“Through dangers untold and hardships un-numbered
I have fought my way here to the Castle beyond the Goblin City
To take back the child that was stolen …”
Many of the people I know have deep and powerful memories associated with the film Labyrinth. Released in 1986 it stars David Bowie as Jareth the Goblin King, and a young Jennifer Connolly as Sarah, the girl trying to win back the baby step-brother she wished the goblins would take away from her. She has to beat the Labyrinth within the 13 hour time limit set by the Goblin King to claim back baby Toby. But this is a goblin labyrinth that changes around you and is full of surreal perils that need all of Sarah’s wit and cleverness to overcome.
Labyrinth is a coming of age story about Sarah’s growing acceptance of responsibility and her sexual awakening, but one that recognises that we all carry an inner child within us. Regardless of how adult the world requires us to be, we all have the need to play and our imaginations are a core part of what makes us who we are.
Bowie’s Jareth had a huge influence on many of my contemporaries, who were all at extremely impressionable ages when the film came out.
Let’s get that one out of the way now: the bulge is even more impressive when you finally get to see the film on a proper cinema screen for the first time as a grown woman. (Previously, I’d only seen it on tv.)
This is a film with a huge number of iconic sequences, but one that is particularly visually striking is the Masquerade Ball scene. Enchanted by a magic peach, Sarah is whisked away from her friends and shown what life could be if she opted to stay with Jareth: a glamorous life as a beautiful princess. It’s a scene full of emotional intensity that shows how Sarah has got under Jareth’s skin. This is about so much more than a stolen baby for either of them.
It’s a classically 1980s vision of a fantasy ball: off the shoulder meringue dresses and big hair.
I’ve always had the urge to do this as cosplay. Who wouldn’t want to dress up as a beautiful princess and get to be on David Bowie’s arm? But it’s difficult to do on your own.
A little over a year ago I met a woman who has since become a very dear friend. She does the most astonishing Jareth cosplay. It’s uncanny. So it was with some trepidation that around the end of last year I suggested that perhaps I could be the Sarah to her Jareth. She was incredibly enthusiastic about it.
So we did it at WorldCon in Dublin.
And it was the most magical day you can imagine. It’s instantly recognisable, and there is huge love for the film still. I felt like a princess all day.
A friend kindly gave up most of the afternoon for a little photo shoot. (Though we are both considering a pro photo shoot at some point.) My Jareth has done some modelling work in the past, and it was fantastic to do this with someone who knew how to set up interesting shots. (Left to my own devices I tend to stand fairly awkwardly and self-consciously.) Playing off someone for the pictures was wonderful.
But how did I go about making it?
This was the largest cosplay project I’ve undertaken since Missy. As with Missy, I needed to mix two different dress patterns to get the look I wanted.
I used the pattern on the left (Butterick 4743) for the base of the dress. It had the right shaping for both the neckline and the bodice and skirt. I opted for the full length skirt with fishtail, and added a thumb loop to help manage the skirt (SO important for practicality). But I used the puff sleeves from the pattern on the right (New Look 6031). With modifications – the sleeves were fully lined.
The fabric was from one of the little fabric shops on Goldhawk Road. I found this perfect polyester satin. It’s white, with green lurex thread woven through it. That gives it the perfect shimmer for the pearlescent look of the film. As with much Goldhawk Road fabric it wasn’t perfect – it had a flaw running through it close to one selvedge that I had to cut round. But 8 metres of it was relative cheap and gave me plenty to play with in case I needed to recut. (And I did: I had to recut the same lower sleeve twice after it got stained by some spilled balsamic vinaigrette I’d failed to spot on the black dining table. Wah!) I spent more per metre on some good quality cotton lining for the bodice and sleeves.
- I bound the raw edges on the inside of the sleeves. The puff sleeves are stiffened with netting between fabric and lining, and the raw edges would have been extremely scratchy otherwise.
- I added little bra strap keepers, made from bias binding.
- I used some 1 mm white rattail (Kumihimo braid) for the button loops on the sleeves. I sandwiched this between the lining and the outer fabric.
- The sleeve openings were trimmed with a lace and pearl trim.
The biggest challenge with this dress was the decoration. There is a lot of sparkle going on in the original. This was always going to be a case of “More Is More”, but finding the right sparkle proved to be a challenge. I spent a lot of happy hours searching “Wedding Dress Applique” on eBay and looking in the trimmings section of every haberdashery shop I came across.
Yeah, that got a bit silly …
- The bodice of the dress is decorated with a crystal applique design. This came ready attached to a net backing. I trimmed it and then couched the whole thing down using silver embroidery thread.
- I trimmed the seam between bodice and skirt by couching on a resin crystal drop trim. This was an embellished cup chain that came in a single piece that was a perfect length.
The other key part of this look is the accessories. They present another key opportunity to add MOAR BLING to the outfit. The key one here is getting the hair to look right. To me, the solution seemed pretty obvious: embellished hair combs. Attach the right feathers, beads and streamers to them and you have an instant, easy approach to the look.
There are lots of You Tube videos about how to embellish combs. The principle is simple: you need comb blanks, beads and other embellishments and wire to attach everything. (I used 0.3 mm silver plated.)
The combs were embellished – in roughly the order I added them to the combs – with:
- Two different kinds of silver feathers – silver sprayed feathers for the top (the more rigid ones) and silver goose feathers (the longer ones are the bottom). Each feather was individually wire wrapped onto the comb – if I lost one I didn’t want the whole comb unravelling.
- Lengths of cord tied to the bottom. I used 3 mm white rattail (kumihimo cord)
- Lengths of lighter Kreinik Balger tapestry braid (#12) at the top. The shade ‘Easter’ has a green shimmer that matches the fabric of the dress. (This took most of a reel of braid.)
- Fabric flowers made by gathering lengths of silver organza ribbon around a large central bead.
- A picot edging made from small Czech fire polished AB crystal beads plus some crystal AB leaf shaped beads.
- Larger Crystal AB Czech fire polished beads in a row along the base of the comb (largely to hide the untidy wrapped wire)
- A couple of Crystal AB drops at the bottom edge of each comb.
On top of that I added a large paste crystal necklace that I already own.
And I made some earrings from Swarovski crystal drops (also Crystal AB) and chandelier findings. (As I don’t have pierced ears I used screwback findings.)