Wednesday, June 11, 2014

The Making of a Bowie Costume

I've been a part of an annual David Bowie tribute at First Avenue in Minneapolis for many years. Created by 89.3 The Current's DJ Mary Lucia, the show is called Rock For Pussy as it is a benefit for feline rescue. Local artists come together to play and sing their favorite Bowie song on the big stage. I've been a part of the band as a guitarist and I also get to sing some as well. So many people come out for this show and get dressed up in their favorite era Bowie styles and lots of make-up is applied by many of them. Getting glammed up can be a good time. Bowie fans and cat lovers unite for this once a year. It's a really awesome show!

This year I wanted to recreate one of Bowie's tear away costumes as well as a suit. If you've seen his show in London at the Hammersmith Odeon in 1973 towards the beginning of  Ziggy Stardust he has two people on either side of him run up and tear away his outer layer costume to reveal a new one underneath. I thought one of his Japanese capes looked really cool. I also liked his suits that were made with just one patterned fabric. In addition I liked some of the styles that his guitarist Mick Ronson wore.

I can hem my own pants (I'm not that tall so most of my pants have to be hemmed) but this was way beyond anything I could do. Plus this was way more than just finding some cool clothes at the thrift store as usual. I wanted to do something I hadn't done or worn before but I'd need help making my idea a reality. I needed to find a designer.

With some sleuthing with a few phone calls, e-mails and postings I was able to be connected with two University of Minnesota fashion design students who were up for the task. Sarah Forsythe contacted me first and she thought she could team up with classmate Lee Tran to make some costumes. We got together and I showed them the video of Bowie's tear away and we spent alot of time looking at pictures of him and glam rock fashion in general. They took my measurements and were enthusiastic about the project. We decided on a couple of ideas. A tear away cape with buttons on the front and back and a two piece suit that could zip half way with a big collar and bell bottomed pants. Now out to the fabric store.

This place we went to was HUGE! It 's called SR Harris. So much to choose from. Luckily Sarah had some ideas for where we could start. We picked out materials and designs we thought would be best. It was a visually appealing experience plus I couldn't help but touch everything I saw, stopping here and there, getting lost and loosing my place with Sarah. After quite a while we decided on a red, white and black big floral print for the cape and a green and shiny gold almost paisley pattern for the suit.

Then we met up again at my place and Lee and Sarah had me try on a basic pattern and measured and pinned me up. It took a couple of fittings to get things just so. We were able to do a test tear away at my place, other than that, my final fitting was at the show.

Test tear!

My first costume for the night was a slim fit silver pair of pants with a matching silver long sleeve shirt along with my cool maroon side zip boots (see my "Vintage SHop Hop" blog post) I had just picked up at a local vintage shop called Up Six. I got my hair poofed out in all directions and some green and silver eye make-up as well as a gold star painted on my chest by a hair styling salon that sets up shop at the show called Moxie.
After the first set I had help changing into the green and gold suit, huge suede platform boots and finally the cape.
I had asked the designers to be the tear away helpers but Sarah couldn't make the show so my wife Brigid helped with Lee. She was so excited! The song I was going to do this for was called "Star" from the Ziggy Stardust album.

I took the stage and played a couple songs on guitar with my cape on and then it was my turn at the mic. As the chomping chords of  "Star" on the piano started the song, the background singers sang "ooooh aahhhh..." and the guitar strummed it's first chords, I raised my arms to full outstretched length (which was the signal for my helpers to run towards me) to show the full cape and Lee and Brigid approached me as fast as they could from opposite sides of the stage. They grabbed the cape and tore it off me before I started to sing the song. It worked!! It was great!!!! So so fun. The audience loved it and the song went on and I had a blast with it. I felt like Bowie, Bolan, Rod Stewart and Jimmy page all at once with that two piece outfit. Rock!!

Here's the video of the tear away!

It was so cool to have an idea, see it through and have it work so well. That felt real good to me. I'm sure it did for the designers too. Sarah and Lee did a great job and it was really fun to work with them both. More photos and videos of all the performers on Facebook.

photo by Charles Robinson

photo by David Tanner

With Reed Wilkerson photo by Amy Wilkerson