Thursday 14 April 2016

Interview with Hi-Wire Costumes

Model: Jaycee Cosplay
Photo: Cantera Image
Following my interview with cosplay artist Jaycee Cosplay my interest only grew stronger. I’ve always been fascinated by costumes. Of course burlesque costumes have been a huge interest of mine.  Cosplay costumes are very individual and come in all styles, materials and take a lot of skill to make and look good. They can be replica costumes or an interpretation. The options are endless and you can get very creative designing how to portray a character. I have been recommended US based Hi-Wire Costumes by Jaycee Cosplay and from this interview you will learn all about Erica the owner of Hi-Wire Costumes. Erica's background is astounding and you will again see the link from stage/burlesque costume to cosplay costume. She has worked in theater, she is a well know aerial costume designer as this is her specialty and she has even worked on the production Beauty & the Beast (only one of my favourite Disney films of all time). She has worked with burlesque, pole and competitive dance clients and pulls a lot of her inspiration from the same places a lot of burlesque performers do. What struck a cord with me is that Hi-Wire don’t believe a great costume stops at a size 8 (UK12). A lot of designers will only work in smaller sizes however she has dress forms in larger sizes she uses a lot. Hi-Wire Costumes have clients who are incredible aerialists and dancers who are over size 14 (UK 18). Erica believes that great artist and athletes come in all sizes and they all deserve to look and feel amazing. Erica has a fantastic career behind her, a very inspiring positive attitude with a great body positive approach, 

Read below all about her skills and gain an insight into the cosplay costuming world.

Erica - Owner Hi-Wire Costumes
What is your background in garment construction and/or design and/or ornamentation? How long have you been costuming for?

My degree and background is actually in fashion design. I’ve had my feet in both worlds (sometimes at the same time) in my 16 year career. There is so much cross over between fashion and costume and I love walking and balancing that fine line. It’s really important to me that my costumes reflect what is on trend in the fashion world. In the fashion industry, I was a stylist and oversaw the styling and merchandising for a really well-known company (won’t say which) and was in charge of a large territory. I’ve also had my own clothing label and dabbled in vintage and up cycling in conjunction with my label. When I worked for the theater, I specialized in the craft department of costume. That would include anything that needed to be “built” not sewn. Leather, armor, headdresses, masks, you name it. I’ve even worked on a Disney production of “Beauty and the Beast” where I got to build the magical creatures!

How did you become involved in cosplay costuming?

My company, Hi-Wire Costumes, actually specializes in aerial costumes (hence the name). I’ve picked up several burlesque clients as well as competitive dancers and pole performers. I started doing cosplay costumes for clients who just stumbled upon me and therefore cosplay stumbled upon me. It was a natural niche for me to dive into, not only because of my costume and craft background, but because I’m half Japanese! I grew up in the 70’s (ahem) and 80’s and going to Japan a lot to visit family. My sister and I would load up on big sparkle-eyed dolls, Manga, and Hello Kitty pencil cases. Things that NEVER existed in the US! We were anime pioneers! I can’t even imagine how much those things would be worth now. I even have an original G-force double record album with illustrated book! (No, you can’t have my address. No, I don’t have a hidden key under a rock.

Photo: GlenAZ
What are some of the challenges of cosplay costuming?

My biggest challenge doing cosplay is that all of my clients are remote. I’ve done hundreds of costumes and I can count on my right hand how many of those clients I’ve actually met in person. Almost every cosplay costume incorporates some kind of armor, and although I’m able build these parts, it’s not possible because it must be fitted in person. So, there is a challenge of the costume and the armor happening independently.

Describe some of your favourite projects?

Oh I have so many! I just finished a “Dragon Prince” costume for a client who always pushes for the most shocking and wicked. I love working with him. The costume had a dragon codpiece with glass taxidermy eyes and a latex tongue that he did embarrassing things with. I also loved the challenge of creating a Gijinka version of Samurott for my favorite client, Jaycee Cosplay, I got to get my Japanese on! I really prefer doing “human” versions of characters rather than having to translate characters literally. Creating literal costumes doesn’t blow my skirt up. I always try to push my clients to do something fresh and unexpected. It sets me apart and it sets them apart. Most of my clients come to me because they want something fresh.

Model: Jaycee Cosplay
Photo: Cantera Image
Which costumers can we see wearing some of your work?

I know I can mention Jaycee Cosplay because I asked her permission, but I prefer to keep my client names private.

Who would you love to make a costume for?

Rupaul. Hands down. No question. Not ever. He’s my bestie and he has no idea.

Have you always had a design/costume type in your head that you would like to fulfill?

Yes! I am making it for myself! I had an incredible inventory of costumes and I lost it all in the last California wildfire six months ago. I lost everything, really. My home, everything I own, my entire community, my beloved cat, my studio…everything. All gone in one night. “Nothing but the clothes on your back” is REAL. So, now that I’m back on my feet (with shiny new heels!) and I have a new studio up and running, I’m treating myself to the costume of my dreams! It’s going to be a golden dragon done Thai style. I visited Thailand a couple years ago and fell in love with the golden over-the-top mirror encrusted wonders. It will take me about a month to build, but it will be meaningful and the first of many costumes I create for myself!

What aspect of costume making do you enjoy the most?

There is so much I love. I love seeing the transformation from imagination to reality and everything in between. (except pattern drafting and cutting, that part bores me!) I love working with a client, sharing ideas, and designing together. I’m always introduced to characters and concepts working with other artists. It challenges me and helps me grow as a designer. It’s always the most gratifying when my client is stoked with their costume. I often send out a costume that is worth much more than they paid just because I get excited and go overboard. “Just one more rhinestone!” I get happy dance giddy seeing photos of my clients in my costume dangling from a rope and flying through the air!

