Madame de la Grande Bouche: A rolling skirt costume

I am almost done working my way through the costuming of “Beauty and the Beast”.  Sewing and blogging have sort of taken back-seats to some other goings-on in my life . . gardening, moving kids to-and-from college & apartments, WORK, trying to move my sewing area, and some other volunteer commitments.  I have a whole STACK of project ideas I want to explore . . .

But, on to today’s project . . .Madame de la Grande Bouche.

If you have been researching Madame costumes . . many are done with a sandwich board type costume, which can be quite effective, and relatively easy (I said “relatively”!) to construct.

Key components to this costume are that Madame needs to be able to open some sort of cupboard or drawer to pull out a set of old-fashioned drawers and then a pink dress.  How this happens varies infinitely . . and each are appealing in their own way.  It is important to establish early on whether the bedroom scene will be done on the main stage floor, or done on an elevated “upper floor” of the castle, as this will determine how mobile Madame needs to be.

When I first sat down with my Director I had a very open mind about how this costume would happen.  My Director envisioned a LARGE costume  . . . 6-8′ wide. That is A LOT of costume.  She also determined that the bedroom would be on the main floor of the stage.

I happened to find this video on the costuming of a Dutch production of BATB:

I liked the idea of Madame having a human body top and a rolling skirt.  I also thought that she could be a part of the bedroom wall . . . sort of like a built-in dresser . . . and then emerge to surprise Belle.  I didn’t have a clear vision of how that would happen . . . but . . . decided to try to go in that direction.

First off . . . I don’t have carpentry skills.  It probably would have been easy to make the side panels out of flats  . . . but I didn’t have any and our set person was up to her eyeballs in her own problems, so, I couldn’t really ask her.  I also was hesitant on having free-standing panels that the character could easily bump as she moved around, and I’d hate to crush someone on stage.  I know there are stage screws, but our stage was brand new, so that wasn’t happening.

Trolling Amazon one night . . I found a double-sided rolling garment rack that I thought could form the basis of the skirt . . and . . bonus . . . it came with wheels already.  I also saw some other garment racks that I thought could form the framework for the side pieces.  Now, the double-sided rack was 18″ in width, but, as I walked around I thought she could take baby steps and it would work.

I ordered the garment rack . . I was pumped . . I had figured this out.  And I could do it on my own without help.  Nice plan, but, not so much.  Problem 1:  the wheels were super cheap.  They did NOT freely roll.  Problem 2:  there was not enough space between the bottom bar and the floor for a foot.  Even if you could baby step in between the bars, there was no space for your foot.  Problem 3:  There is baby-stepping and then there is micro stepping.  In the end, I DID use the frame, but I took off one of the back bottom supports, begged my Dad to make me a 3 sided wooden frame to attach it to AND purchased additional wheels with ball bearings (despite trying to get good ones . . . the ones I bought didn’t move as freely as I would have liked.  Don’t scrimp here . . buy good wheels).

I also purchased two more rolling racks to make the side pieces.

I wanted her hidden from the audience while Belle sings “Home”, so I wanted some swinging doors.  I couldn’t find any, so instead I purchased some canvas artist boards, and had my Dad attach them to the garment rack with hinges.

I luckily had found some very large drapes at a thrift store, and so used those as the basis for my side pieces and the dress.  I also had some coordinating king sized pillow shams that I used for some of the costume and to cover the swinging doors.

So, this is what the set piece looked like:


In addition to the curtains and the pillow shams,  I had one gold bedskirt with beaded trim at the bottom, and then I had one piece of blue fabric, and one piece of brown fabric.

The swinging doors (artist canvas) are covered with the pillow shams.  Two of the curtains are pinned around the garment racks.  I wanted to pin them to preserve the fabric in case I wanted it for something later on . . . however, as you can see, it liked to droop.  The drawers are made of stiff batting that came out of a discarded crib bumper pad.  They are pinned on to the side pieces.  The drawer pulls were some bronzy looking things I found in the clearance section of Hobby Lobby.  I lined the inner sides with some cardboard (painted cream), and various parts are held on with carpet tape & safety pins.

