Channelling Leon Bakst

When I designed my Halloween costume for this year, I had Leon Bakst firmly in mind.  I’m a total sucker for anything Art Nouveau.  I also became captivated by how conceptual costumes could be in the Art Nouveau era.  Take this example, a costume design for The Firebird from Stravinsky's ballet of the same name (based on what was one of my favourite stories when I was a kid).

Firebird costume design, 1910

I think we can agree it's pretty spectacular and does a good job of communicating the firebird concept, but it's also very abstract.  On its own, out of context, you might not recognize what it's supposed to be.  In the 21st century, we tend to want our costumes to be more literal and self-explanatory, but I like this abstract approach.  I thought it would be fun to try it this year.

Then I got to thinking about how some researchers think that historic experiences of witchcraft, such as the events that happened in Salem, were actually caused by ergot poisoning.  Ergot is a fungus that infects rye crops and has hallucinogenic properties similar to LSD.  At the time, so the theory goes, people didn't understand they were simply having a bad trip and thought witchcraft was to blame.

What a great concept for an abstract Halloween costume!  So I decided I wanted an Art Nouveau interpretation of an acid trip.  What I actually had was some fabric paints and a couple lengths of cloth left over from other projects.  I had about the same timeframe for this thing that you see on Project Runway episodes, so I'm actually quite surprised I got it done.  In this photo I'm half way through painting the costume to represent a hallucination.  I've used form constants (basic shapes that are hardwired into the visual cortex and therefore turn up a lot when we hallucinate), and eyes, which are a staple of hallucinogenic imagery.  As a wee nod to the Art Nouveau fascination with Egypt and the East, I made them wadjet eyes.  I might add in a hymn to Ammun as well, but writing on that cloth is damn difficult.

Yes, the paints and the water bowl are sitting directly on the dress.  I like to live dangerously.

I'm using a water based fabric paint, which allows me to blend the colours with water and let the colours bleed out past the edges of the shapes.