Embroidery for Queen of the Desert - Costume Designer Michele Clapton.
Queen of the Desert is a feature film by the renowned German Director and Screenwriter Werner Herzog, it is a historical biography partly set during the late Victorian era, and is based on of the life of Gertrude Bell, who was an English Writer and Archaeologist, and was also a powerful influential voice within British foreign policy regarding the Middle East. She was a very unusually strong independent woman of her time. In the film Bell is played by Nicole Kidman.
The Costume Designer for this production was Michele Clapton who asked me to create embroidery designs for three of Nicole Kidman’s costumes, two were lavish ball gowns, which took inspiration from dresses designed by Charles Frederick Worth, an English 19th century Fashion Designer, who is widely considered as the father of Haute Couture. Both of the embroidery designs for the ball gowns incorporated floral motifs and were executed in a way to give an impression of the Haute Couture style embroidery of the era.
The first ball gown was made from a rich purple taffeta, and for this costume I embroidered a stylised rose briar design across the top of the bodice. Separately I made a corsage of a velvet rose, with two buds and dark bronze velvet leaves to sit to one side of the bodice, with some stems that had rose bud ends to drape across the bodice dripping down to the side.
On the second ball gown that I worked on, Michele Clapton initially gave me reference pictures of various plants, one of which was sprigs of blue Sea Thistle, and another note Michele gave me was that she wanted the design to look quite watery and dewy. For the embroidery I used a variety of Kreinik threads, mixing some of the lovely Silk Mori shades for the petals and leaves, introducing some metallic cord threads combined with these and I also used some of the metallic braid #4 for the veins on the leaves of the corsage.
I stitched into the design on the bodice panels and the top of the skirt panels around the hip, trailing off down the front, and added further bead and sequin decoration to the design. I wanted to make sure that the decoration would register on screen so I used many tiny light reflecting beads and crystals, that to the naked eye had quite subtle tones but would sparkle and shimmer under the studio lights when filming.
A corsage was also requested to be made for one shoulder of the costume. So I set about creating something that would echo the embroidery design on the dress. For this I used wire and beads twisted together for the smaller jewel like flower sprigs, and then I made a couple of more thistle like flowers by embroidering on velvet and silk to create petals and then wired the edge of these to hold their shape. I twisted all the elements together and added some hand painted silk Habotai and organza ribbon to finish it off.
The third costume I was asked to create embroidery for was a linen riding coat, and for this Michele Clapton had seen some Arabic style costumes that she liked the embroidered edge of, at a Costume Hire House, so I set about creating something similar. I used a vintage ribbon trimming to bind the edge of the collar and cuffs and then created a metalwork style embroidery next to this as a border. To give a more aged, antique look to the metalwork embroidery I used a Kreinik metallic cord colour 087C mixed with a couple of different Rayon machine embroidery threads in dirty stone colours, which I find is a great way to give a more tarnished metalwork feel to my embroidery.