With imaginative flair, some fabric and the aid of her sewing machine, Phoenix resident Wendy Farrell designs award-winning historical, whimsical and humorous costumes. Her talent was rewarded this past January at the Arisia Masquerade held in Boston.
Farrell won the coveted “Best in Show” award as well as the “Best Historical Recreation” award. Similar to the Academy Awards, Arisia grants awards for costume designers for “anything interesting and fun.” This eclectic mix includes mythical and playful costumes like fairies, superheroes, dragons, and movie and television characters.
Farrell’s entry was based on Gentlemen Jack, an HBO show set in Yorkshire, England, in 1832, which depicts the life of Anne Lister, a wealthy landowner who is anything but conventional. Through dramatization, Lister is portrayed as a strong-willed and assertive woman who is an enigma for her time; she desired a wife. Farrell, her two daughters, Tracy Farrell and Arisia Huff, and a friend displayed the period costumes. “I knew my fan base in the audience,” said Farrell. “I knew they supported gender equality and feminist rights.”
Whether it’s creating historical recreations or twists on current television shows or movies, Farrell’s designs are a labor of love. She takes pains to develop exacting details in not only clothing but wigs, shoes and accessories.
Farrell also has the distinction of being a master craftsman, a title bestowed on her by the International Costumer Guild, an organization created for hobbyists and professional costumers. Dedicated to the promotion of costuming as an art form, this group establishes guidelines for many competitions.
Other costume competitions include ArisiaCon, a gathering of fans of science fiction and fantasy genres, and CostumeCon, a four-day convention of panels, workshops and contests. Farrell has won numerous awards for her costuming and is a respected speaker and panelist, sharing her knowledge of the craft with others.
Farrell’s creativity gets to sizzle when she creates “mash-ups” or costumes with a twist. One example was a Beauty and the Beast presentation, where the Beast was portrayed as a transformed prince who still was a bit of a dog that would go chasing after balls.
“Beauty was depicted as a warrior,” she explained. “In another instance, we created costumes from the musical Chicago and had dancers donning fashion from the 1930s. They were mixed in with women from the Game of Thrones show, and the punchline was they were dancing to “He Had It Coming,” she said. Another witty costume she designed was a mash-up of Mary Poppins and Dr. Who, a popular British science fiction television program. Mary’s coat had a telephone booth on the back (the TARDIS to Dr. Who fans) as well as an altered umbrella with a parrot handle.
“I love it when the audience reacts to my creations by clapping and cheering,” said Farrell. “Sometimes, I can’t even hear sounds around me; the noise is so loud!”