If a new cosplayer was looking to get a costume commissioned/constructed, what should they consider? What difference would a new performer find from off the rack to commissioned pieces?

I don’t actually do Cosplay so that’s hard for me to answer. I know what they should consider from me. It’s important to know that it is NOT CHEAP to have anything made custom. It’s easy to relax into the world of low-cost costumes that can be purchased from catalogs or off of eBay. These costumes are often made overseas, production style, with low over-head, and lower quality materials and construction which is why they are so affordable. I’m not knocking these costumes, some of them can look really great, be a good base to build on, and of course, wallet friendly. They’re a good option for the new or casual Cosplayer! When you are commissioning something custom made, there is so much that goes into it that you may never think of. For instance, a custom costume from me includes time spent discussing it, designing it, sketching it, sourcing the materials, driving hours to purchase the materials, drafting the pattern to your exact measurements, constructing it, photo exchanges during the construction process, more discussion… Needless to say, it’s a very involved process for both the client and myself. So, if you are considering having something custom made, plan it and start saving for it. Give yourself and your designer plenty of time to let it come to fruition! What you get is a beautifully made, original costume that is of OUR design (meaning yours and mine!) that fits you perfectly and made to flatter your exact body shape!

All costumiers tend to have a style of costume/way of making or presenting their work. Can you describe what you think makes an obvious Hi Wire Costumes piece?

A client told me once she was wearing her costume at a competition and another competitor asked if she was wearing a Hi-Wire Costume. It was then (after my jiggly fist dance) that I knew I made a brand for myself. Like I said earlier, it’s important that there is a runway element to my costume. I’m so inspired by Alexander McQueen, Gaultier, and the lighter-than-air goddessness of Marchessa. I NEVER want to create a costume that looks like something from a catalog. I want it to look custom made, because that’s what my client is paying me for, and that’s what they can expect from one of my designs. I love using trims and appliques from India because they have such a handcrafted artisan look. I rarely use a fabric straight off the bolt. I will almost always dye it, paint it, stencil it, or manipulate it in some way. I never want anything on my costume to look like something from Joanne’s fabrics. Fabric shouldn’t be identifiable. The costume should be mysterious, something you want to look at up close because you can’t figure out what the hell it is. I love playing with confusing the eye to what is skin and what is fabric. What is costume and what is body? Sometimes I see costumes that look so clunky and “spacesuit-y” that don’t embody the wearer at all. It’s like seeing a water heater with legs. A costume should be a part of the wearer not the other way around! I want to do what is unexpected and different. I know the “Dark Circus” and “Steampunk” trend well, and I’m asked for it UH-LOT but I feel it’s getting very played out at this point. I try to push my client into something new. I’m drawn to the dark and edgy, so I rarely do anything that is straight up “pretty” or “cute”. If I do, I will add imperfection and grittiness to it because I don’t like the look of anything too clean or perfect. This is what has become my “look”. It’s my brand. It’s what makes people ask “Is that a Hi-Wire Costume you’re wearing?”

What would you consider important cosplay must have items?

I don’t do Cosplay so I can’t answer that! A good corset? That’s what I would need! Haha!

How long on average does it take to make a costume?

I work very fast! I can turn a costume depending on its complexity in 1-3 days on average. I have 5 different industrial sewing machines that are like Ferraris! I do not own a home sewing machine. They are way too slow for me and don’t have the robustness to handle the materials I use with a professional result. They’re not like home machines in the way that they only do one task and they do it well…so I need several to complete each step in the construction.

What are you most asked for/popular items?

I have a few more affordable costumes in the $200-$300 range that are vintage-circus style or goth-creepy style. They’re really flattering and versatile! I had a gory “Heart and Veins” costume for a pole performer that went totally viral a few weeks ago! That was fun to watch! 

What price do your pieces tend to range between? 

My custom starts in the $300 range for something fairly simple and goes up from there. My average client will spend between $350- $1000 for a costume. I’m not Kmart, but I’m not Gucci either. I think I’m like a Nordstrom’s or Saks or something. I don’t like pricing anyone out because I feel everyone’s art deserves a great costume that they can feel confident and good in. I’ve been trying to put into production a line of costumes under $200 but I keep getting so booked with custom I never seen to have the time! It will happen though! It’s important that I offer this.

How should a cosplayer care for their costumes?

It really depends on the costume and the materials.

Do you also make props for the complete look too?

I can make props but they don’t excite me. I really prefer things that are worn, not carried.

What would you like to experience in your creativity and/or your business in the near future?

Right now, I’m playing with the concept I call “new antique”. Costumes that look like antique costumes that could’ve been pulled out of an old steamer trunk. I will intentionally add rust stains around a zipper or rips and tears so it really makes one question “Is this the real deal??” Right now (and always), I’m really inspired by the Edwardian period of fashion and costume when The Russian Ballet was introduced to the US and Orientalism and eroticism was all the rage. It was the end of the Victorian Period and the stuffy queen was dead. It was time to PARTAY! It was the beginning of The Ziegfeld Follies and the birth of Burlesque as we know it. I’ve been pushing this look for a while now and want to build it into a bigger thing. I’ve been playing with up cycling 80’s beaded tops and dresses and vintage bustiers and incorporating them in costumes. I know what it looks like in my head and excited to make it be real! After the fire, I decided to re-brand all of my marketing. I deleted my website and started over with a new look (which is launching any minute!) new cards, new packaging, new labels (finally!) I’m excited about my new look that I feel it embodies my brand and future direction better!
What are your long term plans for Hi Wire Costumes?

To take over the world and retire in Thailand.
I would like to thank Erica for her time with this interview.  Take a look at Erica's Etsy Page for more! Stay tuned for further cosplay posts!


Photo: Catherine Hall Photography

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