Q&A with Sarah Seahorse of One the Bear

Hot Chicks with Big Brains are incredibly excited to be partnering with La Boîte Theatre Company for the duration of their 2017 season. This year’s performances promise to be as engaging as they are diverse, with a whole bunch of incredible women helping to ensure their success.

Ahead of Black Honey Company‘s One the Bear, which runs from the 10th to the 21st of October, we caught up with costume designer, Sarah Seahorse.

Please can you tell us a bit about who you are and what you do?

Hi, my name is Sarah Seahorse. I am a neon-saturated and colour obsessed award-winning wearable artist and costume designer based in Melbourne. I specialise in theatrical millinery, wearable art, circus, and dance costumes. For the past decade, I have forged a successful pathway with my eponymous freelance costume design and theatrical millinery business. My passion is creating complex, wearable art and millinery, and to create beautifully sculpted shapes and dynamic monuments to be worn upon performers bodies.

I definitely pride myself on creating unique, colourful, wearable art, and the One The Bear costumes are a testament to this. The more radical, the weirder, the stranger—all the better in my books.

I am a strong believer in “more is more” when it comes to costume design.

How did you first get into costume design?

I was taught to sew by my mother and my grandmother from a young age. My mother has been my greatest sewing teacher. I loved sewing and handcrafts as a child, and this has followed me throughout my life.

I have always loved to express myself with my clothing, and therefore have always made my own clothes.

I oppose fast fashion and sweatshop made garments—which is another reason I have made all my own clothing since I was a teenager.

I have never really resonated with the fashion industry—despite it being a wonderful platform for creativity—I have always found costume and wearable art to be timeless.

This love of sewing, a rejection of the fashion industry, and a unique flair for design has lead me to costume design. First and foremost, I am an excellent seamstress, which informs my design process. I don’t think it’s possible to design complex and clever costumes without a deep knowledge of construction.

I have been sewing for more than half my life, so I find that I have a huge bank of sewing and design knowledge and intuition, which comes in handy when designing unique and radical costumes for a new show.

What are some challenges you’ve faced throughout your career to date, and how have you overcome them?

Big expectations with small budgets! People think I can make magic happen (which I totally can) but if you want to bring a ridiculously large idea to life on a small timeframe, the budget needs to reflect that!

Another challenge is that my work is extremely physical. Wrangling multiple, thick layers of fur, velvet, and trim through industrial sewing machines is a full body workout, as is hand sewing large, thick, heavy headdresses, while breaking every sewing needle in the studio!

Therefore, it is really important to remember to take breaks and maintain self care for my body, as my body is the best tool I have.

Can you tell us a bit about the costumes in One the Bear and your design process?

The costumes in One the Bear are very much inspired by street fashion, Afro-punk style, 80s and 90s street style, and the female hip hop dancers and b-girls from those decades. The costumes in the latter part of One the Bear take inspiration from pop music stars such as Nicki Minaj and, particularly, Lil Kim.

My design process always begins with seeking out inspiring references and imagery. I often use Instagram and Pinterest to gather design references to create a strong story to really understand the characters. I then start sketching ideas for silhouettes, and start thinking about unique trims or design elements.

Fabrics and trims inform my design process a lot. There are at least 10 different fabric and trim shops in Melbourne that I regularly visit to source all the unique elements that weave the final costume together. I also source some elements that I cannot purchase locally from overseas. Internet fabric shopping is sometimes my best friend, with tight deadlines. The base fabric of One and Ursula’s bear tracksuits are made from hemp and cotton fur, with a recycled PET backing that I hand-dyed to the right shades of brown. They are lined with beautiful, bold, and colourful African wax print fabrics and Kente cloth cotton prints. These fabrics pay homage to the Bears’ ancestors, but were also really important elements of the costume as it meant that the performers would be wearing natural, breathable fibres while on stage.

What have you enjoyed most about working on One the Bear so far?

Firstly, I love the show so much. I really believe in it! Therefore, that has made it really enjoyable to work on—despite the late nights and long days sewing. I’ve really enjoyed working with Candy B and the incredibly talented team who have brought the show to life. The script is pure magic! The punchy, hard-hitting hip hop delivery of the story is so inspiring and fun.

Busty Beats and Candy B are truly a talented duo, and it has been great working alongside them. They have woven massive important topics of colonisation, erasure, identity, and female empowerment into lyrical genius for their audiences.

I have also really enjoyed collaborating with Candy to bring the costume elements of One the Bear to life. We both have a strong vision for design, and we have worked really well together. Candy has also really engendered a lot of trust in my ultimate vision, which has allowed me to really go for it and create some wild, over the top, costume brilliance.

Who are some of your favourite female designers at the moment?

I have loved all the collaborations that happen with local Melbourne brand GOOLiFE by Sophie Cogs, and in particular the recent ‘Let It Grow’ collection with amazing artist Sha Gaze. This was a super inspiring, wearable-art-meets-fashion collaboration. I also love Australian fashion labels The Prodigal Daughter, YEVU, Nixi Killick, and Magpie Goose. I recently went to see the Dior exhibition at the NGV in Melbourne. It was a great exhibition of historical costumes and fashion. But the most profound thing I took away from that exhibition was the deep respect I hold for the highly skilled (predominantly) women in the garment and textile industry, who bring all the amazing designs of couturiers to life, but who will never receive the accolades they deserve.

I pay my greatest respect to all the talented seamstresses and female garment manufacturers world wide who sit on a sewing machine every day to clothe the worlds they may never see.

What’s next for you?

I have just returned from NZ, after attending the World of Wearable Arts (WOW) Awards for the second time. This year, myself and my partner Luna Aquatica created a magnificent wearable art tribute to the Great Barrier Reef. It revealed the devastating effects of climate change upon marine environments. We won third place in the Illumination-Illusion section—that was a huge project—and it is exciting to see it drawing to a close. Next, I have some new costume commissions to start work on. They are some large elaborate headdresses for a fierce Melbourne female dance duo, Glitter and Snatch.

Get your tickets to One the Bear here!


Answers by Sarah Seahorse

Images via La Boite Theatre Company

Compiled and Edited by Emma Kate Lewis

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