We start with the beautiful fabric, a pure wool printed felt by couture textile designer Liz Clay. Liz Clay redefines felt with her stunning work and collaborates with luxury fashion designers on ready to wear and couture collections in Paris.
Liz Clay writes:
"In 2017 textile artist Liz Clay took a road trip through California and Oregon which provided inspirational research material for her textile practice. It all began in San Diego heading up the coast visiting Los Angeles, Yosemite, Big Sur, San Francisco and then exploring the exceptional city of Portland and its surrounding coast and mountains. The final leg was a flight to Las Vegas and Grand Canyon. Wow! The colours, textures and glorious sights formed some seriously inspirational impressions! These have informed the latest design elements to Liz’s studio practice opening up a whole new perspective for the hand felted fabrics she produces for haute couture.
In response to the colours and moods of Las Vegas where bright lights and neon overdose works its magic Liz began working on digital print designs with web designer husband Ben. Photos taken on the road trip have been scanned and digitally manipulated to develop images in Photoshop ready for printing onto her felt fabrics. This has been a completely new area of design work for Liz’s business and rewarded in the fantastic collaboration with designer Alexandra King. The individual skills have combined in creating a truly sensational Vegas inspired couture garment!"
Working on the felt design with graphic designer Ben.
The inspiration for the dress
Taking note of Liz's American research, I wanted to look at Vegas show girls of the 1950s, the nightlife imagining this dress popping like neon lights on the strip. The felt itself lends perfectly to that 1950s feminine silhouette of the full skirt, like the classic poodle skirts and the sun dresses in the heat of the Nevada desert.
The images below are from backstage, Ertha Kitt and Dale Strong getting ready to perform. Kim Smith in a day in the life, with her friend on the strip and the women backstage at The Forbidden City.
A few years ago I was to work on dresses for a new West End musical called Miss Atomic Bomb. It was a flop and put me off theatre forever however the production designer had these amazing ideas (it was a real beauty competition in Vegas in the 50s) and showed me colours that still inspire me today. That atomic era is also an inspiration for this dress and Liz Clay'
The sweetheart is purposeful with sculpted ruffles over the bust an fine spaghetti straps studded with rhinestones just like that of Ertha Kitts.
This beautiful wool felt is great to work with, it cuts and sews with ease and can be shaped and steamed into perfect curves.
The final dress is a showstopper. Its a showgirl in itself with the full ballerina skirt and lots of tulle underskirts adding more volume and swish to the skirt. The sparkling rhinestones studded over the skirt and straps catch the light as you move and dance.
It's a transformative dress that when worn can only create a wow.
The dress doesn't really need much styling. A great pair of shoes a sweep of red lipstick, the dress speaks for itself.
In the first act I wanted to imagine the the showgirl backstage, relaxed, posed and getting ready for the show. The second act shows the movement and the electrical colours in the dark like the neon lights or spotlights on stage. The third act is styling it down, wearing it with denim, 50s rhinestone necklaces and a mac. Imagine the woman wearing this dress as every day. Treating each day as a performance of her identity.
The dress is a one of a kind piece and will be exhibited at the atelier and galleries. Price on application.
Footnotes on research:
whilst looking for images of 1950s showgirls, Vegas and Californian women, where are other skin colours? We know America wasn't just 'white' but we only see this 'white' side of history unless we look at the civil rights movement. Yes Vegas had closed doors in the 50s but there must have been people there from different cultures?
In 1950s fashion mainstream there are only representations of pale women and its only when you look for Black, Asian, even Hawaiian women (without a hula skirt) you realize there is such a small group we always look at. Everyone else is stereotyped.
I have a responsibility, as 20th century fashion is so integral to my work, to look for and find inspiration that includes all cultures and diversities in history. I need to start finding those women erased from fashion history.