The behind-the-scenes magic of the POM 2024 team – Á La Mode: The Art of Fashion

By DIANNE RUSSELL

Photos by Mary Hurlbut

“Wizards of illusion” would be a fitting description for the set and costume designers at the Pageant of the Masters (POM). The creative brilliance of Construction Foreman Dave Talbot, Headpiece Maker Rome Fiore and Scenic Artist Sharon Lamberg is artistry at its finest.

Angel Shoes, an iconic high heel with a sculpted figure, feather, and wings by designer Alexander McQueen, is just one example of the dazzling delights that await audiences when Á La Mode: The Art of Fashion takes the stage on July 6.

During the 15 years Talbot has been with POM, he has no doubt constructed hundreds of items. “But this is my first time building a shoe,” Talbot said – a shoe the size of a Volkswagen to be exact.

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A sculpture in progress – fashioned after “Angel Shoes” by Alexander McQueen from his groundbreaking 2010 Fall Collection

From the grandeur of royal courts to the contemporary glamor of today’s catwalks, À La Mode: The Art of Fashion will unravel the narrative of attire through the ages, revealing its inherent power and significance.

Without giving away any surprises, Marketing/PR Director of the Festival of the Arts/POM Sharbie Higuchi, said, “The Pageant is always finding new innovative elements to incorporate into the show. In past years we have included some live entertainment aspects, and we expect to do something in this year’s Pageant as well.”

This year with Á La Mode: The Art of Fashion, POM Director/Producer Diane Challis Davy and her teams have created what may be the most imaginative event to date.

Visitors to the Pageant this summer will be privy to this stunning visual history, represented by 39 re-creations; but let’s rewind that narrative and see how it all began.

Pageant countdown

Beginning in January, Talbot implements the designs created by Technical Director Richard (Butch) Hill, building each set with masterful carpentry skills, and overseeing the execution of sets for the Pageant of the Masters. “Butch decides what we build first based on the pieces that will take the most time,” Talbot said.

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Dave Talbot with the magazine cover featuring his grandfather’s designs. His grandmother and grandfather are in the photo insert in the upper right corner.

Talbot has a strong connection to this year’s fashion theme. His grandfather, Don Miguel Dominguez, was a clothing designer in Los Angeles in the 1950s and dressed stars such as Carol Channing.

“My grandfather saw that fashion events gave models confidence and power and witnessed the attention they demanded – and he started designing,” said Talbot. “I’m also making dresses now, but out of metal. I think he would be proud.”

What, in its final state, appears to be magic – truly is – and it’s the result of the collaboration of a talented team including artisans – Talbot, Fiore and Lamberg. Talbot said, “It’s an amazing group of artists, directors and designers. We work things out as a team – one person will have an idea, and everyone has a different way of solving problems. We’re all working toward a common purpose.”

And from the final designs, those different approaches appear to be an asset to the production.

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“Portrait of Marie Antoinette” set – Lamberg holding a photo of the painting

“It’s really rewarding when you complete a challenging set. King George IV and Queen Victoria required immense effort from everyone. We pulled out every trick for Queen Victoria, and the results are magical.” Talbot said.

Lamberg, who paints the sets, has been with the Pageant for 37 seasons and explained why shadows can be challenging to her work. “Sometimes the simplest scenes are the most difficult, it’s hard to hide the shadows. The painting process must be constantly refined and readjusted to provide folds and shadows and accommodate the lighting.”

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The costumes are shaped with pencil rod and then covered in muslin/padding like a lampshade – a method perfected by Talbot. The folds and shadows are painted by Lamberg.

The garments are made with muslin and sewn by the costume department then sent to the paint department.

“The skirts that I make that are mounted to the set are made out of metal pencil rod sculpted and welded into its place on the set,” Talbot said. “They are designed to accurately resemble the original artwork as well as be a custom fit to our cast members. Most of the skirt frames are designed to be removable for easy loading of the cast members into the set.

“Once I have welded the skirt frame, they are sent to Sharon, who wraps them in fabric and padding, then they’re off to the paint department.”

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Rome Fiore with a few of his headpieces

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Costume and headdress from “Emperor and Empress at Kabuki”

Now in his fourth year with the Pageant, Fiore’s forte is creating the headpieces.

Making the headpieces is a complicated process. “They are all made with a Buckram fabric base, which is like a starched linen fabric and then we add thermoplastic to make the spine,” Fiore said. The fabric is steamed into shape then after those pieces are all placed, fabric goes on like a nylon stocking and stretched over and filled with stuffing to round it out (which also hides the thermoplastic spine).

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Fiore with the costume from the “King George IV” scene. Jewels are painted on.

“In the painting, King George IV, he’s wearing a lot of gems and jewels, but instead of having him wear all that, they’re painted on to exactly match the painting,” Fiore said. However, sometimes, they will have him wear a real piece of jewelry that goes across the costume to add a little bit of dimension.

Considering how much work and thought goes into the design of the costumes, it must be hard to say goodbye to them at the end of the season. Fiore said, “It is, but we try to recycle and reuse whatever we can, and I save a little something from each season.”

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All the buttons and details are painted on “Blue Boy’s” jacket

Although it must be as difficult to choose a favorite set and costumes – as impossible as saying which of your children you like best – Fiore said, “My favorite this year is Empress Eugenie and Ladies of her Court.”

Talbot said, “My favorite pieces in the show are the Bat and Butterfly brooches for sculpture, and for a painting – the King George IV and the Queen Victoria portrait.”

As July 6th draws near

The intensity of the impending deadline must be a huge factor in production as the Pageant opening date nears. Talbot agreed, “It all comes in heavy in June.”

Preparations have been underway since the beginning of the year with weekly rehearsals every Thursday night. Each rehearsal practices about three to five re-creations on stage – complete with costumes and makeup.

“Thursdays are all hands-on deck,” Talbot said. “We work meticulously to make sure the re-creations look just like the original art. I can’t wait for everyone to see the results of all of our hard work.”

It will be a Pageant season to remember for art (and history) lovers, fashionistas and designers. Don’t miss the chance to see, Á La Mode: The Art of Fashion and the final creations – or illusions, if you wish to call them – of this talented team. The Pageant runs nightly July 6 – August 30, 2024.

For more information and tickets to the POM, go to www.foapom.com.


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