A successful designer and an experienced fire show performer. When this combination is topped off with an enormous amount of creativity and courage to take an unexplored path the results are breathtaking. I dare say that Monika is a fire show and light show costume guru and there is no better person in the whole of the Czech Republic who would have such a deep understanding of our field and would be able to create original costumes in a hundred different ways (and I am not exaggerating. Monika’s Mimo Space Atelier has produced more than 500 different fashion pieces). How does Monika approach the creative process of designing light show and fire show suitable costumes? Find out in this interview with Monika. 

How do you proceed in designing costumes for performers?

Designing costumes is a complex process of finding a balance between functionality, esthetics, and the character of the light show and fire show group. The visual concept of costumes is one of the three most important building blocks which make up the show alongside music and the choreographies, thus it is very important to pay close attention to every detail. 

Every group has a different energy and I try to capture and express the essence of their character.

Before I start drawing the first concept, I need to know a few pieces of information. The character of the group, the concept for the show where the costumes are to be used, and the feelings which the show is supposed to create in the audience. Once we have this settled, technical aspects come up such as the specific situation in which the costume will have to function perfectly. Difficult movements and choreographies the costume will have to endure. 

Each group has a different set of priorities. Some performers need the costume to be primarily functional for their show thus the costume must fit perfectly and it must be easy and quick to put on and take off. Some performers’ priority is the visual of the costume and they gladly adjust the choreography according to the movement possibilities of the costume. 

For example imagine a show where the main attribute is comedy and fire show, light show or juggling in an additional element. In this type of performance, a huge skirt that will make advanced dance moves difficult isn’t a disadvantage. It can be used to top off the humor of the show. 

It is important to say that there are many different types of fire show. Faqirs, historical fire shows, belly dancers which use fire, fire eaters, juggling fire shows, new circus with fire effects, or technical spinning fire shows. 

Once we’ve cleared the concept and demands we start working on the mood board where we collect inspiration and assemble the color scheme. As a third phase, we choose the appropriate materials and patterns. 

Tereza: I absolutely loved the process, where we met with Monika and we started discussing different ideas for our new Aliatrix costumes. While we were brainstorming Monika was constantly drawing sketches and from a humble vague thought I had, she led me to a complex A+ class product and performance. This experience has completely changed my thinking about shows. Cooperating with Monika has always been enormously inspiring and I can not thank her enough.

Time-proven classics versus innovations

Would you advise to use classical trends or rather to step into the unknown?

Innovations turn into trends. It is necessary to invest a lot of time and money to create an innovation with the desired effect and it is always a risk. A novelty that has not been tested might not work the way you imagined. 

On the market of fire show brands and groups, I see three categories. In the first category are groups that specialize in luxurious clientele and they are full-time professional performers. These are the groups that can afford to try to do alternative things, to sell unorthodox products, and by that, they set a trend.

Alongside these groups are light show and fire show performers and groups, which keep performing as a hobby. These groups have the best success with time-proven classics.

And last but not least are small, local groups. These groups can basically do whatever they desire because their clientele most probably won’t expect and recognize any trends in the field of fire show and light show performing. That is why with every performer or group I work with I try to stress the importance of thinking about who their clientele is and where they see themselves amongst other groups. 

What about color schemes? Would you suggest stepping out of the classical color choices or rather use the color trends and modify them with a new approach? 

Colour choice clichés are here because of a simple reason – they work. The color choice of the costume creates a certain expectation and a guarantee for the client. When you say the word “fire show” most people outside of the community will imagine red and black. If the group would like to choose a different path, they have to prepare their client for the novelty and make sure he knows what he is buying, to eliminate possible disappointment.

I would suggest that each group should have a standard fundamental show in the repertoire of a group and then they can create upgraded unique shows, for example with a theme, storyline where you can step outside the box. 

One costume for multiple performers? 

“Practicality versus esthetics”

Interchangeable costumes are extremely practical for large groups with many performers. Nonetheless, it depends on how responsibly and professionally the group approaches the creation of their performances.

I believe that If they are professional full-time performers they definitely should have their costumes fitted and made for each performer. If I will be selling a luxurious show, the customer has certain expectations and it shouldn’t seem that the costumes were low budget. That doesn’t help the reputation at all.   

For groups of performers in the other two categories, interchangeable costumes are an extremely practical thing. Usually, they have limited budgets and the performers have higher fluctuance. In that case, I would suggest thoroughly thinking through the sizes, for which the costumes are made and in what distance their stage is from the audience, to hide certain imperfections from the view of the audience. Usually, the critical aspects are the length of the sleeves and the pants. 

With interchangeable costumes, it is necessary to consider a few things. In my opinion, it isn’t ideal to try to hide the size adjustable elements. It is possible to incorporate them into the costume both visible and esthetically. I am not a big fan of hook and loop fasteners however lacing can be effective and efficient. It is also necessary to consider the patterns and materials. Each body has a different shape and it is necessary to adjust the basic patterns. Flexible materials are a big help. they can compensate for the differences between the different body types. 

To burn or not to burn? The costume and fire

“Set it on fire! Well… at least during the burning test.

