Frocks, Tales and Tea :: Jennifer Irwin, costume designer

14:30 usefulbox 0 Comments

Oh wow!  We had a wonderful day at Frocks, Tales and Tea with Jennifer Irwin!

Following on from our successful Frocktails event in February, I created this newest event, Frocks, Tales and Tea, as a chance to hear from someone inspirational...and give everyone a chance to wear something different to a cocktail dress.  Any excuse to sew, eh! And what better partner than Sydney Craft Week!
Australian costume designer Jennifer Irwin’s career spans 36 years designing for drama, opera, dance & ballet as well as the largest spectacular events ever staged in Australia.
Photo supplied by Jennifer
To quote her bio....
Jennifer was nominated for Best Costume Design 2016 AACTA Awards for her work on SPEAR the feature film. Jenny designed the costumes for Dirty Dancing, the musical, still playing to packed audiences worldwide after 16 years. Dirty Dancing broke all pre box office records for any show ever staged on London’s West End.
Costume commissions in Australian include 36 ballets Sydney Dance Company, 26 years repertoire for Bangarra Dance Theatre, multiple works for Sydney Theatre Company, The Australian Ballet, Melbourne Theatre Company, Belvoir, Royal New Zealand, Australian Dance Theatre, West Australian Ballet, Queensland Ballet & Opera Australia. Jennifer designed costumes for the Awakening segment of the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games, co-designed all the costumes for the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games Closing Ceremony & the official ceremony commemorating the Federation of Australia 2001.
Jennifer is very carismatic with so much knowledge and just impressed us so much. She is chatty, friendly and very generous with information and regaled us with lots of stories

The costume industry in Australia is very small and most of Jennifer's career has grown through her relationships, most notably with Graeme Murphy and Stephen Page.  Most of her work at the moment is through Sydney Opera and Bangarra Dance Company

Stephen Page of Bangarra and Jennifer (photo supplied by Jennifer)
To highlight the small industry, Jennifer designed the costumes for the Dirty Dancing Musical which has broken many records and she is very open to the fact that this is where most of her income still comes from. And she is proud of all that it has achieved.

Jennifer brought along many costumes from Bangarra Dance Company and we referenced them when we talked about her process.  Generally, she will collaborate with the director and the set designer for how she will design her costumes.  As you can imagine, she has a lot more creative freedom in designing for Bangarra than, for instance, Sydney Opera.

In fact, she sews most of the costumes for Bangarra herself and always tries to make a costume herself for other productions that come with a wardrobe team.

Jennifer also explained about how she is always on the look out for new techniques and how she can use lighting and the set to make her costumes dramatic.  This picture (credit to Bangarra) illustrates that point perfectly.  This skirt was laser cut from lycra and provided the shadow effects beautifully.  Interestingly too, this is probably the most "dangerous" costume Jennifer has ever designed as those holes can catch a finger or a toe which might lead to a dancer hurting themselves and even ending a career.

Terrain from Bangarra Dance Company (Photo supplied by Jennifer, taken by Greg Barrett)
Jennifer's respect of the Indigenous culture and of the dancers themselves is evident in her designs.  For Bangarra performances, the entire backstage area is covered in plastic and huge pots of ochre are laid out.  The dancers, once dressed, smother themselves in ochre and Jennifer is happy to stand back and watch the dancers themselves bring more life to the costume with the application of the traditional ochre.

Photo supplied by Jennifer
Also the costumes must withstand all that dancing night after night and rigours of washing to remove all the ochre!  Jennifer brought along this costume with her and we could see how it was made to take all that was throw at it!

Terrain by Bangarra Dance Company (Photo supplied by Jennifer, taken by Greg Barrett)
I was particularly taken with this costume from the Korean Ballet production of Giselle, even though we didn't see it in the flesh.  I find this costume so breathtaking....but even more so to know that it was made OVERNIGHT!   Jennifer designed and fitted the garment and then it was made, including all those feathers, by the opera's wardrobe department overnight.  Incredible!  I don't think Jennifer could believe it either!

Giselle by Korean Ballet (photo supplied by Jennifer)
Jennifer told us what a rush and joy it was to work for 8 months on the opening and closing ceremonies of the Sydney 2000 Olympic games.  As a Kylie fan girl, I was impressed with Jennifer's corset for her but what I didn't know was that Jennifer hand made Cathy Freeman's iconic suit she wore to light the fire!

Photos supplied by Jennifer
All in all it was a really great event and we all had a lovely time.  We sipped on lovely sparkling wine when we arrived and our afternoon tea was delicious.  We enjoyed a selection of finger sandwiches, scones with jam and cream and lemon tarts with an impressive selection of teas, and coffee, which I needed by the end of it!

Thank you to everyone for coming along.  I enjoyed seeing you all and meeting new sewing friends.

Here are just two of the lovely compliments I was given:

"I think I've thanked you already - but yesterday was great.  The 2 friends i brought had a fab time and are both looking forward to the next event!!" Stephanie told me in an email. 

And...."I really enjoyed the afternoon talk. It was wonderful to listen to someone so free with their creativity.  I find that I am all a bit neat and tidy and matchy matchy at times and should try and be a bit more free form with my ideas! My sewing friend Sylvia had a lovely time also and as expected, you were such a gracious hostess. " said Alison.

And of course, I can't do an event without giving a wonderful goodie bag.  So I wanted to thank the sponsors of the goodie bag:

The Fabric Store
Australian Sewing Guild
Maai Design
Pattern Fantastique
Style Arc
Selvedge Fabrics
Chalk & Notch
Closet Case Patterns
Megan Nielsen
Sew over it
Guthrie & Ghani
Skein Sisters
Helens Closet
Sew Active Fabrics
Cosy Project
Tools by Hollie
Daily Like

And I even made something for the goodie bag!  I came into a stack load of sheer fabrics which I didn't really know what to do with.  Then I realised that they would be PERFECT for reusable fruit and veg bags.  So I got cutting and overlocking and I'm pleased to say they work perfectly.  So I hope everyone is enjoying those...I will do up a tutorial very soon for them!

Thank you to Mr UsefulBox again for all his help and for taking all the lovely photos.  You can see them all on Instagram - you can follow me while you are there!

I actually had quite the loss of sewjo before the event as I didn't know what to make.  I finally settled on some new look wide leg pants, a linen Tessuti Leni top and a freshly made Genoa tote with Ken Done lining.  I will write up a blog post about that soon!

I'm so pleased that everyone had a wonderful time.  I had a wonderful time with you and bringing this event to you.  I am determined to get the Sydney sewing community a bit more happening!!! 

So on that note, stay tuned for Frocktails 2018.  Tickets will go on sale on November 14!  

Looking forward to seeing you at our next event or workshop!