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Empyrean Empress

Original Design


Why I chose to make this costume:

Early in 2019, I reviewed fabric samples for the Cosplay by Yaya Han Fall 2019 collection and was really drawn to some of the fabrics, such as this gorgeous metallic feather brocade. Meanwhile, we were prepping for the launch of the Cosplay EVA Foam for summer of 2019 and I was dying to make something with EVA foam. Also, the last season of Game of Thrones put me through an emotional wringer and I kept looking at Cersei’s dress with armored accessories while rage-watching every weekend.

All those elements led me to sketch up a fantastical Empress who could live and rule in a video game or anime realm. That’s how the idea for the Empyrean Empress was born.

How I made this costume:

Over months, between traveling, running my cosplay store and product development for the cosplay program at JOANN Fabric and Craft Stores, I worked on the Empress whenever I could. My friend Amazon Mandy really helped me out by sewing parts of the base garment such as the skirt and giving me something to throw on a dress form. With my entire collection of fabrics and trims splayed out in my studio, I spent many hours pinning materials to the garment and figuring out what design elements I wanted to add. There was no detailed plan beyond the silhouette of the sketch, so it was both frustrating and fun to blindly try out many different trims, appliques, sleeve shapes and bodice forms.

The sewn parts of the Empress includes:

A short bolero jacket with a free flowing jagged sleeve design that I just draped, shaped and iron pleated. The feather look brocade looked beautiful on both sides so I didn’t even bother lining the sleeves. Instead, everything is serged and finished with a french seam. I had fun making the chain closure and hand sewing all the tassels and other embellishments on.

A cincher made of the dual fantasy dupioni, boned and bound, with a ton of silver applique pieces glued on. I dressed my mannequin and used contact cements to bond the applique pieces to the cincher.  Starting from the center front, I worked my way around the cincher, placing appliques with glue and pinning them in place while they cured.

A lined mermaid skirt that Mandy made and that fit me perfectly. I made the front panel that hangs from the skirt with matching dual fantasy dupioni and decorated it with silver appliques and the acorn trim. Two snaps hold the panel in place on the skirt.

Once I knew the color scheme and what type of trims and details I wanted for the garment, I went to town on the armor, which includes:

An ornate chestplate made with 5mm EVA foam. Once I constructed the base, I drew all over the chestplate to figure out where the swirly trims should go. All the raised swirls are made with the triangle EVA foam bevels in 10mm and 18mm, I tapered down the ends by sanding them with my Dremel 3000 rotary tool and adhered them to the chestplate with contact cement. To ensure a good fit on my body, I adhered an old bra to the chestplate.

A set of rounded shoulder pads with feather details. The shoulders are designed in the same style as the chestplate, and I used 2mm EVA foam to create multiple sizes of feathers which I glued to the shoulders in a winged out format. A blast from a heatgun helped curve the feathers.

A belt made of EVA foam to pull the armor and fabric elements together. The center emblem is more delicate and flows into the front panel.

All the EVA foam pieces were sealed with spray Plasti-Dip in black, 5 layers. I then spent a long time airbrushing the pieces, using a range of shades in blue and pink. I blended the colors together to create a misty lavender and emphasized certain shades in certain areas to give the pieces a color-changing look. I also used silver airbrush paint to add a metallic effect.

The feather and floral headpiece was the crowning finishing touch. With a large skirt and big shoulder pads, I knew I needed a big headpiece to balance out the design. I had tons of feathers and fabric flowers already so I made a base crown with EVA foam and a hairband and glued all the flowers onto it. There is a hollow center “ridge” where I placed magnets. The feathered wings were made separately and attached to the crown via magnets. I also airbrushed the wings and the flowers to match the colors of the armor more. The headpiece really helped pull all the hard and soft elements together, and I opted for a simple sleek white wig for the ethereal look.

Thoughts on this costume:

I love wearing this costume because it feels like I’m floating. Unlike many costumes, where the character or design motivated me to find the perfect materials, the Empyrean Empress came to be because I surrounded myself with beautiful materials and let them inspire me. Without a set design, this costume evolved over time and surpassed my original vision at the end.

When you design an original ensemble, it’s great to sketch and have an image in mind, but also be flexible and follow your instinct. Let creativity go wherever it wants to and don’t be afraid to let go of elements that don’t work. I got rid of a set of sleeves, a front panel, a bodice and another skirt during my design process, and the costume is better for it.
Within a couple of months of making this costume, I already took it around the world, wearing it to events in the USA, Japan and New Zealand. I’d love to flesh out the character more and also make a prop for the Empress. A scepter/magical wand perhaps?

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