seen girls using poster tubes, pillowcases and bubble wrap.) Other than that, it’s usually more the sheer scale of costumes I have to transport - if you see me balancing 2 extra-large suitcases up a tube station escalator somewhere, I am not going on a lovely long holiday, it's just a busy Folly Mixtures weekend!
OLL - I have 'borrowed' a case for a mic stand from my musician husband for mine, which is a great fit and is a bit sturdier than the average material fan bag.
CP - Something that a lot of newer performers find absolutely mortifying is something going wrong with their costumes either on stage, or just before their act starts. For myself, once I knew every possible thing that could go wrong with the costume had actually gone wrong on stage and I’d found my way through it, was when I finally felt in the ‘safe zone’ with an act. Plus we know that costume malfunctions make for highly entertaining stories down the road.
CP - Question 4: What has been your worst ‘panic moment’ with a costume backstage and how did you fix the problem?
OLL - One moment that always sticks in my mind was when I turned up to a theatre show booking, where we were doing four troupe acts and a solo each. I started getting ready and then soon realised I had forgotten ALL of my pasties! We had a Blue Peter moment and created some from an old pair of sparkly costume pants we found in your suitcase! I was very proud with our efforts - I don't think anyone noticed from the stage and they didn't fall off mid tassel twirl either!
CP - That was a truly miraculous feat, where everything just came together. As if Bettsie Bon Bon just randomly had a glue gun in her bag! Finally, one of the trickiest elements of performing in a troupe. The quick change. You are far less likely to have the luxury that a soloist has of having one number in act one and then a lovely hour or so to prepare your second look. We’ve once had change from a military to a Marie Antoinette costume in the space of three and a half minutes, complete with alternating wigs, headpieces and corsets.
CP - Question 5: What’s your best advice for creating costumes in relation to a quick change?
OLL - For quick changes things with lots of buttons, tassels, or scrappy bits seem to be the hardest. Although they can look fab, so I guess perfecting your pre-set and setting your costume out well backstage is as important as planning the style of the costume. Headdresses or head pieces with a secure base are always good too, if there's no time to be pinning in 87 kirby grips!
CP - My top tip to add in here for the group costume process is to lay things out in reverse order, with the first thing you’d need to put on at the top of the pile. You will often need to stack upwards as dressing rooms are small. Have stockings already rolled down to the toe to pull on quickly, have a pile of hair grips and a mirror nearby and never leave pasties anywhere where they can stick to a random place whilst you are dressing without you noticing - number one cause of quick change panic! Having another person nearby with tit tape, safety pins and a spare hand to help with any issues is super helpful and if everything goes to pot and you’re not ready in time, sack off extras like headpieces and just go with the important elements e.g. whatever items you are taking off.
THANKS TO OUR GUESTS
Thanks to Charlotte Pacelli and Ooh La Lou for taking their valuable time to delve into the tips and tricks of creating group costumes. For more information or to follow them on social media, see below.
OUR COLLECTION OF CRYSTALS
Keep up to date with The Folly Mixtures at;
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Ooh La Lou also runs Burlesque Fitness classes around the UK with fellow Folly Ella Boo. Find out more at Burlexercise.co.uk / Socials: @Burlexercise
Interview by Charlotte Pacelli (Liberty Sweet) - Director of costume makeover service @primpmycostume (IG/ Twitter/ Facebook) / co-founder of London’s leading Burlesque Troupe @follymixtures/ original Hurly Burly Girly for @themisspollyrae
Photos by @vsanchorsudio/ @Eddieokadams>