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Behind the scenes in the Costume Department

How tailor Jay Francois-Campbell gets ready for the new ROH Season.

By Sacha Glasgow-Smith (Fundraising Campaigns and Communications Manager)

4 September 2014 at 5.27pm | Comment on this article

Jay Francois-Campbell, a tailor based in the Royal Opera House's Men’s Tailoring workshop, was the hands between our scissor image for the Season Appeal and has worked at Covent Garden since 1997.

As our backstage departments at Covent Garden make the final preparations for the Season ahead, we caught up with Jay to find out a bit more about her role and what goes on behind the scenes.

Donate to our Season Appeal

Which production are you most looking forward to next Season?

Andrea Chénier. It will be a big period piece, which is just the kind of production I love. Lesley, our Head of Department, has shown us Jenny Tiramani's designs, which are very exciting. The period is the French Revolution so there are lots of decorative waistcoats to keep me happy!

Over the summer, Jenny gave us a sense of what she was after by bringing in historical clothing from the particular period in which the production will be set. This was extremely helpful, as our costumes are constructed using many authentic techniques and sewing styles. By scrutinizing the garments, we were able to identify techniques for future reference.

Which productions have been most memorable for you over your time with the ROH and why?

There are so many productions I love; it's hard to narrow it down. There have been a lot of memorable ones, some because they were fun to work on. A few were experimental and one or two were time-consuming and stressful.

Artaxerxes, last performed here in 2009, is my favourite for a number of reasons. It was the most structurally challenging productions I have ever worked on at the Royal Opera House. For the main character Artaxerxes, a vintage Japanese kimono was used, but this alone was not enough to complete the costume. A specialist computer was used to produce additional metres to finish the garment, which was the first time I had seen such a technique. The end result was spectacular.

Alice’s Adventures in Wonderlandwhich returns this December, involved an immense amount of work. Many garments were velvet, which can never be rushed as the results can be disastrous. The Mad Hatter was particularly difficult as his trousers comprised many strips of thin velvet which needed stitching down, but also had to be stretchy. This was troublesome as the more strips were stitched down, the less stretchy it became!

What needs to be done over the summer to make sure that you’re ready to go come 11 September, when Anna Nicole opens the Season?  

We deep clean the department by taking everything off the shelves and cleaning every surface. Unused fabric is returned to the stockroom, or sent to the Learning and Participation department to be used by schools. All the industrial irons and sewing machines are serviced, and scissors are sent away for sharpening.

We update our department 'bibles' with all the costumes we have made that Season, and change our show boards to show current designs of upcoming productions, which are seen by visiting tour groups. All in-house training is undertaken during this period. External specialists are also invited to give talks at this time.

Patterns that have been made over the previous Season are sorted, packaged and stored for future use. Rails are checked for toiles [versions of costumes made to test the pattern] that are no longer required and can be disassembled. New toiles are made, using the latest measurements of the artists, for the first new production of the Season, which will be seen by the designer for approval. If the fabric has already been bought and steamed, it will be cut using the new patterns. If the first new production is large, this gives us a good head start – essential at the start of a busy Season!

To support the cost of these essential preparatory tasks, please make a donation to our Season Appeal today.

The Royal Opera House is a registered charity and your support makes a very real difference to our work.

By Sacha Glasgow-Smith (Fundraising Campaigns and Communications Manager)

4 September 2014 at 5.27pm

This article has been categorised Off stage and tagged 2014/15, Backstage, costume, design, preparation, Season appeal, summer

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