THANK YOU AUSTRALIA, KATE MILLER -HEIDKE WON!
About this time Sunday morning last week I was on the telephone talking to Kate Miller-Heidkeabout her costume for Eurovision2019! We discussed the creative direction for her Eurovision Song Contest entry “Zero Gravity” and one week later she has been unanimously chosen by the jury and Australia to represent us in Tel Aviv for the international contest in May. I could not be happier!
In the phone discussion I learnt that 50% of the judging is based on the visual look and performance of the piece and despite me thinking this is costume so can be simpler and just bolder in make, 80% of the filming was to be close ups so this had to be of high quality and detail so no skimping with fabric glues and pens... Um no pressure! And I had to do this all off measurements without fitting her! We were all currently in different states. And the measurements I received were from 2014. Kate was on an island without a measuring tape!
Kate wanted a costume that was bright silver, that shimmers and sparkles. She wanted it to combine the visual styles of Bijork, Lady Gaga and Beyoncé with a statement shoulder.
As we spoke on the phone we discussed the theme of the song and it made me think about chemical reactions that linked to the hormone imbalances created in the body when you go through depression. Kate talked about little stars too and I stumbled across some of the exquisite illustrations by Ernst Haeckel (who sketched microorganisms in the 1920s) I also found these incredible geometric forms in my books that triggered the idea of weaving linear textures. Thank goodness for modern technology as some photos and texts back and forward and digital designing in the afternoon as we nailed the design and as I tried to tap into her taste, needs and visual direction with her and the stylist Maia Liakos.
But next I had to source materials that would mimic these complex forms in record time as usually I design my textiles/embellishments from scratch which is a very long process sometimes it takes 3 months. So lots of running around (on my push bike) working out what I could find to achieve this effect with materials I could acquire ASAP!
Texts kept coming in wanting to see what I was doing! No time to digest and settle on the look it was just all go and I lived the feeling of “Zero Gravity” all week which was a blur but by Thursday morning I flew up to Gold Coast with something I was proud of and meet Kate for the first time to do a first fitting with her.
There have been some very long days and my team worked so hard this week to get this done
For those who love sport there is no question this mission has been a marathon of endurance. And for this clothing/costume making at this level should be given the same amount as recognition as the sports industry.
I’m so proud of Kate and I loved how her style was labelled as “Baroque Pop” last night in the media conference I think there is a perfect synergy of what she does and my style that explores “tradition in a modern context” couldn’t be more perfect. Thank you to Kathryn of Gun Shy for suggesting me for the project.
In all the mayhem of the week I managed to gather up a few photos and had a few people taking them of me and my team making this piece and I have some sketches (that evolved) and the visual references we worked with so please enjoy the behind the scenes action!
Things like this don’t happen without help so I must thank:
Paul Ternent my fiancé who really believed I could do this the most. He fed me and drove around picking things up and taking me places.
The Gwendolynne team: Emma, Antoinette and Lily. They came in early and stayed late to get this done. Plus making me lots of chai teas to get through plus put up with my scattered state. Kristine Walker for jumping in with extra hands beading last minute. Backstage: Maia Laikos, Emily Wade, Julie Willis. Production and performance Jodie Maddocks and Phillip Gleeson who made the initial introduction via Winnie Stubs of the incredible GUN SHY (artists supporting artists YES!). And of course Kate Miller-Heidkewho surrendered to believing I could do this without even meeting me which was an enormous leap of faith.
And all of you for barracking me on and sending so much support and love. Really it truly does keep one going through what can seem impossible.
Australia chose something elegant and unique last night in this history making competition... If you want to read the journal about the making of it’s quite long winded but keep reading on:
Journal: The Making of the Costume for Kate Miller Heidke EUROVISION 2019
Friday 1st February
9:56am I received a message on Facebook Messenger from someone I didn’t know “Hi Gwendolynne, just touching base on Kathryn Jamieson’s recommendation. Do you have a second to chat”? Phillip Gleeson. Lucky I looked, as normally I don’t prioritize messages from people I don’t know on social media.
I had clients all morning and asked if it was ok to chat in the early afternoon, and asked for more details in the meantime. He said, “All very last minute for Eurovision – Australia selects. I run a company called Strange Fruit and the producers are urgently looking for someone to make a costume for Kate Miller Heike. If you get time please call me.”
