A Glitzy Legacy and Elephant Couture: BurlyCon Chats with Bic Carrol (Part II)
Last week we ran the first half of an interview between our comrades-in-glitter at BurlyCon and their 2014 Living Legend Guest of Honor, showman extraordinaire and two-time Vegas Costumer of the Year Bic Carrol. (Thanks again to Czech Mate and the BurlyCon team for this fabulous interview!) ~ Crystal Tassels
Part II – Costuming & Career
Czech Mate: After years of producing and performing, you started a very successful career in costuming, designing for Siegfried and Roy, the Ringling Brothers Circus and the Ice Capades. How did you transition from exotic dancing into professional costuming?
Bic Carrol: Producing at the Follies Theater in Chicago, we did a brand new show every week. That meant 16 new costumes: eight for each production, and everyone had a double. My budget for 16 costumes was $25 a week. That had to include the music, too. If a light bulb went out, it came out of my budget.
Because I had to make so many costumes, in my off time I would learn from Tony Midnite, a famous burlesque costumer. Then later when I was in New York I would take my son with me in his crib and work for free in the daytime in the Latin Quarter costume shop. I even apprenticed with the last feather dyer that worked for MGM studios in Hollywood.
I’ve always loved making girls beautiful on stage. Because I learned a long time ago it doesn’t matter what you do, as long as you look fabulous!
CM: How did you win the Las Vegas Costumer of the Year award not once, but TWICE?
BC: When I won the award for best costumer, I dressed that show like I was dressing burlesque. If they couldn’t wear it, they drug it! As long as it was glitzy, that’s all that mattered. One reviewer said it was the only show in Las Vegas where you come out whistling the wardrobe. I thought that was the greatest compliment.
The next year I did Siegfried and Roy, and I won an award for them. But it was all strictly by accident. I found that I knew more than I thought I did. A lot of it was that you have to do costumes with a little budget and you have to get the maximum effect. You learn so many tricks over the years. I never planned on costuming.
CM: You’ve created hundreds of dazzling costumes throughout your career. Do you have any favorites?
BC: Nope. I hate ‘em all. One day Tony Midnite and I tried to figure out how many g-strings we had made in our lifetime. We just said, “Oh my God, how many thousands!”
But a favorite to make? I just love doing circus animal costumes. They’re big, they’re gaudy, and they read from a mile. Especially the circus blankets for the elephants, because I get to sequin them and they’re gigantic. And the elephants don’t complain when you do a fitting. They just let you climb all over them. They don’t give a shit.
I’ll tell you a cute story. A circus asked me to make a top hat for a Dumbo production. They wanted a big top hat to fit on an elephant. So I made it. It was five feet tall. Well, the elephant, Carol, whom I really loved, before she would go on stage there was a big mirror on the wall. No matter when the music played, she would have to stop and look herself in the mirror. If they had not put that top hat on her right, she would NOT go into the ring. We used to laugh at that.
CM: We’re going glitter-crazy waiting for your “Easy Tips for Burlesque Costuming” class. What do you have in store for us sparkle mongers?
BC: Think of Carol Burnett ripping down the curtain and making a gown – that’s what I want to show you how to do. I want to teach how to use things that you can afford. Things that you have lying around the house, that you never dreamed you could make a costume out of. Things that won’t cost you a ton of money, but on stage will look brilliant. Because most of the time, girls now have to do new acts all the time. They don’t have the money to invest $1,000 or $2,000 in a costume.
CM: Is there an easy costuming trick you’re willing to share with us now?
BC: I learned a long time ago – this is a strange trick, and it goes for makeup too – to take Aqua Net and you spray your mirror. When you look in the mirror, and your costume looks perfect and your makeup looks perfect through the Aqua Net, then you know it’s going to read. Because what you see in the mirror does not read from 20 feet away. The Aqua Net diffuses that. So put it on your mirror, and look at your makeup. You’ll say, “Okay that doesn’t read, I need to use more.” You’ll know what’s going to happen under the lights. Just an old vaudeville trick.
What’s sad is there are no places outside of BurlyCon where you can learn these kinds of things. There is no more burlesque circuit. There are no more legitimate clubs. But I want you all to be fabulous.
CM: Which is why we are so thrilled to have you at BurlyCon this year. What are you looking forward to most?
BC: The moment when I teach (and I’ve taught since 1954) and I se a smiling face and a sparkle in the eye, and I reach one person’s creativity – when I know that they’re going to take whatever I told them and they’re going to go out and experiment. One of the things wrong with the girls today is that they don’t experiment! They’re too busy copying what they think is right. There is no right. Not even in costuming. It’s whatever works. I want them to go away from BurlyCon thinking, “Maybe I didn’t learn anything, but I learned how to learn something. I learned how to experiment.” That’s the most important thing.
With my revues, I never hired the best dancers. I hired the ones who sparkled. Because I could make you look good. You could look wonderful, but if you didn’t have sparkle, if you didn’t enjoy it, it wasn’t going to do any good. I think you have to really love what you’re doing. I’m hoping these kids come to BurlyCon and want to learn and want to do something with it. You have to ask, what will I do after BurlyCon? What is the next step?
I want, before I die, to pass this knowledge on. I don’t want it to be lost. I want somebody 20 years from now to be saying, “You know what happened? I can tell you what really happened.” That’s the whole purpose of my even going to BurlyCon.
Catch Bic’s BurlyCon classes “Burlesque and the Mob”, “Easy Tips for Burlesque Costuming” and “My Life in Show Business” at BurlyCon 2014, Oct. 9-12th at the DoubleTree Hotel in Sea Tac, WA. Visit www.BurlyCon.org for more information.