Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Ellen Christine , Rehearsals, Turandot, Roberto, Orange

Sitting on stone bleachers in a Roman amphitheatre.  The chorus is rehearsing Act 1 of Turandot, and the pigeons are singing along with them.  The stage director leads the children's chorus to center stage, and the music of Puccini permeates the old stones.  Piano only.  And voices.  Voices filling the crevices in the rock.  Voices bouncing off the worn stone bleachers, worn smooth by the recurring 8000 people or so who fill the seats year after year, as they have for centuries.
The sun is setting in Orange and the second rehearsal is in full swing.  Roberto Alagna sings in half voice, with his family in the front row.  We can only imagine the alchemy that is being wrought.
  Act I of Turandot opens with a Mandarin  singing up, way up high, on the topmost level of the set.  Calaf/Roberto hides among the pillars of the courtyard, and  the chorus is spread out across the entire stage. The stage director at Choregies, Charles Roubaud, uses the space in a conceptual format, every stone, every inch as part of the environment,  to better allow the magic of this extraordinary opera to happen. The inherent grandiosity is conveyed by using  the different levels of power, and the height, the majesty of this amphitheatre.
The "hands that speak" are the hands of Michel Plasson, a wizard of a conductor.  He is here for the run-through before the orchestra arrives on Sunday.  It is Friday, and he seems happy that everyone is so well prepared.  The hard working chorus responds to those hands, to his language, and the Wall of Sound begins.  Ebb and flow, ecstasy, pain, excitement, fear : all basic human emotions conveyed here via voice, extracted as it were by the very evocative hands of Maestro Plasson.
  In Act II the need for a relief from the tension created by a  cold, cruel princess and the effect she has on her kingdom is provided by the Courtiers Ping, Pang and Pong. Their names may sound like characters from a Gilbert and Sullivan operetta, but their vocal arrangements are  so harmonious, they provide the presence needed. The audience is now set up for the tender plea of Liu. Drama mounts in the duet between Calaf and the handmaiden, Liu , as the crowd onstage swarms, and the entire scene crescendos: Turandot!  On an almost bare stage, with no costumes, the performance evokes all the needed sentiment.  When  Calaf runs off, we can once again breathe. Roberto's presence onstage is so evocative that we as one , the audience, follow his every move. For the end of act notes, the conductor summons first the chorus, and then the children's chorus.  As he tells them how sweetly they are singing, he manages to tweak their performances with just the right point needed to achieve perfection.
Rehearsal continues with a reprisal, as Calaf/Roberto and Ping/Pang/Pong do their thing.  Roberto is saying to Maestro Plasson that it will be "little by little", close the the footlights under the hot sun.  This is a huge role for Roberto; as they say in French a "prise de role": his debut in this role.  Yes, he's sung the music before, but never AS Calaf in the opera itself. He has lots of time onstage, and lots of high notes (les aigues).  Mr . Alagna will be working very hard.
Be still my heart!
Oh, gosh, I just got a "Hello, Ellen!" from the stage, as he faces me (on the bleachers) and we have a little exchange about his Twitterfeed today.  (He posted a picture of himself, shaving, in one of my hats.) And me, trying to concentrate on the rehearsal!
Back to M. Plasson: watch this man's hands!  Ping/Pang/Pong are onstage on top of a set of BIG bookcases/bookshelves.  The books on the shelves are storybook size.  think of the piano keys at F.A.O.Schwartz for scale.Plasson guides them through their reveries with his will, his cajoling, and his mega-professional attitude.
 Now at the top, and along the stage itself,  with the chorus, and we are immersed in the court music that Puccini composed for the $54,000 Question Show. The power of their voices in this amphitheatre is something that needs to be experienced in person: the walls resound with  magic music.
Calaf/Roberto is 40 feet below the Emperor, who is seated on high, god of the heavens, and he repeats his request to have a shot at the Princess and her game of chance: Filio del Cielo!
Doves fly in and out of their crevices.
Now we have the children singing, as they prepare us for  the magnificent presentation of the magnificent and darkPrincess, who deigns to join the Court , encased in her globe. A globe that protects, and defends, pushed by her slaves to center stage.  Lise Lystrom begins her aria as the sun is setting over the Theatre Antique. The Princess commands the stage, as the doves call to each other . Now  it's time for the triple threat: either Calaf answers her riddles correctly, or he dies.  The intricacy of the riddles is surrounded by trickles of music that set both the mood, and her attitude. Puccini was brilliant.  As Calaf divines the answers one by one,  slaves partially close the globe, her last sacred place. Extracted as it were from her isolation, the Princess makes a measured progression into the real world. The confrontation between the now conquered Princess and the conquering Calaf leads us into the sublime "Nessun Dorma". Just kill me.
Half and hour for a break, and then everyone straggles back in for the rest of the rehearsal.  We will be here until midnight.Night time has now fallen, and on the stage, the chorus  are choreographed carrying lanterns that seem as firefies in the dark. At last,  Nessun Dorma, with Roberto still using only a portion  of his golden voice, in a lower register.  This will protect his vocal chords and save the killer notes for the performances.  There will be three: the full dress and tech rehearsal (la General), and the two performance dates themselves.
What comes next is the death of Liu, in the last piece of music actually written by Puccini himself.  He died just after completing this portion, but he left his masterpiece in the capable hands of Toscanini.  Maestro Toscanini did have the opera finished for  it's first performance  in the 1920's. There's as much drama surrounding the creation of the piece as there is in the opera itself, but we won't cover that ground here.
Liu's death is followed by the inevitable: Turandot in Calaf's arms in sweet surrender. Still trepidatious, but won over by Calaf's intelligence, persistence and charm. The final magical notes fill the amphitheatre, the chorus fills the stage once more, and the Emperor holds forth on high. But wait a minute: it's seduction, Roberto-style, in slow motion. Turandot and Calaf circle each other, as Calaf/Roberto gently lifts her hand to his lips.  He kisses it.  We all sigh.  He places her hand on his cheek.   We all sigh. He caresses her cheek.  We all sigh. And,  they fall into each other's arms.
My heart stopped.