Around 1pm I chatted to Phillip who is the creative director of Strange Fruit who were also participating in the performance. He explained the situation and said that they were looking for a top or bodice that could sit over a skirt for Kate’s performance. He forwarded me on to Kate’s producer Jodie Maddocks to discuss further. Later when I spoke to Jodie she indicated that the current direction of the costume was not aligning with the total vision so this is why they were now seeking an alternative in such a tight time frame.
An image was forwarded as inspiration for the costume, which was by another Melbourne designer, and I mentioned that I wouldn’t copy I said “as a designer with a 21 year reputation it would be bad for my name, and would make me a bit of a joke. And I might end up on Diet Prada!” I asked if they asked these designers to make the piece, and they had but they were currently overseas. I was also sent a photo of the skirt that had been made and asked if I could work with it. Jodie explained there were two skirts, one 3 meters high suspended on a support that Kate would have to climb up into for the performance, created by Design Bordello. A second skirt was for when she was standing her normal height. I agreed to work with the skirts regardless there was not enough time to make it all.
Jodie expressed to me that Kate had said that, “This dress is as important as the song” judging is based on the visual look and performance of the piece. Although the piece could be simpler and bolder, 80% of the filming was to be close-ups so this had high quality, with no skimping with fabric glues and pens.
I confess was quite very nervous about the timeline with the dress rehearsal to be at the Gold Coast the following Friday so I suggested they work with some other local designers that may have existing work that could be used. I said I could make myself free if they had no luck but still wanted to be realistic about the timeframe.
Saturday 2nd February
I was busy seeing clients all day but I received a call from Jodie the producer first thing, who sent pictures of all the skirt structures already done so I could understand the vision. She was keen to proceed with me and asked if I could talk when I completed seeing my clients at 5:30pm. At the end of the day we talked a little more about the direction and the look was described as “High Fashion Punk”. She also sent a screen shot of a message from Kate, which helped kick start my creative juices:
“Just a thought – for the outro “nothing holding me down” section, a wind machine is staring up. It would be potentially amazing if I could lift my arms and wings (just like some sort of diaphanous material) came out. Not like real wings – fashion wings – if that makes sense. Not sure if there’s a way to make them work with the statement shoulders, but maybe the designer has a clever idea.”
The wings immediately made Artist Erte’s illustrations spring to mind so I sent Jodie some references from the Illustrator of the 1920s with elaborate wing like sleeves as a starting point. Jodie forwarded these on to Kate. I expressed if I am to do this it was really important I talked to Kate directly to know EXACTLY what she was thinking aesthetically especially since the first attempt hadn’t gone to plan and we had so little time. So a group phone call with the stylist Maia and Kate was arranged for Sunday morning at 10am.
I stayed back in the studio gathering up fabrics and seeing what I had that I could work with, and test dying to see if they could be adapted to the colour palette as the reference sent and I started to research ”High Fashion Punk”
Sunday 3rd of February
At 10am and a little worse for wear after attending my friends 40th birthday that I attended the night before, I spoke to Kate for the first time. After initial greetings she asked me if I had heard the song. Of course I had it was already stuck in my head!
We had a thorough chat on our mobiles and I learnt from Kate that the references I sent through were a bit too art deco and vintage. She was after bright silver with sparkles (like nothing I had in my studio!). Some of the words I listed from her description were “camp silver sequin”, “shimmer and shine”, “Modern art Pop Star”, “Rocket, stars, outer space, texture”, “Bold shapes, angular”. She wanted it to combine the visual styles of Bijork, Lady Gaga and Beyoncé with a statement shoulder and she wanted to accentuate her waist.
She mentioned the idea of a bodysuit because she had to change between the massive 3-metre onstage prop skirt and then swap to the other skirt made to her true height. Later it seemed appropriate the pant area was sequin so whilst changing between the skirts and as she walked on stage it still looked finished and SPARKLY!
As we spoke on the phone we discussed the theme of the song which is about post natal depression and it made me think about chemical reactions that linked to the hormone imbalances created in the body when you go through depression plus also the changes in hormones when the body creates a baby. Kate talked about little stars too and I grabbed some books from my library of inspiration and found some of the exquisite illustrations by Ernst Haeckel (who sketched microorganisms in the 1920s). I also found some incredible geometric forms that triggered the idea of weaving linear textures. Thank goodness for modern technology as photos and texts flew back and forward to nail what she liked, but Kate was very trusting of me from the onset and I told her which ones I liked and she approved.
