15 May 2021

Flo Foxworthy: costume design a childhood dream come true

From Saturday Morning, 9:45 am on 15 May 2021

Flo Foxworthy started sewing when she was seven years old, with a dream to make costumes for the movies.

Having left school at the age of 16, her first job was in leather making. By 18 she had launched her own business making costumes for burlesque dancers.

"I was always fascinated by the colours and the sparkles and the glamour involved in, even strippers you would see in the movies when you're young, you catch that little glimpse of feathers and sequins. That was it for me, I thought that was the most glamourous thing in the world."

Sina King's costuming by Flo Foxworthy.

Sina King's costuming by Flo Foxworthy. Photo: Instagram / @misssinaking

Burlesque is essentially stripping, Foxworthy says.

"It's just a way of having fun, getting on stage, getting sparkly, glamourous, enjoying yourself, sometimes making a statement, political statement, whatever kind of statement that is."

Having performed a few times, she says she's far more comfortable behind the scenes than on a stage.

When she first started there weren't many people making costumes at the level she was so she had many clients all over the world. Over the years she's created outfits for some of the most well-known performers in the world, including Dita Von Teese.

These days she is the head of the Textiles Department at Weta Workshop, making costumes for Hollywood films such as Ghost in the Shell, The Hobbit Trilogy, and Avatar.

Flo Foxworthy of Weta Workshop

Flo Foxworthy of Weta Workshop Photo: Supplied

They're called creature suits - what you'd put a very patient performer into when they're going to be a monster.

Making costumes for film work is a bit like engineering, she says.

"It's not just pants and a shirt, we don't tend to make the boring clothes at Weta Workshop, we get to make the fun stuff.

"Why do the boring stuff when you can make superheroes and monsters and armies?"

In fact, Floxworthy was on the team that made Scarlett Johansson's thermoptic suit from Ghost in the Shell. The skin-tight suit was constructed from silicone.

"She was amazing, she was such a trooper wearing that suit because it's very tight, it takes about five minutes to squeeze into. We got it down from 20 minutes to about five minutes to get her dressed."

The silicon takes on the ambient air around you, she says. If the air is cold the silicone is cold.

Ghost in the shell

Scarlett Johansson's flesh suit from Ghost in the Shell. Photo: AFP or licensors

Computer generated components is a big part of how it's done these days, but Foxworthy says you'll always need something to put them on.

"I don't see the fabric side of costume going anywhere any time soon."

Foxworthy will be speaking at the Fashion Innovation Expo on 28 Friday May at Victoria University of Wellington. During her talk 'Re-imagining textiles through technology', she will discuss ways the industry can integrate various technologies into traditional textiles methodologies - and the possibilities this creates.