Photos courtesy of Helene Jeanneret

Friday, July 20, 2012

Ellen Christine at the Choregies d'Orange

The Romans came to Orange, France, and decided to build a Theatre.  I haven't found out why, as yet, but it's an extraordinary place, where the acoustics hit you like Phil Spector's Wall of Sound. It doesn't matter if you like opera, but it helps.
The Choregies d'Orange are in rehearsals this week for Turandot, with Roberto Alagna and Lise Lindstrom.  It's an incredible production, with a vast chorus, all from the South of France.  Imagine! This huge stage, with the original architecture behind the performers.  The French have put a glass roof over the stage, for historic preservation, but I'm sure it helps the acoustics even more.  When Puccini's music is being sung by 100 chorists, the heart stops, the blood chills, the spirit lifts, and you are in Heaven.
Having never been to Orange, I'm enthusiastic, to say the least.  More like a kid in a candy store.  It's fascinating to be present for all of the rehearsals.  The singers are in half-voice most of the time, but even one note that hits you like an arrow between the eyes is enough to get you ready for the production. The veritable smell of the greasepaint, the roar of the crowd, is the bug that bites and keeps you coming back.  Maybe it's different when you're backstage most of the time in your line of work, and you get to see the first pieces fall into place.  Maybe it's different when you are used to hearing the director yell up and down the theatre.  But hey, this is some theatre.  To talk to each other, they need walkie-talkies, because the stage is about 100 meters wide.  The stage director moves the crowd around, placing them in their precise positions every 5 minutes.  The sound and the lights are up behind us, in the arc of the stone seats.  a friend of mine told me that the plebians had straw-filled cushions to sit on, and the VIPS had cushions and retractable domes, to protect them from the sun and the wind. Rehearsals are until midnight, so the wind is capable of whipping through the stadium, as the birds fly in and out of their nests.  Lodged high in the stone walls, the birds fly almost on cue, sometimes in a flock, sometimes one or two little wings beating their way home.
With everyone in place, and the stage director happy, the chorus lances into the last act.  Get a copy of Pavarotti singing the role of Calaf, and you will have the touchstone performance.  Those of us who live for the golden tones of Roberto Alagna can't wait for the sacred moment of Nessun Dorma.  For this note, have I flown 3000 miles.  For this opera I have traveled this distance, to hear those incredible tones in this incredible place.  This is opera.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Ellen- Christine Keeps New York in Hats