The best way to find out what fabric is suitable for a fire show costume is to burn it. “

What is the crucial aspect for you while designing a fire show costume?

The first and most important thing I keep in mind is safety. Right after that is functionality, even if it may sometimes overshadow the esthetics. If it is necessary to incorporate a large element I use hook-and-loop tape or press studs to attach it, to make sure it is easy and quick to take off if needed. And of course, the costume has to correspond with the mood of the show so that everything puts together a cohesive visual. 

What are the least flammable materials for a fire show costume? 

The best is of course leather because it doesn’t burn and it lasts long. The second best is 100% cotton materials with a thick weaving, ideally twill weave. Usually the higher the weight of the fabric the better. I often use thick artificial leather. I do not suggest using synthetic materials, they often melt. Nonetheless, there are exceptions to this rule, because today there are many many fabrics made of blends of materials with very good qualities. Don’t be afraid to try out burning a small piece of the fabric above a candle flame to see how it behaves. 

How do you proceed while choosing a fire show costume material?

I usually do not choose according to the description of the fabric on the label. It has happened to me many times that the given material blend of the fabric stated on the label was clearly false. Also because of the distribution of fabrics through more than one seller, the labels are not precise enough.

The exact percentages of each component of the fabric are summed up as 100% polyester, which tells you nothing at all. Synthetic materials do not have to be a bad choice, but you definitely have to do a burning test on a little piece of the fabric first.

Set a little corner of the fabric on fire and watch how fast it burns, if it is getting black or if it is starting to melt. When I have found suitable fabrics I choose according to the design of the costume and the pattern.

Do elastic materials function well used for a fire show costume?

It doesn’t have to be an obstacle, however, you have to consider where you incorporate the elastic material into the design. Alongside safety elastic materials also affect the durability of the costume.

If you use a lycra material on the front of the costume, you can be sure that after the first show with pyrotechnics there will be little burned out holes in the costume. When you need to use a material that burns faster

I would suggest using it on the back of the sides of the costume or the back. 

LED costume? It’s a challenge, but it’s worth it.

There are many categories of great light shows from UV shows to LED and laser shows, video mapping shows and light shows based on LED costumes. Adding LEDs to a costume simultaneously adds possibilities, but it can also harm the overall visual. 

What needs to be paid attention to in a UV costume?

The first key to success is of course to find a UV-active fabric. It can surprise you, however, a shiny white fabric doesn’t automatically have to be UV active. That’s why it’s great to have a small UV light with you when choosing the fabric. 

While creating the design I would highly recommend paying attention to often neglected parts of the body such as the face, hair, and limbs. Without these parts, the dance choreography often gets lost in the darkness and the performer looks like a levitating white blob. It is fun to play around with the design of face masks, UV paints on the skin can beautifully express the idea and emotions behind your performance. 

LED costume – How to combine esthetics and functionality?

It is a huge step forward to have an LED costume in the repertoire and the clients love it. However, as appealing as it may seem it is a double-edged sword. If the design of the costume isn’t thoroughly thought through, it can be a downgrade to the overall vision of the show.

It is the same as if you were to buy an expensive luxury sports car. Whether I have enough money and time to maintain it, or it’s better not to purchase it at all. I would definitely try to avoid the low-budget approach “I will put some Christmas lights on my costume and that’ll do the trick.”

I’ll repeat what I emphasized at the beginning of the interview – It is very important to have a unified vision of what the show should evoke.  

What are the most important aspects you consider while designing an LED costume?

It is a never-ending struggle to find the balance between esthetics and functionality in an LED costume. Not only is an LED costume very hard to create, but it also required a lot of technical maintenance.

As a designer, I have to be able to come up with a strong unique visual, but also where to put the cables and the batteries, where the costume should have detachable parts, how it is going to be washed, and how to ensure that the LEDs will not limit the movement range.

Alongside all these aspects while designing I also have to think of the eventual repairing of the costume and how to make it as simple as possible.

Simply put LEDs don’t work well under constant bending. Usually, I follow the rule to avoid joints. Wherever there is a bone in your body, that is where you can place the LEDs. 

Tereza’s summary

The creation of costumes is an incredibly complex and tricky field. It’s not very hard to dress for a show sufficiently nonetheless it is hard to create costumes that will underline, complete, and uplift the performance while being practical and esthetic all in one. 

Monika’s MIMO Space atelier has created multiple costumes for Aliatrix and it has been an incredibly pleasant and enriching experience. No matter if we approached Monika with an exact design or whether we only had a fade idea that we would like a “wow factor costume” without closer specifications of what the visual should be, Monika managed to create a breathtaking art piece, which surprised us in many ways.

For me personally, the opportunity to observe Monika during her creative process was incredibly inspiring. Monika’s essence lies specifically in her being herself thus it is always going to be a mystery, I am very grateful that Monika agreed to this interview where she revealed her know-how on her creative processes. 

Everything we publish we do so humbly and with gratitude to everyone who has helped us grow over the years. Now came the time, when we would like to return the favor and share thought-provoking content. 

Tell us what you think about this article and how do you personally approach costume design? 

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