A few weeks ago I was browsing the various costume companies to search for some possible work experience placements when I came across the costumed historical interpretation company Past Pleasures. I read the website and looked at the amazing costumes and I knew straight away I wanted to find out more and hopefully arrange to visit there. Being a costume and historical interpretation company not only for heritage sites but for the historical royal palaces I knew it would be right up my street!
After making enquiries they kindly said I could come up for the day to have a look around and find out more about the company. Being a busy costume company I half expected to be shown around briefly, ask a few questions and then be done.. How wrong I was! As soon as I arrived I felt welcome and was introduced to everyone and given a full tour of the offices. I got to see a costume in the making, meet the founder of the company Mark Wallis and see the interpreters in action at Hampton court palace no less. It turned out to be a fantastic day! Oh and I got to have a look at (and feel) the gorgeous costumes stored at the palace, all made as authentically as possible to the original garments worn by some very famous people of the past i.e. Henry Viii.
Click on the image below to check out the past pleasures website.
(be sure to watch the video too, it explains all)
While I was at the main office I learnt about how the costume department goes about constructing a costume. The process begins with a brief and a picture or portrait of the garment that is to be replicated, or an existing garment that is to be copied. Research is then made into the construction methods of the time and the pattern is drafted and the materials are sourced. All fabrics used are made with natural fibres as they would have been for the time period, so no polyester here! and specialist buttons and fastenings are specially replicated for each costume.
Below is an example of blackwork, a form of embroidery historically used on shirts or smocks. Sometimes known as 'Spanish work' it is said that Catherine of Aragon (Henry VIIIs first wife) bought it with her from Spain.
Below you can see another example of blackwork embroidered onto a sleeve cuff, both made by the past pleasures costume team.
The garments made at past pleasures are also hand sewn where possible for period authenticity.
Past pleasures train and provide the actors as well as the costumes that they wear, this is what makes the company so unique. They provide the whole package, a one-stop-shop for the heritage sector. I didn't really think about it before but it became apparent to me just how talented the actors needed to be and the quality of training that is provided by past pleasures.
Everything is unscripted and often delivered in a first person format for a live audience and so the actors must have a wealth of background history knowledge to draw from as well as the skill to engage the audience and use improvisation.
Here are two of the actors I met at Hampton court. We had just gone to the staff room and I was half way through my sandwich when suddenly two people from the Tudor court walk in dressed in all their finery for lunch. Funny I didn't know quite what to say for a minute, only sit and admire the costumes! I love the idea of this being a common occurrence if you work at the royal palace. I was already in awe just knowing I was having my lunch where the Jane Seymour rooms used to be let alone seeing a Tudor lady sweeping come into the room!
View from the staff room, pretty cool!!
After watching the interpreters perform I got to have a little look at some more costumes in the palace..
One particularly impressive dress I got to have a look at was a replica of queen Elizabeth 1st dress in the famous Ditchley portrait as seen below, commissioned for the royal palaces.
I took a few pictures of the costume while I was there, the corset on the left was based on the design of queen Elizabeth's effigy corset, as shown on the right. The effigy corset is an original dated from 1603, made specially for her funeral effigy although some say it may have come from Elizabeth's own wardrobe.
Some details of the dress..
Below left and center: Replica of king Henry VIII hat. Right: Tudor headdress
Below left: White silk doublet Below right: Silk brocade Henry VIII robe
My visit to past pleasures and Hampton court was a real eye-opener and I saw so much in one day! I admire the passion and skill of the team to bring about such amazing garments. The quality of each costume is incredible as well as fascinating when you see them bought to life by the actors wearing them. In fact that's what I love most about these costumes, you know you are as close as you can get to seeing and experiencing the past and to imagine life as it would have been for those that lived it.
I hope you enjoyed taking a look at some of the costumes as much as I did!