Find us all over New York in the month of June, from our studio/showroom in Lower Manhattan, to the Hudson Valley, in Dutchess County. We aim to keep the heads of New Yorkers covered, for fashion's sake.
There's a wonderful venue in Dutchess County called "Elegant Events Hudson Valley", in a romantic setting : Courtland Manor".  Karen Villanova has been eventing in the Bridal industry for 35 years, and knows her market.  By invitation only, select vendors will provide a day of consulting for brides from all ver the Tri-State market.  If you've logged into their page on Facebook (or ours), you've seen the overview.  Jane Wilson Marquis and her inspiring gowns will be there, and so will we.

Next week, Purely Patricia presents her first "Artist Collective", in the West Village.  Ellen Christine is one of the core group of these highly talented people.  We are mounting the first show on Wednesday, with a follow-up on Saturday.  Please feel free to come and see some extraordinary art-in-fashion, textile art, and beautifully crafted jewelry.  This is a  alternative shopping experience , and we hope to revive the Salon atmosphere of shopping as it used to be. 

http://ymlp.com/zIlEDu, the link to our newsletter

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Guide to Ellen Christine Couture Millinery

We're deep in the heart of racing season. Hats: An Anthology by Stephen Jones has just closed in the Manhattan location at The Bard Graduate Center. Brides are descending upon us like so many hummingbirds. We've just begun online S/S 2012 on several new sites. Our customer base is expanding. Our inhouse custom appointments are multiplying. Strawbery Banke Museum is awaiting it's opening, with one of our pieces in the exhibit this summer. Right! did I mention racing season????
I'm sure I'll remember something else, but for now, that's the overview. And here's the breakdown:

To add one of our pieces to your hat collection, we've now made it easier for aficionados. We're on the Metropolitan Opera Shop site with a beautiful capsule collection inspired by their opera productions. Our favorite this week is the Manon (the Big White Hat), inspired by the glorious piece that the Met's costume shop/millinery studio, headed by Janet Linville, designed. What a way to open up the spring season at Lincoln Center!

Hatagories, an online access shopping site that is a branch of My Fair Lady, a hat concern in NJ, has just added Ellen Christine to it's roster of hat stars. We're so happy, and as soon as the images were live, one of our little "Gigi" doll's hats sold. Another of the Gigis is on the Met site, too, in natural parasisal, with a nod, of course, to Manon. And the extraordinary voice of Anna Nebtrenko.

Our friend, Geoffrey, an intrepid hat designer, developer, merchandiser et al, has opened a page for designers on his site , too. But on here, as we have our own point of view, we have chosen to offer our more fashion forward pieces. Whereas when we're collaborating with a merchandiser, they tend to choose pieces suited to their audience. We have no qualms about showing off, so Geoffrey has given us that platform!

Our own EllenChristine.com site is an ongoing archival record of our classics. Still offered at our original prices, and custom designed and made, these hats tell a story of our evolution, and demonstrate just a few possibilities for hat loving customers . Keep an eye out for this site to begin it's own evolution, as we begin to implement changes. And oh, yes, the prices will be different, so you might want to take advantage now.

Custom appointments are accommodated as we have space. In New York City, that means who can we squeeze in, because, as always, there are way too many last minute desperados out there. We like to work with our brides in a calm, creative manner, and so the more time available, the happier we'll be. For the Kentucky Derby, and Derby parties, I'm sure we can find something, even the day before, because we always have a great selection of hats suitable for an over-the-top event.

