Behind every costume, character and fantasy world is the mind that creates it. Or, in this case, recreates it. IU junior and fashion design major Elana Fiorini pulls us into the world of fantasy and fiction, forming real life replicas through cosplay.
Elana was always the kid in the neighborhood who prepped for Halloween early, anticipating the holiday with elaborate costume ideas floating around in her head. She would dress up the stuffed animals in her room. And every time she performed in a church or school production, it meant another opportunity to tackle a new character and create a new disguise.
“The core of cosplay is people becoming a character from a movie, game, comic book, TV show or book from the media and recreating that character as exactly as they can in real life,” she said.
When she arrived at IU, Fiorini realized her passion for dressing up and creating costumes might be more universal than she thought.
“I didn’t really know what cosplay was,” she said. “I just knew that I liked making costumes. I don’t know what first exposed me to the world of cosplay, but I figured out that other people did it too.”
Originally a student in the Jacobs School of Music, the switch from music to clothing and costume design proved to be the right one when she won first place in the cosplay contest at last fall’s BloomingCon. She arrived as a beloved character from the video game realm, Sheik. The fearless, double-identied heroine from “The Legend of Zelda” and the “Super Smash Bros.” games turned out to be one of Fiorini’s more laborious endeavors, with the overall construction spanning a timeline of about two years.
Beginning with the initial research stages, Fiorini spent her free time dreaming about and looking up images of the character online. She studied each detail, getting a feel for the character and how she might dress, act and move.
“I didn’t know a lot about the techniques out there, so I sort of just made my own,” Fiorini said. “I kind of didn’t know what I was getting into.”
An additional challenge, Fiorini said, is the difference between an animated character and one from a live-action movie.
“You know it’s possible to make that costume, because someone made it,” she said of live-action film characters. “It’s more manageable because you have pictures of the real life costume and you can say hey, that looks like leather. I’ll use leather for that.”
Starting with the bottom layer of chainmail, Fiorini knew she probably couldn’t make a full shirt of it for two reasons: the time it would eat up and the difficulties she would face wearing it with all of the other pieces of the garment.
Utilizing a sweater found on the racks at Goodwill, she turned the piece inside out and used the back for an interlocked look and an interesting texture. After sewing this on to an Under Armour shirt, she added leggings to the bottom half of her costume and moved on to one of her bigger challenges: the armor.
Aiming for a slim-fitting costume with layers, the designer had to devise a plan to make the armor structured, yet still breathable. To portray a ninja-like character constantly on the move, Fiorini needed to find a material that wasn’t too constricting. Using her resources wisely, she picked up craft foam at Hobby Lobby and a selection of fabrics.
“I covered it in different kinds of fabrics that matched the color and texture of her armor,” Fiorini said of the craft foam. “I used three different fabrics. She has pieces of armor on her calf, two different pieces on both of her arms and two pieces on the thigh area.”
Bias tape was used to finish the edges of the covered foam pieces. Unable to use a sewing machine on the material, Fiorini did all of the stitching of the fabric by hand.
“At Indy PopCon, I won second runner-up in the amateur division, and I think a lot of what people were excited about was all of the hand-embroidery and handwork,” she said.
Fiorini’s toolbox for finishing touches included a fine-tip pen, fabric paint, 3D paint and acrylic paint. To top off the look, the Sheik impersonator wrapped bandages all around herself and added a wig, a fake mask, pointy ears and even red contacts.
“A lot of it is trial and error,” Fiorini said. “What might work for one costume, may not work for another just because of the way it all fits together. The process of planning your approach ... I think that’s really fun.”
With multiple superhero movies coming out each year and fantasy shows popping up more and more on television, the media has made the genre seem more approachable to the general public. As the world of cosplay gains traction, Fiorini explained people are more open to the idea, without fear of judgment.
“It’s cool to be a nerd now,” she said. “‘The Geek Movement’ is coming into the culture’s perspective.”