The Realm of Venus
Jennifer Erlichman as Lucrezia Boccherini
San Bruno, California, USA
Costumer and Member of Rennaisance Faire Performance Group: Bella
Donna Venetian Courtesans
A Venetian Gown
in the Style of the 1570s
In May of 2005, I was invited to join the Bella Donna Venetian
Courtesan performance group. This happened rather quickly due to a chance meeting with the groupís director, Jwlhyfer de Winter, who
found out that I both sewed and had musical training. It was a great opportunity to get involved in something that involved so many areas
of interest for me, including costuming, music, dance, and historical fashion study. I was deeply flattered and excited until I suddenly
found myself facing the traditional costumerís dilemma: what to sew? Panic time! I had been sewing costumes for about 15 years at that
point, but had never thought of doing Renaissance-era, much less Venetian Courtesan costuming, as my usual focus is the 1650ís through
1880ís. I was very much in the educational dark when it came to the Renaissance. Thanks to the members of the Bella Donna group, I came
up to speed with what was needed very quickly, and went shopping.
The fabric was an impulse buy at Discount Fabrics in San Francisco. I
wasnít sure it was the right fabric for the dress, but couldnít stop
touching it and turning it in the light. The gold was so beautiful! I went back the next day to get the whole roll once the rest of the
group had given their unanimous support for my choice. It is an artificial fiber blend, and although I would have preferred silk,
this has a beautiful stiff hand and is much easier to clean. This was a serious consideration with the dust and dirt these gowns will get
exposed to at faire! It is also fairly light weight for its thickness, making it easier to wear for long periods of time.
The trim was a lucky find at Lacis in Berkeley. I was originally
going to trim it exactly like the pattern I was taking the dress from, the
Eleanora of Toledo gown out of Janet Arnoldís Patterns of
Fashion 1560-1620. I found better inspiration in the Giovanni Antonio Fasolo Family
portrait, particularly the gold lace at the top and the
simplicity of the lines of the gown. My gown is a hybrid of the two designs, with the simple front of the Fasolo gown, and the curved
double-lacing back of the Eleanora gown. The gold lace at the top has been hand beaded with real freshwater pearls in white and gold, with
Swarovski garnet crystal beads. It does not go all the way around the neckline to prevent my wig from getting tangled in it.
Other parts of the gown included the traditional Italian camicia in sheer white cotton from Poppy Fabrics in Oakland, sleeves lined in
red silk dupioni and trimmed with buttons from Poppy, a corset that I hand drafted, and a black cotton underskirt. The skirt was four
panels of 60Ē wide fabric that was cartridge-pleated by hand. It was attached to the bodice once it was completed using upholstery thread.
This was my first time doing cartridge pleating on that type of scale, and it took a few tries on my part to get it right. The
jewelry for the outfit includes more of the same pearls I used on the bodice, which I restrung to make the necklace, as well as bits and
pieces cannibalized from jewelry from Nordstrom Rack.
Other details include black cotton stockings from Lacis, makeup from M.A.C. (Mango
eye shadow, Pro Longwear lipstick, Blot powder, blush, and Carbon eyeliner), a wig styled with my own bangs incorporated
into the rolls to create a period look, and tons and tons and tons of sunscreen with titanium and zinc oxides to create that pale look.
This project was sadly a bit rushed to meet performance deadlines, so there is very little photographic documentation of the sewing
process. Most of the photos show how lovely the gown turned out in the end! I am very pleased with how it turned out, but like all
costumers, have things I would have done differently.
My first issue was that I promptly lost 25 pounds after making the dress and corset. Ooops! I was able to slightly adjust the dress, but
the corset got worn once and never fit again. The dress is still about 5 inches too wide in the waist area. My plan is to tear apart
the bodice and make it into a ladder-lacing style. Another issue is that I require a great deal of help to get into the gown. I tend to
be a bit claustrophobic, and would really rather have a dress I can open from the front, even though I do prefer the sleek closed-front
Another issue was that I changed shoes after hemming the dress, and it is now a bit too short. I am planning on copying Kendra Van
Kleaveís design of adding a strip of decorative velvet on the bottom to protect the edge when I take apart the skirt to re-hem and
reattach it to the new bodice.
In all, this has been a rewarding experience for me as a costumer. My favorite part? Just look at the group
photo. Donít we all look
*gorgeous*? Iím just grateful to be a part of something so special.
Glorious! Another gorgeous jewel in the
Showcase crown - Lucrezia simply shines in her 1570s Venetian gown!
If you would like to contact Lucrezia you
can do so at jerlic (at) yahoo (dot) com
You can find the two
other members of the Bella Donna Venetian
Courtesan performance group at Jwlhyfer de
Would you like
to be Showcased? E-mail