The only thing Kate was concerned about was it could look too Xena if it was all angular so we spoke about introducing some curves and circles into the design too.
Once I was off the phone I drew up some sketches and then I spent the afternoon driving around with my fiancé trying to source from whatever shops were open. I only really came back with silver sew on sequin, some crystal white tulle and glitter fabric paint (which I did not want to use and didn’t in the end anyway) and some glue on crystals that ended up on the crown. Everything was closing. It was 39 degrees.
Once the shops had closed I started photo shopping a layout with the forms we had agreed on as inspiration. I worked on four options; with sleeves, without, high neck and V-neck, as they wanted to see something ASAP. But I also wanted to go to the studio to start the pattern. I got to the studio and then realized the measurements sent to me were from 2014 and Kate had had a baby since so it was a false start to even make the pattern. So I just started a “block” which I could amend and it was a good thing I didn’t start, as the materials I found the next day would inform the design. I got home and completed the digital layouts and sent them by text at 10pm and then asked if Kate could redo her measurements. She was on an island without a tape measure!
I cancelled my plans for Sunday night and my Monday appointments.
Monday 4th February
At 9am finally my suppliers with quality materials/trims/crystals were open so I could properly start sourcing materials that would mimic the forms/shapes I had proposed in record time. Usually I design my textiles/embellishments from scratch, which is a very long process, sometimes taking three months. Lots of running around (on my push bike) working out what I could work with to achieve this effect with materials I could acquire ASAP! I spent three hours just in one of my suppliers that morning to get the right supplies.
I sent pictures from the suppliers but was very careful to edit it down to the best of what I thought would work, as we had to be so decisive in this time. Only a few of the motifs here would work and the in some ways the design needed to be about the materials we could get.
I photographed the trims and motifs I gathered up for approval and sent to Kate and Maia. The main feedback was to ensure the look was silver not grey.
So I cycled around to some other suppliers in Smith Street Fitzroy for more sparkles after which I headed to my studio to start assembling the idea. I pined the motifs onto the stand and sent a photo. The response from Kate was, “Ok, it’s awesome. Yay!”
Jodi texted me for an update and we confirmed the existing hoop skirts that were currently golden and white would need to be changed to silver to compliment the Shiny Silver Kate was seeking. Each skirt was being made in a different state. Later I learnt that the reason hoop skirts were chosen was because originally Kate was going to be on a bendy pole (like the performer behind her) but there was not enough time to train her on the pole and the hoop skirts function really well on the pole.
I delegated sewing the sequins onto the motifs to one of my sewing assistants and started the pattern-making work and trying to figure out how to build dimension into the motifs so they would hold up. I used boning through the centre of the shoulders and covered it with a bright silver trim to give it the structure.
When I presented the pictures on the mannequin the only concern was that maybe the high neck might make Kate look matronly. I discussed the idea that I make it in a way it could be removed and same with the back, making it higher so it could be lowered if need be to balance out the high neck. But with 80% of the shots being close ups I felt it was important we had detail around the neck.
There were also concerns about where to put the mike pack, which we planned to discuss at the fitting.
I also had some beaded tassels I suggested but they brought up some concerns with how they would fall so instead I cut into the tassels and used some of the long bugle beads to create the spikes, star clusters and embellish on the motifs as those beads are really hard to acquire anyway.
Texts kept coming in. I needed to focus, as they wanted me to be up there on Tuesday night for a fitting. Luckily we decided not to do that in the end.
Tuesday 5th February
Further discussions had come through and I learnt that Kate really wanted her waist cinched and accentuated waist so we discussed the idea of a corset. Without fittings I suggested we make this with a ready-made hook and eye “tab” with optional settings in case it is too tight or too small. I couldn’t get a tab that was the right size or colour in the time so we hand dyed it and sewed two together two to create the fixture.
