(Editor’s Note: This interview with costume designer Nez Wilburn was conducted back in March 2012 by Tom Heckbert for the now-defunct website Eyestrane.com. It’s been republished at Idol Features courtesy of Tom and Mistress Persephone, who wrote her own introduction.)
After serving with the United States Marine Corps in the early 90′s and moving back and forth from east to west coast and back again, she finally settled at home to raise children but still had that need to push the boundaries of fashion, with special interest in costuming, corsetry and the Halloween and haunted attraction industry. After encouragement from several people in the industry to “go pro” and offer her services to the public, Darkspectre was born.
Darkspectre’s debut was at the 2005 Ironstock Haunt Conference at the Parade of Fatal Fashion and received positive reviews. From there, Darkspectre has been involved in everything from theater to costuming for the Disney Orlando Pirates of the Carribean stage show and more. Darkspectre specializes in one-of-a-kind custom pieces and Victorian couture gowns, with heavy historical and Gothic influences and extreme attention paid to construction and detail.
A recent trifecta made in heaven with renowned photographer Laura Dark and makeup artist Deanna Roberts has shown an even brighter spotlight on Dez’s work, with a recent print credit in Auxiliary magazine and more to come. There are always projects in the works, but Nez’s favorite thing to do is to follow her bliss and work outside the box, but always staying true to her dark and romantic side. Above photo by Laura Dark of Laura Dark Photography. MUA Deanna Roberts of Makeup Vamp, and wardrobe by Darkspectre Custom Couture. Styling and hair by the one, the only, Laura Dark!
NEZ WILBURN: The pleasure is all mine, Tom! It’s very nice to meet you! My friends didn’t care so much. I think by the time I hit my senior year they were used to seeing me in Doc Martens and leggings made from old-man polyester golf pants I found at a thrift store. The school in general though; “Hahaha.” Yeah, I got made fun of a LOT. It never stopped me. At that point in time, I figured out what I was comfortable doing and ran with it, irregardless of feedback from the “sheeple.”
EYESTRANE: Where did you get your ideas and inspiration from to create your clothing back then?
NEZ: My friends hailed from different scenes within the punk scene. You had rockabilly/psychobilly with a heavy influence from retro and vintage clothing, Goth, which in those days was very influenced by the music scene and was straight up black and romantic as hell, and then my gutterpunk friends who dressed more in the music T’s and plaids and always with the ever present Doc Marten boots. I was more apt to take what I liked from all these genres and put it together “my way,” sometimes with the addition of a little bit of color like some funky tights, sometimes a cutoff military jacket from the Salvation Army with extra doo-dads sewn to it. We’ll just say I started getting really good at taking castoff items and making them MINE. So I guess you can say the music scene is what drove me in the early days.
EYESTRANE: When you first started Darkspectre, who were your intended clients?
NEZ: Initially, my target audience was the home-haunter, people who needed costumes for Halloween and couldn’t find what they wanted in the stores. Darkspectre has her beginnings on the “Halloween-L,” an online email forum for avid Halloween enthusiasts and home haunters. The brilliant people of the “L” were my initial sounding board and encouraged me to create for others and not just for myself. When we finally took the show on the road and showed out at Ironstock, we realized we had a fledgling business and not just a hobby anymore. Now we market to all tastes!
EYESTRANE: Since the beginning you have branched out into many areas including Halloween, sci-fi, Victorian, anime, theatrical reproductions, just to name a few. Can you tell us about some of the projects you have been involved in?
NEZ: I made a costume for an indie horror film out of Brazil that I can’t remember the name of and apparently didn’t get film credit for as I can’t find it anywhere online. I have had commissions for the The Vampires Ball put on by the Vampire Lestat Fan Club in NOLA that were, of course, awesome projects for me as they were not only dark and Gothic, but also historical pieces and direct movie reproductions from the movie Interview With The Vampire. That project particularly stands out in my mind as my clients informed me that Anne Rice herself would see what I had made and I have a bad case of hero worship for that woman, so I went over the top making these perfect reproductions. My Lilly Munster gown has had more press than any of my creations and has been featured as the poster advertisement for the Halloween Art Exhibit in Chicago as well as in a feature for Illamasqua makeup in Auxiliary magazine. I created the King Max costume for the stage performance of Cinderella at the Old Library Theater in Fair Lawn, New Jersey. Of course, there’s the POTC items I made for Disney Orlando as well and I’m sure a huge pile of items and events I’m not thinking of.
EYESTRANE: Tell us a little about how you came to design the costumes for Disney’s Pirates of the Caribbean stage show.
NEZ: When the first Pirates movie came out, everyone wanted to be Jack Sparrow. I was up to my eyeballs in reproductions of that costume! So much so that apparently I caught the eye of Disney. Disney’s costuming department at their Orlando theme park contacted me through the website to commission me to make components of the men’s garb for their live action stage show. They seemed to be pretty happy with the final product!
EYESTRANE: Halloween time must be one of your busiest times of year. You must get many requests. Has there been anything very bizarre that has stood out in the past?
NEZ: Not so much bizarre as requiring super-powers to pull off. Most interesting request I had received was four days before Halloween, a lady contacts me and states she needs an exact reproduction of the Akasha costume from the movie The Queen of the Damned, and she needs it by Halloween. That was an eyebrow raise and I obviously didn’t take her up on the challenge …but yes, Halloween is an extremely busy time of year for me! From about mid-July to the second week of October, it’s all about the commissions. We’ll just say I don’t sleep during September and October.
