Hands-on projects are an integral part of the learning process for students in the Indiana University Eskenazi School of Art, Architecture + Design, but the opportunity to help with an exhibition of costumes worn by an Academy Award-nominated actress provided a unique and memorable experience.
As the university's Sage Collection prepares for "The Art of the Character," an exhibition of some of the costumes Glenn Close donated to IU, Cruella de Vil's gloves presented a challenge. The original gloves are made from silk chiffon and are intended to be worn on fleshy, flexible human hands, not mannequin hands that are hard and inflexible.
Sage Collection curator Kelly Richardson asked Master of Fine Arts students Emily Chase and Torrey Gleason to help with "The Art of the Character," the exhibition of costumes worn by Glenn Close that will be on display at the Sidney and Lois Eskenazi Museum of Art, and tasked them with replicating a pair of gloves Close wore in the movie "101 Dalmatians."
"What makes the whole collection cool is there are some very complex costumes," Richardson said. "Because the Sage Collection (to which Close's costume collection was donated) is part of the School of Art, Architecture + Design, we thought it was a good way to get some students involved. I asked for recommendations."
Gleason is studying graphic design. Chase is in the Fibers Area, and as the fibers graduate assistant, she is in charge of its digital printer. Both were excited about the opportunity.
"I have always had an interest in fashion, but until now I've never had the opportunity to relate that to my design work," Gleason said.
"I have a deep interest in garments as storytelling objects, and costumes are a particularly strong example of this," Chase said. "It's so exciting to get to work with these amazing costumes and to learn about how shows like this one are put on by getting to see the behind-the-scenes of the Sage costume collection."
The gloves are a key part of a costume for the evil Cruella de Vil character that Close portrayed.
"There's a great python print, figure-hugging dress trimmed with feathers that Glenn wears in '101 Dalmatians,' and she's got great matching gloves to go with it," Richardson said. "And those gloves with the fake fingernails on it are kind of a big part of her look."
Showing the gloves as part of the exhibition, though, presented a problem. For fear of damaging the original gloves by placing them on a mannequin's hands, the decision was made to create a copy using flexible Lycra.
That process involved several steps. Richardson took the original gloves to the Fine Arts Building, where Gleason could scan the pattern and save it digitally. Gleason and Chase looked at the gloves and dress as a whole, and took notes to help them get the patterns and colors just right, Richardson said.
Scanning took about an hour. Because the original gloves have fingernails attached, Gleason couldn't close the top of the scanner as one would normally do, so she had to be creative about controlling for light and color correcting.
"It was very important to get high-quality images of the gloves in order to replicate them as authentically as possible. We also took photographs of the gloves in different lighting environments to ensure that the colors would print correctly," Gleason said. "After the scans were taken, I spent several hours in Adobe Photoshop creating a repeatable swatch of the pattern for Emily to print."
Because the pattern on the original gloves is intricate, Gleason said she had to work around three-dimensional folds and seams in the scans to rebuild the pattern in the swatch.
Chase used a Canon Pro 4000 inkjet printer, which can print onto rolls of paper or fabric. Chase and other students use the printer to make textiles.
Description of the following video:
[ATAC editor’s note: Numbers before each entry represent minutes and seconds. Text in square brackets is added description. Text not in brackets is spoken text.]
[00:00] [VIDEO: A series of shots depicting costumes on mannequins and fabric.]
[00:05] [TEXT: “The Art of the Character: Highlights from the Glenn Close Costume Collection”]
[00:08] KELLY RICHARDSON: There’s a great python-print, really figure-hugging dress trimmed with feathers that Glenn wears in the first "101 Dalmatians," and she’s got great matching gloves to go with it.
[00:11] [VIDEO: A python-print dress sits in an archival box. A woman wearing gloves holds up part of the dress while pointing to another part of the dress. A pair of python-print gloves with black nails sits on a piece of tissue paper.]
[00:20] [VIDEO: “KELLY RICHARDSON: Curator, Sage Collection” appears at the bottom of the screen as KELLY RICHARDSON speaks. Two costumes on mannequins stand beside her.]
[00:21] KELLY RICHARDSON: And those gloves with the fake fingernails on -- if you remember anything about that production, you know -- are kind of a big part of her look. But those gloves are not really stretchy or flexible. They’re meant go on, you know, squishy human hands and not mannequin hands, and so we really wanted to use them.
[00:27] [VIDEO: A pair of python-print gloves with black nails sits on a piece of tissue paper. Python-print gloves sit on a table, with a mannequin arm behind it.]
[00:33] KELLY RICHARDSON: But we couldn’t put them on the rigid mannequin hands without damaging them. So, I approached the fiber arts department and worked with some students. They took the original gloves and looked at the original dress print and scanned the fabric and came up with a digital file that they’re going to print on the fabric. And we’re going take that fabric and make up some prop gloves and then glue on some fake nails.
[00:35] [VIDEO: A woman with purple archival gloves lays a python-print glove on a table in front of a mannequin arm. Python-print gloves sit on a table with a mannequin arm behind it. Three women stand over a python-print dress in an archival box. A fabric printer prints out a python design on fabric. A woman pulls a fabric print out of the printer. Two women compare samples of python fabric prints.]
[00:58] KELLY RICHARDSON: So, we still have the correct look, and visitors to the exhibition will get the kind of head-to-toe completeness of it, and we can show those without damaging the pieces.
[01:06] [VIDEO: A woman holds up a large piece of python-print fabric.]
[01:09] [TEXT: “Indiana University iu.edu”]
The printing process first involved printing the pattern onto 44-by-13-inch test strips of broadcloth to make sure the color was correct and not waste the Lycra intended for the final printing. The test samples were compared to the actual gloves, to make sure patterns and colors matched.
"Getting the color right is the greatest challenge," Chase said.
Not only does the color have to match, but the replicated gloves need to have more color contrast to make them "pop," so they stand out with the entire costume, Richardson said.
The printing process involved a lot of trial and error, and patience. Chase said this was her first year working with the printer, so the project taught her a lot about its capabilities and gave her skills that she can share with other students.
When Chase was happy with the patterns and colors, she printed the pattern onto the Lycra so that Sage Collection assistant Emily Rosolowski could sew the gloves, and then fingernails could be added.
"It was a learning curve for sure, but I am thrilled that I've been able to assist this project to fruition," Chase said. "Hopefully, if we did our jobs right, the duplicate gloves will blend in so well no one will even know the work it took."
Chase said that she hopes those who check out the exhibition gain an appreciation for the beauty and construction of costumes that they usually only see on a movie or TV screen.
"Garments -- especially theatrical, beautifully made ones such as these costumes -- are so expressive and add so much to the ways we tell stories," Chase said. "The ways garments help communicate identity is not just true in movies or films, but also in our daily lives when we choose what and how to wear our own clothes."
Gleason said it was rewarding to see her digital work come to life as part of the exhibition, and to see the behind-the-scenes work required for museum collections. She hopes "The Art of the Character" also provides a learning experience for attendees.
"I hope it encourages people to see more of the connections that art and design have in the worlds of fashion, theater and art," Gleason said.
"A Close look at 'The Art of the Character'" is a feature series that explores how IU Bloomington students, staff, faculty and students have helped prepare Glenn Close's costumes for their first on-campus exhibition.