The Worth of Possibility
The Met owns the Ironwork Gown, but it exists in the hearts and minds of nearly every costumer. It has been pinned on countless young costumers' inspiration boards. It is one of the iconic historical gowns which we have elevated to a level of idolatry and impossibility, considering them to be above our modern skillsets. I think most of us have looked at the Ironwork gown for decades and said "never." But what happens when we take another look at these seemingly impossible gowns and begin to ask "what if?"
Cathy Hay asked the question with her Oak Leaf Gown. Watching her work through this project--during a formative period in my own early costume career--helped me realize that often, "impossible" is simply a limitation we set for ourselves. After all, these gowns are not impossible because someone already made them (at least) once. And that means they can be made again--or replicated as closely as our modern materials and tools will allow. I believe it's important to never stop challenging ourselves, to never stop pushing the line of possibility. For historical costumers who like to replicate extant gowns, this is a great way to do that. I learned so much about this era by re-creating this gown. I learned new techniques, new patterning and fitting nuances, and above all I learned that I'm capable of a single project on this scale. There are about a thousand things I'd do differently if I were to approach a similar project again. I believe that is important too--if you reach the end of an ambitious project without mistakes or learning experiences, you probably didn't push yourself enough.
I approached my re-creation from a theatrical sensibility. I was concerned with making it *look* right. Someone approaching from the perspective of historical faithfulness would get a different--and probably better--result. I know of a lovely printed version of this gown currently in progress, and at least 3 other completed gowns inspired by this one. It has inspired high fashion runway looks, Lolita fashion, and even video game design. This particular gown's unique challenge is the textile. Each one of us has replicated it slightly differently. I dearly hope that someone is able to have the fabric woven just like the original someday. That would do ultimate justice to Worth's vision.
Each person brings their own sensibilities and techniques to any replica. There is room in this world for as many interpretations as there are people interested in tackling a gown or cosplay. And that is very Worth--he made multiple versions of the same gowns, adjusted to suit each client. The Ironwork gown itself has several sisters, including this lovely green version, also at the Met.
I hope these replicas inspire more costumers to ask "what if?" I hope more Ironwork gowns are made in the future. Then let's all get together and wear them to the same event! #worthit!