NYC to Venice | An Artist Abroad at Carnevale | Photos, Interview
Lauren Rossi is one of my dearest friends. I can count on one hand how many friends I would consider as close as a sister to me, and Lauren is one of them. Beyond being a striking, intelligent woman, she is also a talented designer and seamstress. Over the last year I had the unique opportunity to follow her in a project that spanned an ocean and required many sleepless hours spent patiently creating elegant costumes for a grand occasion (while working a grueling schedule for her full time job in Manhattan). That occasion was none other than Venetian Carnevale, truly a bucket list event. Following the event I asked Lauren if she would share some of the intimate details of the project and I’m so happy she agreed.
After a weekend visiting her in NYC, I’m happy to bring you this inside look at her work.
A Conversation with
Artist Lauren Rossi
“The Virtuous Courtesan”
1. Tell us a little about you.
A. What do you do?
By trade I am a brand manager for one of the largest intimates and sleepwear companies in the country.
B. Please describe your training.
While I taught myself to sew in my teens- I earned a BFA and did some of an MFA in costume design before deciding to switch to another field.
2. Has attending Venetian Carnevale been a lifelong goal or something more recent?
The trip has been one on my ‘bucket’ list since the moment I found out about it, but it only became a fully thought out possibility recently.
3. You prepared your wardrobe over the course of a year. How did you determine the amount of garments to make?
Like most projects- it started small and grew exponentially as I worked. To keep myself organized and on track I made lists. I love to make lists. I make a list for everything and then I add to it. In addition to what you see in the images, I had to make all of the period undergarments and even made outerwear. For myself I made 4 full gowns, outerwear and a ton of accessories. Luca, my boyfriend, had one complete outfit including a completely hand sewn shirt and outer garments including a handmade hat. For me it is the details and accessories that take an ensemble from costume to clothing.
4. What piece took the longest to make? What garment are you most proud of?
My stays (corset) took the longest to make but in terms of technicality was probably the easiest of all the pieces. It took the longest because I wanted to make sure the fit was perfect. I went through 4 rough drafts- including one made of cardboard- before finalizing the fit. 18th century stays do not reduce your waist but rather reshape your form into a conical shape. How well the gowns fit depends entirely on the fit of the stays as they are unboned and take the shape of the base layer
My proudest pieces are by far my shoes. I have never made my own shoes before and am very pleased with how finished and complete they look. My favorite of the 4 pairs is the pink one. Each pair is made from a modern pair of shoes that I stripped down, altered and recovered in leather and silk. They are then trimmed by hand with period trims. I think they really complete the gowns.
5. Why did you choose to take the longer route of sewing particular items by hand that others may have chosen to use a machine for?
All visible seams are sewn by hand. This includes any top stitching, all gathering and trim. Most of the interior stitching is done by machine. I love the delicacy and accuracy of hand stitching. While I would have loved to hand stitched the entire garment- it was impossible given the timeline and amount of work I needed to complete. I don’t consider myself a recreationist and for me this was a good compromise that let me have as period of a look as possible.
Other garments that are hand sewn are my chemise and his shirt. While no one sees these- I did this because I liked the delicacy of the hand sewing. I initially made the chemise by machine and it felt chunky and thick under my stays.
6. How do you select your fabric, and trim?
Budget usually determines a lot of my fabric selection. I am fortunate enough to be able to shop in NYC’s famed garment district and for many months spent all of my lunch breaks and evenings hunting and scouring for the right fabric. I tried to only use natural fibers (silks, cottons and wools) that fell within my price range. It is both a blessing and a curse that there are a virtually limitless amount of options to consider. As I was trying to avoid synthetics- a majority of my trims are made by hand using a period accurate “pinking iron” and a hammer. While very time consuming to create- the process gives the edge of the ruffles a delicate scalloped edge.
7. Is there anyone else who is doing what you are doing?
Yes- although I don’t know any of them personally. There are so many people who inspire me with their intense passion and amazing work that it is very hard not to feel overwhelmed and inferior. I loved reading their blogs for inspiration! I hope to blog my own work soon so that perhaps it might inspire someone else.
8. Was your goal in crafting a wardrobe of historic garments simply to wear and enjoy or is there a larger design in place of showing these pieces elsewhere?
I would like to continue to make historically based garments. I don’t consider myself a recreationist but I do have a passion for history and translating it in a way that has a modern appeal. Sewing is a lot like cooking in that- the more you make something- the more you are able to tweak it and adjust it to suit your preferences. I think that when I make another 18th century gown, I will likely combine very modern aesthetic with period forms. I have always loved the idea of combining modern and antique.
9. How did you transport the pieces from the US to Venice?
Many many suitcases. The garments fold up pretty well however there was a ton of ironing to do when we got there. If (When!?) I do it again- I would buy a travel steamer. The ironing was a killer.
10. What was the response from the public?
Overwhelmingly positive. I am so grateful for that. Many people asked to take photos of or with us. At Carnevale people of all ages are dressed up in so many ways. My favorites were the little girls in their own ‘princess’ costumes who asked to take pictures with me.
11. Who did your hair and makeup?
The feathers and flowers in my hair I mostly brought with me. The feathers are hand dyed and the flowers are vintage millinery pieces. The real work however came from amazingly talented Michele Doardo. He is a stylist based in Venice. I am so grateful for his talent and artistic vision. I only had to give him a rough idea of what I was looking for- and let him go to work. While I like to plan things to the smallest detail- I have learned that there is nothing better than having a like minded creative person on your team doing what they are best at. I highly recommend him to anyone visiting and needing a fantastic period undo
12. Why don’t you do this for a living?
I am a selfish seamstress. So much labor, love and tears go into these clothes- that when they are done I want to wear them myself. I do make some period accessories for sale but at this time have no plans to be a costumer for a living.
13. Will you make my sisters wedding dress?
No. HAHA . There is a big difference between a wedding gown and a historical dress. I feel strongly that if a bride does want a custom made gown for her big day- she is best working with someone who specializes in wedding dresses.
14.Who took the pictures?
As I got further into my sewing- it was clear that a project of this magnitude would not be appropriately captured by a series of selfies. In comes the fabulously talented Aimee Dodds. I am so grateful she was willing to become a part of my project. Once again this is an instance of benefitting from having someone share in your artistic vision. While over the months preceding the event Aimee and I discussed what I was looking for, once in Venice she allowed me to relax and enjoy myself while she captured all these beautiful images. It was such a joy to be able to live in the moment rather than worrying about capturing it. As an aside not only did she take all of the amazing photos, she made a fabulous lady’s maid- lacing, tying, and helping me into gowns that I could not fasten otherwise.
15. What is your next project?
Although I sadly don’t have any more events to attend- I am looking into doing something Edwardian or possibly medieval. If you know of a historically based event- let me know. My needles are threaded and ready to go!
16. Where do you store your garments in your tiny NYC apt?
Part of the deal I made with Luca (my boyfriend) was that I put them in storage. Its ok though- it gives me room to make more dresses.
Thank you Lauren for sharing your Venetian Carnevale experience with us. I think we can all agree that what you accomplished is truly breathtaking! To see more of Lauren’s work find her at www.laurenrossi.com
, and on her instagram at http://instagram.com/virtuouscourtesan . I can’t wait to see what new projects she has on the wings and bring them once again to you right here.
Enjoy the Journey!
xo- Amy West
Photography by Aimee Dodds – instagram.com/aimeeinnyc13
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