Backstage with...reviving costumes at the Royal Opera House

Glittering with gold and spangled with the chandelier's silver light, the Adelphi Suite in the Waldorf Hilton Hotel is the perfect venue to learn about the grand art of making and reviving costumes for opera and ballet.

Backstage with...reviving costumes at the Royal Opera House

Before us stood impressive examples of the complex work achieved at the Royal Opera House. A Victorian hooped gown was resplendent in shades of baby pink and plummy orange, beside which stood the lead male's outfit in the ballet Tales of Hoffman. This was the Devil character, a cloaked costume in deep emerald and trimmed with black. These were the types of costumes the staff revived on a daily basis, taking inspiration from the original clothes used in the first performances of the shows, and creating replicas.

A fascinating behind-the-scenes video tour of the Royal Opera House revealed the vast acres of backstage, training rooms where ballet dancers limbered before their performances and set construction. It seemed to go on for miles.

Next, Bela Patel and Emily Jones explained their educational backgrounds and how they came to work as seamstresses for such a prestigious venue. Both ladies worked as freelance consultants at various points in their careers, and Jones once worked as an assistant seamstress for the Queen. However, they both agreed that working for the ballet dancers and fitting their costumes was a rewarding and entertaining job, if at times hectic. This was an intriguing insight into a costume designer's background and earlier career.

The highly skilled costume department are given only two months prior to a new opening show to alter used costumes from past performances and sometimes create new ones in accordance with the original designs. This is where the invaluable costume 'bibles' come in handy – they are massive folders bursting with costume information, fabric swatches, patterns and fresh ideas.

Overall, the talk was a fantastic insight into the every-day working life of a costume revival expert. From fitting ballerinas to staying historically accurate when creating new gowns, these workers are incredibly skilled in their field.


Sienna James

Sienna James Voice Team

Formerly Assistant Editor, Sienna now studies History of Art at the University of Cambridge and loves to write about the intersection of politics, history and visual art. Sienna is author of the Creative Education and Instaviews series.

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  • Luke Taylor

    On 17 November 2016, 10:33 Luke Taylor Contributor commented:

    Very fancy article!

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