How costumes for a period drama were engineered in Downend

September 02 2016

A TALENTED Downend seamstress who worked on lavish period drama will have her intricate costumes exhibited at a world renowned museum in Norway.


A TALENTED Downend seamstress who worked on lavish period drama will have her intricate costumes exhibited at a world renowned museum in Norway.

Olya Wallington was a civil engineer in her home country of Russia but a move to England to marry saw her concentrate on her other passion - dressmaking.

Her new-found career as a costume designer came about by chance when she was asked to help out during London Fashion Week where her skills were spotted by film maker Matthew John.

Impressed with Olya's sewing skills, Matthew enlisted her as head of costume design on Hedda Gabler, a film set in the 1860s and adapted from the famous Henrik Ibsen play of the same name.

The film will be premiered this month in Oslo, where Ibsen spent his final years, after it was showcased at last year's Cannes Film Festival.

The icing on the cake for Olya will be the exhibition of her costumes which will be on permanent display at a newly-built room at the Henrik Ibsen Museum, also in Oslo.

"It was a fascinating experience making the costumes and the exhibition is an added bonus," she said.

Olya, who met her future husband Alan in 2004 when she attended a conference in the UK, stumbled upon the film industry by chance.

She said: "I was working locally as a seamstress and one day I had a phone call from someone who had a show coming up during London Fashion Week but their costumes weren't going to be finished in time. They asked me if I could help."

Relishing the challenge, Olya went to London to help the students, offering advice and guidance and carrying out alterations to the costumes.

Her capabilities were noted by budding film director Matthew John who had been organising the support side of the fashion show.

When Matthew finally got his chance to write and direct his own film, Hedda Gabler, he enlisted designer Catherine Embleton as his head of design.

But Catherine was lured away by designer Stella McCartney to work on the kit for the 2012 London Olympics, leaving a vacancy which needed filling. Matthew's thoughts turned to Olya and the rest is history!

Olya, who has one son called Pasha, relished the in-depth research involved as, although the period is quite well documented with drawings of ladies wearing coats and dresses, actual patterns are not available. 

Working closely with Matthew, Olya developed calico mock-up costumes before selecting the fabrics and colours to suit the costumes. 

It was then Olya spent hours painstakingly following traditional methods of manufacture and craftwork to ensure the final ten costumes were as authentic as possible.

Each costume, which included intricate hats, took Olya around four to six weeks to make, with well over 1,000 hours of painstaking work involved in the entire making process.

Olya said: "I worked with Matthew for almost a year designing and producing the costumes. I had to go to museums to look at sketches for my research as obviously there weren't any photographs from that period. I cut the patterns and made the costumes up in calico before making the actual garments.

"The finished costumes were very big and heavy and really unyielding," Olya said.

"The black funeral costume worn by actress Rita Ramnani who plays Hedda Gabler had seven layers and a lot of beading and lacing. People who wore these clothes in real life must have had great difficulty just wearing them inside. The actresses in the film couldn't even pass each other in the corridor!"

Last year, Olya was involved in the filming, working long hours at locations, including Maunsel House near Bridgwater and Manor By The Lake in Cheltenham. She was on hand to dress the actors and carry out any alterations and repairs.

The film will finally premiere at the Vika Cinema in Oslo on September 8. The star-studded event, where guests include the King and Queen of Norway, will coincide with the opening of a permanent exhibition of the film's costumes at the Henrik Ibsen Museum.

The collection of seven crinoline dresses, a night gown and silk bathing robe worn by the film’s female cast will be on display.

Olya will travel to Norway with her husband for the premiere and official opening of the exhibition.

Along with director Matthew John, leading lady Rita Ramnani and other cast members, Olya will take part in a public Q & A session about the film and its costumes.

"I was surprised at how the exhibition came about," said Olya.

"The director went to Norway for a completely different project and he happened to mention to the museum he was just in the process of cutting and editing the film and they just jumped at the idea of exhibiting the costumes.

"Costumes are obviously pivotal to any period drama. Without good costumes it looks shabby and wrong so the spotlight will very much be on my work. I had so much passion for making the costumes and I feel very proud at what I have achieved. It was a fascinating experience."

Already Olya has been approached about working on another film next year .

The permanent exhibition forms part of the International Ibsen Festival which runs in Oslo from September 8-25