EYESTRANE: Your “Lilly Munster” shroud is one of my favorites. Is that one of your most requested pieces?
NEZ: EVERYONE loves Lilly!! But surprisingly, I’ve only made one other of that gown. No, the most requested item to date is a female Sith character outfit I designed that the women in the Star Wars community just eat up. I’m hoping to expand on that premise a bit more to give that community more options, but surprisingly, no one had paid attention to the ladies who favor the Dark Side. I was happy to fulfill that role.
EYESTRANE: I know a great part of your work comes from your work with the Star Wars fan community.
NEZ: Yes, I do a TON of costuming for the Star Wars fans and the Fighting 501st that inundate events like DragonCon amongst others. I was the first to design a component of the Republic Commando uniform that they couldn’t get anywhere else, and still to this day have a pretty good rep with that community, especially designing Sith characters. People love originality and since I was raised on Star Wars and am pretty well-versed with character development, I can lend some pretty creative ideas to the mix regarding species and costume influences from different planets in that universe. Yes, I’m a geek.
EYESTRANE: You have been collaborating with photographer Laura Dark. What are some of the projects you have been doing with them?
NEZ: I was introduced to Laura Dark last fall by my very good friend and long-time client, Deanna Roberts. She has been the MUA on all of the Darkspectre shoots thus far and I’m extremely pleased and honored to have been given the opportunity to work with these extremely talented ladies. Probably the most noteworthy recent work is the rockabilly pinup shots from my Vicious Vintage line of retro clothing. They have created some amazing imagery for me and the response has been amazing!! Those two broads, along with Brianne Jeanette of Synthetic Rebellion and Jackie Steinert (TEAM DARK) and all of the models are just brilliant. I can’t convey in words how GOOD I feel about what they do!! There is more to come, but I can’t divulge any details about it. I could tell you, but I’d have to kill you.
EYESTRANE: Some of your work is based on historical clothing. Are they historically accurate of representations of the clothing worn during the time period?
EYESTRANE: You have done some very complex pieces and hand make each item yourself. How long has it taken to do some of them?
NEZ: Longest project on the boards was an exact reproduction of the red silk gown from the absinthe scene in Bram Stoker’s Dracula. Actual production time was well over 280 hours, mostly because of the details. The trims have to be hand made, and each one has to be hand-sewn. Woof, that was a LONG one, but totally worth the end result. It really depends on the item, but I work fast and stay on task for hours on end, and I run my machines hard. I have kicked out a huge elaborate Marie Antoinette in three days before, and it wasn’t a commission, just something I was doing for “fun.”
EYESTRANE: What do you think the most challenging part of your job is?
NEZ: There are two major challenges here. One is that 99.9% of the items I’ve made were created for clients sight-unseen, and I just hope and pray that I’ve created for them exactly what they were dreaming of, that I’ve plucked an idea out of their heads and made it as perfectly as they see it in their imagination. It is really HARD to read a persons mind, especially when it’s through e-mail! The other is that you hit the sizing on the head the first time so alterations don’t have to be made, which requires that people actually know how to measure themselves properly. There is no such thing as “one size fits all” in my little world. I’ve only had one lady threaten to kill me over that. In her defense, she was six months pregnant and I made her bodice too big for her. She thought I was calling her FAT and screamed that at me via e-mail. Insert laughter here. It IS funny, you kind of had to be there!! I stayed up half the night to make another bodice two sizes smaller and overnighted it to her and she was thrilled. THAT was an interesting night. One I haven’t repeated either. While I love all of my clients, the two that scare me the most are pregnant ladies and “bridezillas”. Those two can sometimes give a designer that “back away SLOWLY from the crazy lady” feeling (big grin). A great sense of humor helps a lot in this industry! All-in-all, I’ve got a very good track record, and I believe that’s exactly why I have an extremely loyal clientele.
EYESTRANE: There is a photo of you that I simply love. It is you dressed in a white gown with a look of happy evil on your face. What is the story behind this photo?
EYESTRANE: Any new projects or plans that you can share with us?
NEZ: Always projects in the works …most of which I can’t discuss in case they go to publication. Everything is very fluid in my world and changes, literally from day to day. When I’m not working on commissions, I’m working on pet projects just to keep the creative juices flowing and to test-drive new skills, or picking up concept work to be used in future publications. But we will be at Midwest Haunters Convention this year and I look forward to seeing everyone and getting my “haunt” on!! I will have some items on display at the Laura Dark booth and will be working the show floor with Team Dark. I also am planning some more reproduction work this summer that should be pretty eye-catching and my ultimate hope is to attend the festivities in NOLA this Halloween. I wish I could give you more to gnaw on, but for now that’s all I can say.
EYESTRANE: One thing we have discussed is our mutual admiration of the television show, The Walking Dead. If you were to compare yourself to one of the characters in the show which do you think you would most like to be like and which do you think you are most like in reality?
NEZ: Oh god, let’s see. I’d most like to be Rick; courageous, intelligent, honorable and one hell of a shot. He’s a right-fighter and I love that. At the end of the day I’m probably most like Daryl; tattooed, likes to play with pointy objects, and doesn’t mind so much getting dirty. Also, has the biggest testicles of everyone on the show. Kind of sums me up! (laughs)
EYESTRANE: Where can we go to keep updated on you and your work?
NEZ: You can find me on Facebook at my personal page or at the Darkspectre Facebook page or at the Darkspectre website. We’ll be adding a blog soon to the Darkspectre site, but for the time being I post most of my updates on my Facebook pages. It’s been a real pleasure talking to you, Tom!