by Rachel Pollock, Crafts Artisan
My favorite project on Henry IV is far and away the aging process for Falstaff’s fiddleback leather coat, which was custom made for actor Michael Winters in the role. We brought on board tailor Kara Monroe (also a UNC alum from our costume production MFA program) to pattern and construct the coat from three hides of lovely buttery leather. (It had to be big to go over Mr. Winters’ prodigious fat padding suit!)
Kara made a beautiful garment, but a just-made coat looks like exactly that: a new piece of clothes! Falstaff is not the sort of man who has a brand new anything in this play, unless it’s maybe a brand new bottle of booze. Costume Designer Jennifer Caprio had very clear ideas about the nature of the coat–my notes from our discussion about the aging say:
- his favorite coat
- worn it for 30 years in battle/war/bar brawls
- lays around brothels in it
- drinks all night in it, passes out in it
French Enamel Varnish, more commonly called FEV in our industry, is a medium that you mix yourself according to your needs. Its components are leather dye, denatured alcohol, and shellac, and your project determines the ratio. If you need something runny, use a minimal amount of shellac; if you need something thick, use a lot of shellac and not much alcohol. Use more dye for more pigmentation, less for lighter hues. Use gloves when you work with it and only apply it in a well-ventilated area. I cut on the big wall vents in my dye shop and, thanks to the mild winter, even opened the windows.
Next, I used a toothbrush to flick the tan dye and some medium brown leather dye up from the hem like residual stains from ancient mud splatters, and also to drip it down from above (like drunk-guy spillage and rain-stain from some bad weather on an age-old battlefield) onto the lapels and chest. I also used a chip brush with the two kinds of leather dye and two related colors of FEV to paint a sort of ombre effect from the hem up, to create some sweat stains in the armpits and around the collar, and to do some allover dry-brush toning.
The Making of a King: Henry IV & Henry V is now playing through March 4. Click here for more information and tickets.