Designer creates characters from whole cloth

A Designing Woman from iei media on Vimeo.

What’s in a costume? Is it merely an assemblage of fabric sewn together?

When the fairy godmother turns Cinderella’s pitiable rags into a ball gown, the costume she wears connects one part of the story to the next, like scraps of material pieced together to make a costume.

Behind every costume there is a sewing machine and a costume designer— or, in Patricia Aveillan’s case, a “character” creator.

Patricia Aveillan, a local dressmaker and costume designer in Perpignan, spends nearly every waking hour bent over a sewing machine or a large piece of fabric, etching the outlines of a character’s costume. Her fiery red hair belies her reserved and humble demeanor as she constructs creations that give life to a performer’s “character.”

She moves quietly around her workshop, where a constant hum of cutting and snipping resonate. With the flick of her wrist she transforms bits and pieces of fabric into full-length costumes.

After studying ballet and the arts as a child, Aveillan founded the Patricia Aveillan Dance School in Geneva, Switzerland. In 1980 she moved to Perpignan and opened Les Sylphides Creations, a costume boutique and workshop in Caberstany, a suburb of Perpignan. It was then that she began to contact local dance schools, offering to design costumes.

“When I arrived here no one was doing anything in terms of costumes so I started this to keep me busy two or three times a week,” she says. “It started very fast and now I am creating costumes for everyone.”

Everyone includes the Mylène Farmer, sometimes called “the French Madonna” and France’s legendary Gruss Circus. Almost 30 years later, Aveillan has established herself as a household name in the Perpignan creative community.

Aveillan says that costumes are symbolic and represent the underlying themes and messages in a production. For her creations, she is inspired by a dance or ballet theme, and she then relishes creating costumes that complement the characters.

“Inspiration is a flash in my head and although I go to see movies and see theater, it’s all about imagination,” she says softly. “When I create costumes for a dance company, I talk to the choreographer and I listen to the music and I draw.”

Even though designing the ideal costume for a specific theme can be taxing, she loves the imaginative challenge and the liberty to create whatever she wants.

“It depends on the character and it depends on the costume,” she explains. “As long as there’s imagination and creation, we can imagine more.”

Martine Mattox, a professional choreographer who owns a dance school in Perpignan, says Aveillan has designed her students’ dance costumes since the costume designer arrived.

Mattox believes it’s absolutely necessary for a designer to have natural, creative talent. “When you are a designer making costumes, you have to understand and adapt to what the choreographer has in mind,” she says.

When Mattox creates a ballet with a special mood or a special character, she explains to Aveillan what she envisions for the dance and the characters. Aveillan then designs costumes that are perfectly compatible with the dance theme, Mattox says.

Aveillan says that she and Mattox have a “big trust with each other” regarding the costume designs.

“Often, people tell me, ‘You’d be better off living in Paris,’ because of the many fashion-related projects going on there, but I have a good relationship with Perpignan,” Aveillan softly trills. “Here, I have always liked making and creating costumes. I like to do creations. It’s something I’ve always liked doing.”

Mattox says Aveillan has the ability to construct a costume that represents “character” for her dance pupils. Because of her creations the girls are free to dance, Mattox says.

So what is “character” without the material?

Ask the bashful yet approachable woman in Perpignan waving the magic wand.