Sunday 22 May 2016

Interview with Manuge et Toi Design

Photo: Tess Francis of Iron Horse Productions

The next edition to the costume series is an interview with someone incredibly inspiring. If you haven’t heard of Manuge et Toi Design, firstly, where have you been burly fans??? Secondly you have probably cooed over some of her work already without knowing it! Christina is the sole proprietor of Manuge et Toi Design and all her items are created in her home studio in Toronto Canada.

Manuge et Toi is the agency of an artisan: Canada's #1 Burlesque Costume Designer, Christina Manuge. Manuge et Toi proprietress, Christina Manuge is a talented Toronto-based corsetiere, designer, drafter and seamstress; collaborating with each of her clients to make sensational, high quality costumes and bespoke corsetry. Christina specialises in the collaborative design and production of unique burlesque costumes, corsets and special occasion lingerie. Since 2008, her creations have been proudly taken (off) on stages all over the world. They can be found in the top drawers of committed waist trainers, brides and even a few lucky lingerie enthusiasts! 

Canada's #1 Burlesque Costume Designer. Ranked #3 in the world by "21st Century Burlesque Magazine's Top 50" for 2013 and 2014, Christina hopes to continue contributing to the international burlesque community for many years to come.

I have interviewed Christina about her Manuge et Toi Design business and all things costume related. I hope you enjoy!

Photo by Camera Jesus
How did you become involved in burlesque costuming? 

I fell into burlesque costuming suddenly, and without warning. In January of 2008, I received a special request from a friend of a friend.  It was Coco Framboise, and she needed new costumes, fast! My background was in fashion design, although I was pursuing a completely different career at the time. I met with Coco, and she inspired me immediately! I left our meeting with tons of exciting ideas. Her request became my mission. It was also my first corset, my first burlesque costume, and my first inkling that costuming was for me! I dropped what I was doing, and have never looked back.  

Copyright Christina Manuge

What are some of the challenges of burlesque costuming? 

Burlesque costuming can be incredibly challenging. Every performer is unique, and their costumes have to follow suit. As a burlesque costumier you have to be versatile, and proficient even at things you’ve never tried before. Innovation is inevitable. Every commission is a new challenge, and you don't often get to spend a lot of time developing each piece. Fit garments aside, you have to get close to perfection with every first attempt. When you succeed, it can feel as though you've worked some kind of magic!

Describe some of your favourite projects? 

I fall in love with almost every project I take on. But you have too, you know?  At this moment, my all-time favourite is the costume I created last year with Kalani Kokonuts.  She had a very distinct vision of the pieces she wanted, but let me go wild on all the design details. We ended up with an art deco cowgirl costume (yes, I said Art Deco and Cowgirl in the same sentence!) in a honeybee color scheme. It's intricately colour blocked, dripping with hand-beaded tassel fringe and Swarovski elements - right down to matching hat, holsters, guns and rhinestone bullets. What, I ask, is not to love about that?!  

Photo by Alvarado Pinups
Which performers can we see wearing some of your work? 

Plenty! Roxi D'lite firstly, owns more Manuge et Toi costumes than anyone else in the world (10, last time I counted!).  If you've seem her perform, chances are pretty good that you've seen my work. ;) My client list also includes Kalani Kokonuts (USA), Ginger Foxx (Australia), Madria, Lou Lou la Duchesse de Riere, Scarlett James, Coco Framboise, Miss DD Starr, Mitzy Cream, Ava Noir, Tanya Cheex, Delilah Dynamite, Obskyura... It goes on.  I'm always surprised when I sit down and think about it, how many performers I've worked with over the last eight years! I am also selling on Etsy, so you can catch my pasties and g-strings on a wider array of performers - even Dita Von Teese owns a couple of my g-strings now, I'm proud to say!

Who would you love to make a costume for? 

have a life-long love affair with bombshells who can move with musicality. I've got my eye on several, but I learned long ago that it's best to wait for people to come to me. I'm keeping my lips sealed until they do!

Have you always had a design in your head that you would like to fulfil?

Of course!  Mainly, I have "spare parts". Things I've come up with that are just waiting for the right opportunity to be used.  Innovative measures that I'd like 
to take further. When it comes down to it, every commission is based purely on what my client wants, and the inspiration they bring to me. 

What aspect of costume making do you enjoy the most? 
Copyright Christina Manuge

The moment when inspiration hits, and when each part of a design is fulfilled. Everything in between - for me - is pretty much torture! Haha

If a new performer was looking to get a costume commissioned/constructed, what should they consider? 

BeforeWhat do you need from this costume? Who is capable of helping you realise your vision? Can you communicate and understand each other well? What kind of budget can you justify? Have you considered how much labor will go into your costume? How realistic are your expectations? Are you committed to your idea?  What is most/least important to you (speed, quality, cost, how it looks on stage, how it looks up close)? 