I don’t mind the concept of this . .but . . it isn’t my favorite execution of an idea.

This is how it looked on stage:


In this picture you can see Madame hiding behind the swinging doors as part of a built-in wardrobe.



Another view as she remains hidden during the first part of the scene.





And, out she comes.





The “skirt” piece is constructed of the third garment rack.


There really isn’t any way to completely describe how this was done . . and it is completely dismantled now as it was a bit large to store.  The top is made from a large cardboard box that sits over the top bars of the garment rack.  We adjusted the height for this specific cast member.  She is quite tall . .so the costume was tall.  The drawer is another cardboard box that is duct taped to the bars.  Blue fabric covers the front, and a matching drawer pull was attached.  The drawer is quite shallow, but, it is enough to put in some “drawers”, and a piece of pink fabric.  The front of the costume is a large piece of cardboard with a thin layer of batting glued to it, and covered with brown fabric.  A row of gold fringe edges the bottom.  The fan was originally brown, and I painted it cream.  The sides and back are made of hardware cloth that is covered with curtain fabric that matches the set pieces.  The edges of the hardware cloth are covered with either duct tape or a sliced pool noodle to protect the cast member from the wire.  A pool noodle is used at the top to support the wire and create the “cage” that the cast member stand in.



This is not a great picture, but you can see the hardware cloth curving on the sides, and then curving toward the back.

The cast member stands inside the hardware cloth.

The piece of skirt on the floor is tied to her waist and drapes over the back of the dresser piece when she wears the dresser.  This help to move the dresser along with her.




The rest of the costume does dual-duty between her Enchanted self and her human self.  I chose to make a Marie Antoinette styled dress . . . with the curved sides of the dresser piece representing the pannier hoops.  The bodice and sleeves were attached to the sides of the overdress.  She wore that, along with some leggings, for most of the show.  When she became human, she added pannier hoops,  a petticoat with a brown front, lace trim, and edged with the same gold beaded bedskirt as the set piece.  She used the same overdress back and tied it on to complete the overdress.



This is the overdress.  Note the same pleated trim that reflects that seen on the side panels of the set piece.  The stomacher and upper sleeve are of the same brown as the petticoat.  The blue bows match the drawers on the set piece, the sleeve ruffles are made of the bedskirt, and the bodice is made of the back of the pillow shams.




1554580_10207442468006371_9186074795931794881_nThis is the petticoat.  The brown fabric is the same as the dresser front panel, the lace is meant to be reflective of the lacey cream fan, the gold with bead trim reflects the gold fringe.  The back of this is made out of a sheet as I ran out of brown fabric.









This is the back skirt panel that is used with both the dresser skirt and the human skirt.






1512409_1072298462784352_3571970650179707062_n (1)This in the Human look.  Unfortunately, the boning that we used, and probably the size, of the pannier side hoops really didn’t give the look I was going for . .but time ran out 🙂  (and they were made exactly as the pattern instructed 😦  )She wore a white wig throughout the show.  For the Enchanted part she wore a mirror in her hair, which was meant to reflect the mirror on a dresser.


If I were going to do this costume again . . .I would try to make the set pieces “firmer”.  I would try and back the curtains with cardboard, or matteboard or something to give it a more wall-like look–ideally, they would be painted flats and not made of fabric.  I would have purchased better wheels for the rolling dresser.  I also neglected to figure out something for the closing battle scene where she is supposed to look like a Brunehilda Opera Singer . . complete with horned hat.  We could have made a second wig, or she could have held it up to her head in a vignette mask deal, or at least draped herself in a fur or something.  I regretted, also, that there was nothing about her costume that became “more” Enchanted.

I have subsequently seen a production of “Beaty and the Beast” where her costume has the skirt designed like a dresser, with a huge elliptical hoop, and it has a door that opens in the top of the hoop/skirt.  I would really like to try and re-create that costume (and I may sometime, since I have the curtains from the side pieces, and the doors, etc.  Just for fun . . .to see if I could do it).

This is a Youtube clip of the cast member moving on stage:

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