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Shawn Cavender: Fire Lily, thank you for taking the time to do this interview! I'm really looking forward to finding out more about you, your cosplay hobby, and your splendid Dejah Thoris dress. Could you talk a little about your background?
Fire Lily: Shall we begin like "David Copperfield'? "I am born...I grew up"? Or shall we begin by saying I've been sewing and crafting since I was very little. I was born and raised in Texas and if you ask me where I'm from, I will always answer '"Texas." I hand sewed my first 3 costumes before getting a sewing machine in 2006 and it's been a snowball downhill since then. I started cosplaying in Austin, TX, while getting my Bachelors Degree in Ancient History from the University of Texas before moving to Northern Virginia in 2005, where I live with my husband and work at an animal hospital. I love reading, playing video games, and obviously sewing/crafting. I've been actively costuming since 2004 and it's been a huge part of my life for the last 12 years.
SC: I have to ask about your taste in music -- according to your Facebook bio, you're a Nine Inch Nails fan. Are you into other Industrial bands? That's my favorite kind of music these days. My personal favorites are KMFDM and Leæther Strip.
FL: I don't really have any favorite bands (industrial or otherwise) per se, but I do listen to Pendulum, Incubus, Knife Party, Mindless Self Indulgence, The American Dollar, NIN, Prince, and mostly game and movie soundtracks. Listening to the Chrono Trigger OST and Brotherhood of the Wolf a lot right now :)
SC: When did you first begin to cosplay and what first drew you to it?
FL: I started cosplaying in 2004 after a friend told me about a local anime convention that was coming up and he told me people dressed up. I knew I had to make a costume to wear to it, and the rest is history :)
SC: What are some of your favorite aspects of cosplay?
FL: I love the dressing up part; it always makes me happy to have people recognize my character or to have people admire my work. The making/sewing aspect can also be very rewarding, especially if I win awards for my work or if I have a special attachment to the costume/character.
SC: I understand that you've won many awards for your amazing costumes. Which awards are you most proud of?
FL: Gosh, that's a hard one. I think one of my proudest were the awards I won at my first Balticon in 2013. That was the last year that Marty Gear (a very well known costumer and
father/grandfather/uncle/mentor to a lot of folks) was in attendance and I ended up winning Best in Show for Performance and Workmanship in the Masquerade. It was incredibly exciting considering it was my first time at that convention and also very special because Marty was the reason I attended.
SC: As I look through your Facebook, your talent for creating beautiful costumes is obvious. Which of the costumes you've created are your favorites?
FL: This is always a tough question, because I love so many of my costumes and each one tends to be my favorite for at least a little bit. But I would say that Dejah Thoris is one of my current favorites, along with Sarah's ballgown from Labyrinth, both of my Sansa Stark dresses (Mockingbird and Tourney), and my Caprica Six dress from BattleStar Galactica.
SC: The version of Dejah Thoris you chose to portray was the one from the 2012 John Carter movie. How did you like the film?
FL: I love the movie! It varies from the books, sure, but I loved the way it portrayed John and the Martians. It has all the elements of a great adventure movie: humor, action, emotion, triumph, good vs evil, and love. It's a great movie!
SC: Were you familiar with Dejah Thoris, John Carter, and the other characters before you saw it, perhaps from the original novels by Edgar Rice Burroughs or the comic books?
FL: I was slightly familiar with John Carter through pictures, but hadn't read the novels or comics. I read the novels after seeing the movie and making the costume and I really enjoyed them. I prefer to see the visual adaptations of books before reading them anyway (because I'm a stickler for details and if I really like the story I prefer the movie to stick to the story faithfully).
SC: Regarding the film's costumes, I have to say I didn't personally care for some of them, but a major exception is Dejah's stunning wedding dress, the costume that you decided to replicate. I think you made a great choice there. What is your opinion of the costume design of the film, and why did you choose to make the Zodangan wedding dress?
FL: I personally LOVE the costume designs in John Carter. Mayes C. Rubeo did a fantastic job of translating the very sparse outfit details in the novels to real life. When I saw Dejah's Zodangan dress, I was taken aback, literally just giddy with the gold gorgeousness. It was just beautiful and Lynn Collins is stunning in the costume – the jewelry, the fabric, the tattoos all come together to present this tribal alien beauty. I just knew I had to make it and give Dejah some representation.
SC: When you were making your dress, did you have the drawings or notes of the costume designers of the film to work from or did you have to rely on photographs?