Our Spring/Summer activities include trunk shows, hat parties, High Teas, and a trek to new Hampshire, for the Passion for Fashion Gala, at the aforementioned Strawbery Banke Museum. Catch up with us before July, when we're off to France for inspiration and opera! It's a fully packed 2 months, and we're so ready!
Hats on, everybody!


Don't forget about Facebook (Ellen Christine Couture) and Twitter (@ellenchristine), where we update constantly.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Still September

Well, let's pretend, shall we? It's Fashion Week, for Spring 2011, and it's the opening night party for The Bard Graduate Center show, Hats: an Anthology by Stephen Jones. It's also the night that Malan Breton is showing at Lincoln Center, runway, and guess who agreed to do the hats? So, we have to be at two places at once. As usual.
The Stephen Jones group will more than understand if I skip out early for the show at Mercedez-Benz Fashion Week. Stephen Jones IS runway in Paris and London, with more and more shows in New York, as well. So we won't be rude, since there's so very many people who want to schmooze with him. Time enough to introduce myself in person, sneak in a quick picture with our God of Hats, and dash to the tents.
Malan Breton is the darling of the media. He is a graduate cum laude from Project Runway, and somehow manages to get the spotlight on himself , produce a runway show, and survive, season after season. Not an easy thing. We've always been honored to participate in his shows, and this will be our third or fourth season with him.
For this Tour de Force, it's "Fantome": always musically oriented, always celeb attended, always press , press and more press. There have been seasons when Alex McCord, sans handsome hub, Simon VanKempen (he sat it out in the audience), walked the runway for Malan. And seasons when ballerinas were the focal point. Or string orchestras. Malan always brings it. With our history together, its not hard to hone in on what he likes for a look. In preparing for FW, for those of you who have never been subjected to this blitz, you make yourself available for spontaneous meeting with the designer, and his stylists. You pray for model headsizes. Hope for materials. Angst for magic extra time to appear before curtain. Did I say "pray", oh, yes, pray.
Backstage, for my second time that day (I had to oversee the delivery of the hats in person), and checking the outfits, sequence, drape, fit. Where's that box? Why are some of the hats missing? where's that box again? Get out of the way for the interns to do their last minute pressing, steaming, accessorizing. And get those hats out on the racks. Each ensemble is hung with care on a rack, with all of the accessories listed per outfit. Each outfit has a dresser, and that person is key. They control getting the model into the next outfit, and keep watch over the accessories. Can you imagine backstage? It's so much fun! Energy, vibe, excitement, and nerves, in the make-up room and beyond. Love being backstage. Backstage is why I do what I do. I woke up one morning and realized it wasn't the boy I missed (it had been a terribly dreadful break-up with a drummer), but the "smell of the greasepaint, the roar of the crowd"! Oh, to find your place in life. It's such an exhilarating moment. Eureka, I'm home, so to speak.
Back to Malan: dressing the models in their outfits, and overseeing the placement of the hats, last minute changes (a certain recording star won't be walking since her limo can't get here in time) . In short, organized chaos.
And then the show. Well, as it happens, Malan manages to get the jump on this season's hottest trend: transparency. How I did hats in the same vein is always a mystery of the gods. But it happens sometime, that you just nail it.
So this is the hat that launched more than a few shoots in editorials, and ideas for other collections. As seen here, in Sandy Ramirez' ingenious beauty shot, in Malan Breton's S/S 2011 runway show.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Back to September 2011

