Local designer Laura Kane is ebullient, inventive, and has a head of hair that would make Jean Grey jealous. Fitting since she spends a significant amount of her time inhabiting the personas of fictional characters at cosplay conferences.
Cosplay is the “act of dressing in a costume of a character from popular media. This includes video games, anime, sci-fi, anything goes,” Kane said.
Cosplay has millions of devotees worldwide with most doing it to pay tribute to a character or series. But designers like Kane have dual motivation.
“I like the challenge of taking a two dimensional design into a 3-D garment. I like breaking something down and trying to rebuild it, and I like hanging out with like-minded individuals who can appreciate the work and nerd out about it.”
She picks characters with nostalgic value. Disney is an inspiration, especially Thumbelina, as well as a Manga series like Sailor Moon. Kane will watch a series or movie countless times, taking screenshots so she can recreate the character. Like a chemist, she breaks down the garment’s components and builds it back up until it is perfect. Once the design is done, shoes, wigs, make-up, and undergarments are chosen to complete the immersion.
Cosplayers do not necessarily take on the persona of their characters, though some may. There is a freedom of expression in the community, too. Gender, race, and ethnicity do not pose the same boundaries as in the non-player world and there is a real esprit de corps.
“You don’t want to be telling someone, ‘Oh, you can’t dress as this character because you are not black. Or you can’t dress as a woman because you are a man.’”
Most cosplayers flock to large conventions where they can strut their stuff, or waddle since walking in some of the costumes is difficult. Some people will dress up at home, take photos, and share them online, a growing and important community space for the group. Almost anyone can connect and Kane is
excited about her research into this world and what it can do for the community. She notes that most media coverage of cosplayers focuses on the sexualization of the characters or stereotypes players as freaks.
“I’m a big advocate for looking at it with an open mind,” she said. With a reality show in the works, it is an interesting time for the subculture and for her research.
Being backstage at a competition, allows her to see the costumes up close and study the technique and materials designers use. She loves meeting “all the people who are just as crazy and into it as I am, to like one hundred thousand percent.”
Costumes require an incredible level of detail and patience so she only makes about one or two a year.
“It’s incredibly rewarding,” Kane said. “I will not do it unless I can do it right.”
By Bridget Egan