After: Consider arranging a photo shoot with any big/important costume. It's a great way to promote your new acts, and archive your achievements. Your future self will thank you! I would also urge any performers who are working with other creative professionals (designers, wig makers, prop masters, make up artists, etc.), to give credit and share photos as much as possible. There is no better way to show your appreciation for a job well done, than to give your team some social media love, and something for their portfolios! They will love you for it.

Photo by Roxi D'Lite
What difference would a new performer find from off the rack to commissioned pieces? 

believe the most important difference is uniqueness.  As an audience member, nothing can pull you out of the performer's spell faster than recognising part of their 'costume' as something you have in your own closet or lingerie drawer. So if a performer is working with off the rack items, they really do need to get crafty, and customize as much as possible!

Aside from that, there is a vast difference from costumer to costumer.  I think what Manuge et Toi in particular offers is a level of quality and attention to detail that ensures our costumes will look good no matter the situation - on stage, on camera, up close or from afar, new or old - for a very long time. 

Do you do courses at all from pastie making, general repairs, how to embellish/crystal, etc or do you save you skills for your own work? 

I have done, in the past. I'm a big proponent of knowledge sharing. I taught a 'Corsets 101' course out of my studio for a few seasons. But my workspace situation changed, so I had to stop teaching. I did love it, though! I intend to publish a full textbook on corset making, eventually.  

What would you consider important performer must have items?  

Talent, dedication, and a sense of humor. ;)

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

Photo by Naked Lens
That's a tough question, as there is so much to consider with every burlesque costume. The time it really takes to make a costume is dictated by the number and type of pieces, intricacy of design, the caliber and detail of the work itself, and how quickly the maker can achieve what is required. The ballpark is vast; for myself, it can be anywhere from 75 to 750 hours.

What are you most asked for/popular items? 

When it comes to custom designed items, Manuge et Toi corsets and bras are, I think, the most loved pieces. From the Etsy shop, Starburst and Stardust pasties are my most popular items, and my line of unadorned g-strings are also a big hit. (

What price range do your pieces tend to go between? 

It's surprisingly difficult to say, when it comes to exclusively designed costumes (which is my mainstay).  A full Manuge et Toi costume comes with a minimum price tag of $3000 CAD.  It can run as much as ten times that, if you want to get really *super* extravagant.

My corsets currently range from $650-2500. Pasties and g-strings, made to order or exclusive, range from $120-$300 and $150-650, respectively.

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 Manuge et Toi Design piece? 

Copyright Christina Manuge
I've been told my work is very recognisable, but I'm not sure what the most defining characteristics are, to be honest. If all else fails, I suspect any Manuge et Toi item could be forensically authenticated - I sweat, bleed and cry over practically everything! Hahaha

My approach to design has always been based on problem solving. Every detail has a reason for being there. I like to accentuate curves, and create opportunities for dramatic flourishes. I have an affinity for art deco, which seeps into a lot of my designs. Pattern building and symmetry are important to me. My work is always clean and meticulous. I like to think my designs embody a certain amount of elegance. 

How should a performer care for their costumes? 

With love and respect. Check for wear and tear frequently. Learn basic hand sewing, carry a sewing kit, and make repairs immediately. Air them out often. Put fabric softener sheets in your suitcases, garment bags, etc, to help keep your costumes fresh. Consider getting a travel steamer. Hand wash your g-strings. Don't saturate your buckram or leather based pasties with liquid glues. Use non-buckram, non-leather pasties for wet shows. Keep your pasties in a hard box/case. Find a trusted dry cleaner.

What costume faux pas do you hate to see? 
Photo by Andrea Heins

My pet peeve is seeing a corset worn too loose. I understand it can be stressful to wear a corset properly on stage, and I know that most performers do wear it a little looser than it could be, to make removal easier. But I've seen that convenience taken so far that the performer may as well not be wearing a corset at all! The silhouette can be totally ruined by neglecting to lace up properly. It sets my teeth grinding.  

If you're wearing a busked corset, please make sure you have the time - and the patience - to loosen the laces sufficiently on stage. If you're afraid of getting stuck, ask for a zipper* instead of a busk. Then you'll only need to loosen the laces a little bit, before unzipping.  

*One caveat on zippered corsets: You need to know that one day, the zipper will need to be replaced. Busks are designed to take the pressure of cinching; zippers are not. 

What advice would you give to someone looking to design/create a costume?

Follow your instincts. Know your strengths. Hone your skills. Experiment. 

Use the designs you admire as inspiration for your own creations; Nothing is original, but there are infinite possibilities for innovation and creativity. 

Know that perfection is always a goal, and never a reality. 

What are your long term plans for Manuge et Toi Design business? 

You'll have to wait and see! ;)

Photo by Sarah Thomson
I would like to thank Christina for her time with this interview. Make sure you check out more from Christina on the below:

Stay tuned for more fabulous posts in my costume series.


1 comment:

  1. what a great post xoxo sophia from..