One of the difficulties in designing costumes for a story that takes place during the silent film era of the 1920s is finding usable costumes from the time period. Eveningwear is particularly hard to find in costume house collections. “Not only were people in the jazz age of the ’20s smaller than people today, ” says Shane Burroughs, “But the fragile, vintage clothing of the period, with its delicate mesh and beading were worn to shreds from being used in films over the years.”
On the multi-Academy Award nominated movie The Artist, costume designer Mark Bridges faced such a challenge, but fortunately he discovered an amazing resource while surfing the Internet – Leluxe Clothing Company, the online business based in Los Angeles, run by Burroughs and designer Jill Schliesmann.
The company started out 20 years ago as something of a hobby for union costumer Schliesmann who began collecting, and eventually designing, vintage dresses from the ’20s.
During her internship for the Costumer’s Union, when Schliesmann visited literally all the costume houses in the Hollywood, she realized her hobby could be the basis for a dream – owning her own company featuring new creations inspired by the lush jazz and flapper age and selling them on eBay at an affordable price.
One of the first obstacles Leluxe encountered in the early years of their company was that other designers began copying their designs and selling them at lower and lower prices. That instigated extensive trips by Burroughs to China and India to find the perfect manufacturing collaborator, one who had a real knack for glass beads at a competitive cost. In addition, the young entrepreneurs were working on a shoestring budget. “Building a company with absolutely no start-up capital, with what little we could siphon off our day jobs” was a major difficulty according to Burroughs. “We’ve had a lot of recent success with TV shows like Gossip Girl, Vampire Diaries and Horror Stories, but that hasn’t translated into money yet.” And, of course their biggest success to date has been The Artist.
“When we got word from the studio that they wanted to see some of our designs for The Artist,” shares Schliesmann, “Shane carried over an entire rack of clothing for their inspection – and that was how it began.” A lot of interplay was necessary between Bridges, Schliesmannn and Burroughs. That in turn meant a lot of emails, sketches, and photographs back and forth between Leluxe’s manufacturers in India. However, if manufacture in India could lower overhead, it also increased the turnaround time to produce a hand-made, one-of-a-kind, work of art. That had Schliesmann and Burroughs working around the clock when they were contracted to supply evening dresses for the production. Schliesmann also worked several 22-hour days on the set during the film’s primary fashion scenes.
The job, of course, was not simple. When you are dealing in black and white and the limitations of a grey scale, contrast is king. Bridges explains in Vanity Fair, “We found that spangles, brocades, and lamé really photographed like a dream. They caught the light. You could almost touch those fabrics.” All in all, the collaboration with the renowned costume designer was extremely successful for the small company.
For their encore, Schliesmann is developing a new line of day wear that features antique embroidery, while Burroughs wants to concentrate on what they’ve already achieved with their jazz age look as seen in The Artist. As Schliesmann says, “There’s nothing like watching a scene from a great movie where a curtain is raised and you see the star wearing one of your company’s own designs.” Whatever it is that they have planned, we can be assured of some startling eye candy for the rags-to-riches story that’s still being written.
For more information, visit www.leluxeclothing.com.