Dame Edna's 'full English' dress

Costume designer Stephen Adnitt describes how he made a dress combining diamante with baked beans

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I first met Dame Edna when I was working at London Weekend Television. I was fully employed there in the costume design department and I was scheduled to do the series the Dame Edna experience. The dress was actually made specifically for a television programme but it was Dame Edna rather like doing an ENSA and going round the country entertaining all the workers; as Edna would. This one was done at a beans factory, hence all the baked beans that are on there; so beans played an important part in the inspiration to do the dress. I spent time one evening, and I remember it well, speaking to Barry Humphries on the phone, he particularly wanted to do a dress with a bean can or something like that. So I did various black and white drawings and we were faxing these backwards and forwards, but I was never terribly happy. Somehow I thought well lets do a gingham table cloth and a plate of food and I don't know where that came from or why. It just seemed appropriate to do a breakfast with beans hence what we have here.Involved in this was myself doing the design and then once that design is done I then go to the costume maker to discuss the design and how we're going to make that. There was a copy of the toile that went to the prop maker who did the plate. We had to make sure the circumference of the dress was the same as the circumference of the plate. Then the dress, when it had been fitted, was re-cut and sent to the dyers. Meanwhile the prop maker was actually making the plate with all the food on. So as well as looking at that I was also going and looking at this. We had a lip on the inside of the plate which is what we were going to use to attach to the dress.Then once that actually came from the dyers and the painters it went back to the costume maker, she put it together, then we got the prop guy in and he then brings along with it more or less as it was, except we didn't have the ketchup and the bits that come into the dress, we just had the basic pieces here. That was then left with the costume maker who then attached it all, then it went back to the prop maker so that the prop maker could attach all the pieces that work their way up the dress, in order to hide where we actually joined the plate to the dress. So it is quite a complicated operation with three people being involved as well as myself. I always source the jewellery. Sometimes we do jewellery that relates to the costume. But more often than not it's large paste diamante jewellery. Always three rings on each hand, a couple of bracelets on one wrist and one on the other. Sometimes we do the specs. We have two shapes which are standard specs which we use for Edna; one which we call the flames which go outwards and one which we call the curls, which curl. Curls tend to get used more than anything else. There was a period in the eighties and nineties when I was doing a pair of specs to go with each dress. So this one particularly had, we based it on the flames, and then we put the beans in. So it had the diamante on and then the baked beans trapped in-between the lines of the specs. It's hard to decide which is the most outrageous costume that I've done for Edna .There is a nice balance between evening dresses and funny things and it is fun to do both. But I suppose if I was pinned down: the house, which we did. Edna as a house and we had a little door that had a little Madge as a little doll dressed in her costume because the poor thing only had one. Well she had two but it was the same. Then we had an octopus on one shoulder which was done when Edna did something in America. Then we had the Scream, we had two versions of the Scream dress. The mouth opened Edna let out a scream and the eyes came out on stalks. Which was stupid really, but you know!

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Dame Edna Everage's larger-than-Australia personality has been emphasised by the extraordinary exuberance of both her costumes and her accessories. Designer Stephen Adnitt, who has been making her outfits since the 1980s, here describes how he has worked with Dame Edna's creator, Barry Humphries, incorporating such elements as buildings, eyes on stalks and other outlandish and eccentric showstoppers. 

Costume designer Stephen Adnitt, who has been making her outfits since the 1980s, here describes how he has incorporporated such elements as buildings, eyes on stalks and other outlandish and eccentric showstoppers...