Making a mermaid
Charlotte from our costume team tells us how Morgana's mermaid tail from Alcina was created
As part of our Meet the Makers series Charlotte Aylett, second assistant in the ladies’ workroom, gives us an insight into just how much work went into creating the costumes…
In 2019, Charlotte completed her degree in Design for Theatre, Film and Performance at the University for the Creative Arts. She went on to work as a costume assistant at The Young Vic before landing a job at Glyndebourne where she first worked on costumes for Tour 2021. Since then, she has been working as part of a team on the costumes for Festival 2022. We caught up with her to find out about the making of the dazzling mermaid tail as seen in our new production of Alcina.
Charlotte at Glyndebourne. Photo: Lucy Evans
‘The process began when we were given our design by Alcina costume designer Alessio Rosati. The mermaid tail was to be made up of three separate parts: bodice, skirt and tail. Each part needed to seamlessly blend together without any visible joins.
We started the making process by creating lots of samples and experimenting with the fabric. We made six different prototypes for the tail between a team of about four of us. Our experiments included melting fabrics down in the props workshop, burning holes in it, creating bubbles, and adding gems to try and get the desired effect that Alessio wanted.
Alessio Rosati’s costume designs. Photo: Graham Carlow
Mermaid tail prototypes. Photo: Graham Carlow
One of the biggest challenges that we faced was getting the structure of the mermaid tail right. The design was that it needed to be rigid, therefore we had to add structure to the inside of the tail. Initially, we did this using steel boning bars. But, as the tail sits on Soraya Mafi’s (Morgana) feet we had to make sure it was as light as possible so, in the end, we decided that kite rod worked better as it is made of carbon which is really light but also very strong. Another way we freed up some weight was by moving from a foam base to a crinoline base which is a densely woven plastic mesh. There was a lot of collaboration with Alessio to get the movement of the tail correct.
The internal structure of the tail has a huge sock made of lycra that Soraya’s feet go into and then elastic binds tightly over the top around her ankles. Then the tail comes down over the top and poppers into place. It’s got a tight zip down the back so that it is skin tight. This creates a seamless blend between the bodice, legs and then the tail.
The final tail was dyed to create an ombre effect. Photo: Charlotte Aylett
The tail was studded with sequins and gems so that it sparkles on stage. Photo: Charlotte Aylett
The next step was the fabric on top of the tail. Jenny and her team over in the dye department did an absolutely gorgeous job of doing some ombre. The layers underneath the tail are ombre Georgette and then there’s a sequin fabric underneath.
During the piano dress, we discovered that the sequin fabric has no impact on the stage, there was no sparkle as we had intended. Karen, Alessio and I had to go back to the drawing board to figure out how we could bring back the sparkle. In the end, we glued thousands of sequins and gems onto the tail which is what gave the dazzling sparkle on stage.
There was a lot of hard work that went into this production and we all thoroughly enjoyed it. It was such a privilege to work on such beautiful designs.’