FL: I had hi-res exhibit photos so I could really get close up to the details (even the weave of the fabric), and some information from online interviews with Mayes C. Rubeo and Lynn Collins. I also had to rely on screen shots for some of the angles during the fight scenes that show different areas of the costume (mainly sides and back). The biggest bit of information I got were the tattoos. I was watching the behind-the-scenes videos on the John Carter DVD and they were discussing how the tattoos were specially printed silicone pieces that were adhered to the skin, and then they showed the tattoos!! In hi-res detail!! I saw this about 2 days before the convention and wasted no time in getting pictures, cleaning them up in Photoshop, and printing the more difficult ones (shoulders, chest/bust, neck, and face) on water-slide tattoo paper that I happened to have. That saved me a lot of time when getting the rest of the tattoos drawn on.
SC: Your dedication to authenticity is really admirable!
Do you remember how much the costume cost to make, and how long it took to create?
FL: I don't remember about cost, but it did take about 3 months to make. That includes resin casting all the jewelry pieces and gluing/chaining them together, getting all the fabric
patterned/cut/draped/sewn, applying all the rhinestones, making the headpieces, altering the sandals, buying dye and markers for the tattoos, and research.
SC: The dress is really exquisite. Which kinds of materials did you use?
FL: I found this gorgeous ivory with gold-foil satin at my local Jo-Anns and bought up as much of it as I could find, which happened to be 5 yards. I couldn't find any more than that and I ended up using every last bit of it. I also found the same color fabric in a taffeta-like
fabric that I can use for the train if I ever want to make it. The pants/bottoms are lined in a
nude stretch fabric and the top is sewn onto a nude-colored bra.
SC: I see that you wore the Dejah wedding dress to Dragon Con in 2014. The photos of you from that event are tremendous -- you looked beautiful in your awesome dress, and the setting where the photos were taken was perfect for the character. Do you remember where you did the photo shoot?
FL: The photos were taken just a block or so away at the Carnegie Monument aka Hardy Ivy Park Arch. http://farm4.static.flickr.com/3222/3122502883_b3249af6d4.jpg?v=0
The red and white stones were perfect, indeed!
SC: One detail I really appreciate about your portrayal of Dejah is that you took the time to color your skin red, which is accurate for the character. If I'm not mistaken, you're the only Dejah Thoris cosplayer to take that step. Could you talk about what it took to apply the red skin tone, as well as the red ink tattoos that went with it?
FL: Hahahahahaha... *nervous laughing* I'm sure someone will have a problem with this, but I took an hour-long bath in red and orange fabric dye. No, it isn't toxic. I've dyed tons of fabric and my hands always get dyed and it's fine. I just figured it was the fastest and easiest way to color my skin semi-permanently, and much faster and easier than having my skin airbrushed with makeup. I left my face dye-free and just used bronzing makeup for it. And the dye all came off using a non-toxic bleach cleaner. The neck/face/shoulder/bust tattoos are printed water-slide tattoo paper, and the rest of the tattoos were drawn on using PrismaColor markers in maroon. My husband drew the ones that I couldn't see or reach, and I drew the ones on my lower arms and legs. It took around 5 hours to apply all the tattoos. And we only had to do light touch-ups the next day for a few of the tattoos where the costume rubbed them away – I slept fully covered and didn't get any dye or marker prints on the bed, so yay!
SC: That's good!
Did you wear the costume to any other conventions and do you have plans of cosplaying as Dejah again in the future?
FL: I have not worn her since then, but would love to. It just takes some planning and time with all the tattooing, and I like to get as much wear out of the makeup as I can, so a 2-day event is ideal but my schedule has been full until recently.
SC: What kind of feedback did you get about your dress from the people you met?
FL: Everyone loved it. So many people recognized it. I had a fantastic conversation with a little girl in Atlanta about being a princess – she made my convention :)
SC: Did your Dejah costume win any awards?
FL: I haven't entered her into any contests, but I may enter her in the next year or so (probably at Balticon).
SC: As we wrap this interview up, are there any upcoming convention appearances you'd like to promote, in case some of our readers would like to see you and your awesome costumes in person?
FL: I'm always at Balticon, which is at the end of May, Memorial Day weekend, in Hunt Valley or Baltimore, MD, and always at Katsucon (where I staff the Masquerade) in February at National Harbor, MD. I've also just returned from AwesomeCon in DC and Anime Mid-Atlantic in Chesapeake, VA!
SC: Thank you again for the interview, and I hope we do indeed see you in your gorgeous Dejah Thoris dress again in the future!
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