Seems like a million miles away, last September. Last September the show: "Hats: an Anthology by Stephen Jones" opened at the Bard Graduate Center. Wotta show it is. Still going on through April 15, so if you haven't seen it, please take advantage of having this wondrous installation still here in NYC.
A Prelude.
Much to my surprise, I got a PM on FB from Rod Keenan. Those of us in the industry/metier who are in NYC certainly have come across Rod or his hats at some point. I was luck to be on a panel with a friend of his a while ago, and that, I believe, was our first meeting. the message from Mr. Keenan said something like: I've recommended you for the show (oh, yes, I knew which show he meant), so expect to receive a phone call or an email shortly. From the curator. As it turned out, shortly was enough of a lapse for me to have let it sit on a back burner. But lo and behold, one Saturday morning, as I was in the studio early, and alone, the phone rang. "Hello, Stephen Jones here."
WTF, as they say in the street. We all get wacky phone calls, but this one took the cake.
"Hello" again.
"Stephen Jones calling."
Well , with that I just had to say something. And what should come out of my mouth but a typical Ellen-ism: "Get the ef out of here!" No, I'm not kidding. I thought it was one of the wacky stylists I work with kidding me. But no, it was truly Mr. Jones, and he wanted a hat from me for his show. "Only one?" says she, as realistically as ever. "Yes, just one. Difficult, I know, but one that would be totally you."
Well, what a gig. How to dream up just one hat? Oh, the conversation was a tad longer, but the gist was that I would design a few things and send them to Oriole Cullen, the curator. And then we'd see. Because I'm well known for my 1920's pieces, and beadwork, I thought one of the piece would have to be a cloche. And to torture my entire crew, we'd bead it completely in different beads from our archival collection. And the other piece would be one of my feather dusters. Headpieces, that is, plumed, birded, in flight.
As it happened, Mr. Jones himself decided on the beaded cloche, when it was only partially completed. Oriole and Mr. Jones loved the prep work we had done on the cloche, that would be named "La Marianne", and decided to add it half-finished to the show. But, oops, but the time that message reached me, we had completed the beadwork on the rest of the piece. And so, it's covered in every bead I loved from the 1920's, or earlier.
Our concept:
As a modern day "flapper", more like an independent modern young lady, this customer lives well in the future, and has a yen for drama. think of it as a cross between the Great Gatsby, The French Revolution, and Mad Max. Some of the beads are from the early part of the 20th Century, made in Czechoslovakia, as most good glass beads were, and coated with an irridescent finish. Bits of broken jewelry and Swarovski crystals cut a swath across the crown of the headpiece, as a sort of dynamic tiara. Look closely and you will see a dress clip from the 1930's, and bits of neckaces from the 1950's in there , too. We love our found /recycled/repurposed art at Ellen Christine.
Please say hello to our headpiece when you're at the Bard, and say "Thank you" to Stephen Jones and the Victoria and Albert Museum for making it all happen.

The photograph of the lovely Faye Brandt wearing La Marianne was taken by Sandy Ramirez.

Something for The New Year

Who can remember just when Will from W Magazine asked me to make this hat? This vinyl hat has been part of our collection for ages...since we work on Spring so far in advance. this particular hat, not that you can tell from this beautifully stylized picture, is transparent. Transparency was the lead story for this Spring, so I guess you could say that because of Will and his directives, we were ahead of the game. Way ahead. And what an adventure this little hat has had. It lived at W for a while, and somehow wound up requested by Lady Gaga's stylist for an appearance. The run at W didn't get used, and Gaga didn't wear it, but we did it again for Malan Breton's runway show at Mercedes Benz Fashion Week. Along with the rest of the collection we designed for him, again, transparency was the theme.
Back again in the studio, but only for a visit, because Edward Enninful requested it for another story he was preparing for W . This time, with a nod to Erte, as shot by Nick Knight, the hat finally ran!
And here it is: conceptual, and how incredible is this composition? Edward used it as an idea, and sometimes hats are just that: just an idea. Without imposing itself into the shot, this hat became a halo of light around the model's head. In the photographer's capable hands, a hat made of vinyl became part of an Art piece.
Now, it's once again at W, and we'll see what happens next. Thank you, Will, for the original push, and Edward Enninful for the concept, and Nick Knight for the interpretation.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