I wanted to create more dimension into the beading and there were knots in the motif that sat either side of the neck. I talked to my hand sewer about using the long bugle beads with big crystals on the end to make them stand up over these knots so they looked like stars and to mimic the illustration of a microorganism I had shared with Kate. We also created more of this through the shoulder area. I wanted to do more but we ran of time.
I had to clear more of my appointments in my diary as Maia and Kate had asked if I could now stay on the Friday. I had one issue as ironically I had a client coming from Queensland to order a gown be measured and have a first Toile fitting over the end of the week and was trying to work the plans around her. So I could not give up as much time as I wanted to especially as this girl had booked months ago.
An email from the prop skirt builders came through asking for a second belt so that it could remain on the prop but I said that would be impossible. 1. There was not enough time and 2. I couldn’t anymore of the motifs I needed to match. There remained concern about how it was going to apply to the skirt so I made the belt press stud on so it could be used across both if need be. Later we stitched it on as the belt looked nicer more flush to the body and the belt flipped over the edge of the prop skirt.
I stayed in the studio until 11pm to ensure I had the pattern for the corset and sequin hot pants ready for my sewer in the morning. I did a fitting with one of my staff that was relatively similar in size, and tweaked it after the fitting.
Wednesday 6th February
I now had enough clarity with the design that I could fully delegate a few jobs to my team and knew I had a lot more work ahead of me so I did yoga that morning so my body would hold out. My most experienced sewer had to go to a funeral that day so she came in at 7am to work on sewing the corset and sequin hot pants to make up the bodysuit.
I had to go back to one of our local suppliers to get some more items we had already run out of. I needed some way of finishing the belt nicely (a whole new thing for me). I bought metal brackets that hugged the ends and more hook and eye tape, as we couldn’t get the colour right. And a zip but I could only get a two way metal zip in the right colour in the size I needed in the time I had to sew down and hand to embellish the bottom of the zip and secure it down. We’d had a wardrobe malfunction when we tested in the studio when it was just left as an open-end zip. This could obviously not happen during the performance.
I instructed my staff to work on everything that was in the front of the costume in case we ran out of time so the back of the belt missed out getting the same beading treatment as the other parts of the creation. But this is where the mike ended up going so it was probably better as the mike would have damaged any embellishment.
Kate and Maia were still keen for me to be there for longer so I rang then emailed my Queensland client to discuss options. She replied at the end of the day and it worked out she had bought a gown from someone else the Saturday before and forgot to tell me! I could now stay on the Friday.
A seriously focused day to get it complete and I called in extra hands to help. Four of us worked to 11pm doing hand finishing and I assembled all the elements onto the foundation garment. We did a fitting with my assistant and made video so Kate could see the movement.
Kate was still concerned about the sleeve “flaps” over the shoulder so I assured her we could play with this on her. This sleeve was the only thing that really was a concern. I tried a few options but the solution wasn’t happening so I got my assistant Emma to look over it with fresh eyes and she suggested that we flick it back onto itself, which Kate quite liked. Yay solved.
Thursday 7th February
9am I left my apartment to go to the airport. The outfit was confidential and I still had work on it. I was nervous about missing my flight and went early. Waiting at the gate I overheard someone on the phone talking about Eurovision so I sat as far way from him as possible on the floor behind a chair and kept hand sewing. Every minute was precious. Later I learnt I knew this man and had met him through a mutual friend way back. He was styling one of the other talents. My instinct was right. I had pre-threaded up needles so I didn’t have to use scissors and I asked if I could keep sewing while on the plane and surprisingly they said yes. But unfortunately the flight attendant forgot to bring the costume to me once we were in air so I had some deserved rest before I hit the ground running again.
All my thoughts were focused on getting this done so I hadn’t even had a moment to pay attention to where I was going. I had thought I was going to Brisbane but I looked at my boarding pass and realized I was heading to the Gold Coast!
Sandy the driver picked me up and took me to the Gold Coast Convention Centre where I went straight to meet Kate for the first time, at about 4:30pm. The piece fitted reasonably well but it did have to be taken in. Fortunately I had crafted it in a way to allow for this or let it out if need be. We resolved the sleeves and flicked them toward the back instead. She had a big smile on her face.
We also put on the silver hoop skirt that had already been created by Lola. I had brought some nude fishnet tights with crystals on them for when she wore the bodysuit without the skirts.
The wings had not yet been made so I presented some of the only fabric I could find in the time that I thought might would for her but I wasn’t 100% certain on it. I had something in my minds eye and tried to source it but no one had anything like it and there was no time. Luckily she liked the cloth so I got on the floor and cut it into two big squares and pinned it to some points at the back of the shoulder detail.
She went off for stage rehearsal in the piece and during the rehearsal I decided to attach the wings to her wrists with some of the off cuts of the belt bling. The wings were very long while she was on the floor so we decided to make them detachable so you will see little crystal buttons at the back sleeve.
I didn’t receive the costume back until about 6:30pm. Everyone was packing up to go home. There was one sewing machine and that would be needed for other costumes for the 10 other performers tomorrow. I decided to stay back and get the machining done until 12:30am. The next day I would have an assistant Emily to help me with hand finishing details.
The adjustments had to be done in a light grey thread as the Jenome machine on hand had was domestic an internal thread holder and none of the big cones I had brought up to do alterations would fit.
Friday 8th February
I only slept three hours as I was so heightened by the project. I had some coffee for the first time in ages to keep me going and could not stop thinking about the vision. I did some yoga before I started the day and had a good breakfast.
I met Emily at 9am at the convention centre and she assisted with finishing some of the elements of the alterations and attached small beads to weigh down the corners of the wings, as they were not falling nicely over the big plinth prop skirt. She also helped add the loops so the wings could be attached and bracelets added to the wings.
I was asked if I could stay for Saturday too so I rang my assistant and asked her if she would cover me and rescheduled all my fittings and stayed another day.
Emily and I looked at the crown headpiece that had been supplied by the original stylist Lauren Dietze for the project. It was made of grey cable ties. The reason it was crafted with these materials was that Emma of Strange fruits was concerned anything of hard metal would potentially poke out her eye as she was on her bendy pole moving about Kate in the performance. Plus it needed to be light enough for Kate to wear. It had to be sparkly and more textural in my opinion and on my first sourcing mission I had purchased those stick on crystals in varying sizes so I chatted to Emily about a layout and she applied these to the structure. She then covered the lower part of the crown with tulle then applied more of the scraps from the belt along the band to finish it. Unfortunately the glues we had on hand were not compatible to adhere the plastic and the metal backing of the crystals so a bit of maintenance was required between shows. After the first public images leaked many of the attendees went out and got /made/bought crowns in support of her act, which was magical to see.
The stylist Maia Liakos sourced sparkly rings and earrings by Sally Skoufis, as well as a Stars & Moon headband by Christie Nicolaides that sat at the base of the pointy headpiece. There were some matching stars and moon earrings but they interfered with the mike so despite them looking great they had to be changed for a smaller pair.
Kate wore nude Ballet flats for comfort but had some high silver shoes on standby just in case that she never wore.
We also learnt that the while the bodysuit I had made her was fine when she was on the floor, as she climbed up the back of the plinth the press studs at the crutch would open up. So I pieced together some silver elastic trim and made a stretch insert into the crutch to accommodate her climb.
Saturday 9th February
I got a little sleep that morning as I just had a couple of little maintenance repairs before the midday performance. I had time to catch up on emails and do a little social media to encourage people to vote for Kate of course.
When I arrived we discussed how the waist of the large-scale plinth prop skirt had a few issues so we had a meeting about this. I went up the three-meter ladder and assisted in guiding how we could get this to sit better. There was no light up that high and my head hit the ceiling when I was up there and having to balance and pin Kate was a real feat, plus the metal fabric that made up the skirt cut and scratched and cut. After we got Kate down we moved the skirt into a place with a slightly higher roof and the team from Design Bordello got up a ladder and handed me pins and shone a mobile light onto the space so I could measure and pin. When I got down I was covered in glitter from the skirt.
I had a really good feeling about Kate in the competition and with the time I had left backstage I wanted to spend time on the piece, and to ensure its quality as something that would be treasured as a piece of history for Australia. So rather than a rushed costume job the piece is all French-seamed and nicely finished so it is created to last. I also ensured it has lots of extra seam allowance through the back and excess through the waist so it can be lengthened and adjusted to size for any future performances. I am a big fan of designs made so they can be used over an over in terms of sustainability for our planet.
That night was the live performance and when the votes were counted, Kate had won.