the Metropolitan Opera Shop

In October, we went live with the collection we did for The Metropolitan Opera shop , inspired by the season's production of The Enchanted Island. While the costumes of "Enchanted Island" are fantasy, period, lush, exotic, they beg to be worn! Costumes have always appealed to my inner design self, so this would be a difficult task, to design something that could be worn by a "civilian", and yet carry echoes of this magnificent baroque production. Feathers were the solution: use the feather theme that is displayed in Sycorax' hat, in her hair, on her cloak. Add a great common ground with a lush creamy velour felt, and you have our hats. We did a basic cloche, because it's a great shape for many, many faces. With a hand -blocked brim and crown, here in our studio, this cloche assumes many personae. The block itself is from the 1920's, so that it gives a full, oval shape. Oval, as opposed to the round shape found in most hats on the market today. Oval because the head is oval, and rarely round. This is one of my favorite blocks, and it has been in my collection for decades. We have one client who it works for in every hat we design for her, so we fondly call it by her name. But that little tidbit is in-house, I'm afraid. I chose shades of camel and taupe, because Sycoraz goes from a swamp/jungle existence, all grey and monochromatic, to emerge as a Phoenix in glorious browns and golds. Taupe is my preferred "non-couleur", and works from a sophisticated point of view, to a work-a-day frame that pairs with black, khaki, navy, brown, greens and winter whites. The trim on the cloche is a captured exotic animal, like the creatures on The Enchanted Island: a bit of a bird, a petal of silk in leopard, a vintage button in buffalo horn. Not too much, just a hint of the glory that lies within.
For the "Pamela" Biba, we hand-blocked a face-framing shape that would work for Sunday best, or Tuesday on the town, going to luncheon, on a shopping spree. The Biba is so named because of a particularly inventive shop in London from the 1970's, where free-wheeling fashion made it's home. We've loved the spirit of Biba for inspiration, and we do this hat as a classic in all seasons. Wrapped around the sloping crown, is a wonderful vintage velvet ribbon that we have in our archival collection of trims. It's a really rich , deep brown, and works as a foil for the hand-curled pheasant feather. The pheasant feather is prominent in the wardrobe/headwear of Sycorax in this production, so it was a natural choice. Held onto the hat with delicate stitches, the feather seems to want to take flight!
And finally, to round out this capsule collection, a fascinator. After the Royal Wedding in the Spring, America has taken note of this little shape, so often seen at weddings throughout Europe. Our hand-blocked teardrop shape is one of our most popular , and the trim is a coalition of vintage bits and bobs from our archives. With the pheasant feather as the focal point, and a wayward gold threaded butterfly captured in the mix, the velour based hat is a whimsical composition. Picking up on the Steampunk aspects of the set and costume design in this Pastiche, we added a bit of gilt chain, and some antique buttons, and of course, some Victorian trim. Because the trim is all unique, each hat we sell is an original composition, quite one of a kind.
There are always surprises in the collections we do for The Met Opera Shop. It's a constant source of inspiration, and delight.

Come to the MetOperashop site, and see for yourselves. Ellen Christine hats are available, and sometimes, we sneak in different productions, as we create!

All pictures of our hats above are by Tom Bloom, photographer extraordinaire.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

November Again/ Italian Flair

In my ongoing retrospective of this past year's goings on, the press played a huge part in our reality. Italian Flair asked us to do a hat that would be reminiscent of Cardin, or Courreges, very 1960's in flavor. What do you do when you don't own the block? It's called millinery, my dears. You swan it. That means, with a bit of steam, one of our vintage crown blocks, and lots of hand manipulation, it happens. This is actually two hats in one, as some of you may realize. Because the height necessitates an interior elevation, we build a solid foundation from the same felt, to accomodate the head, and have the "opening" sit in perfect position. I'm always amazed at the shots: photography, lighting, and styling all combine to create a beautiful picture. The model is posed in that very cheeky Atomic 1960's way: all swagger, all attitude.
It can be daunting to attempt a recreation, or to do a hat that carries with it a scintilla of past glories, but since I'm all about vintage, somehow it always works. By osmosis, I would expect. We don't have any originals to use as research, so we invent our own modern take on the look. The result: Space Age. Sputnik. And a really great shot.