If you have also been eagerly awaiting the new American DuchessxSimplicity pattern, then you’re probably already aware of the dust-up over this new release. But just in case you’re not, let me back up a bit. About a year ago Lauren and Abby of American Duchess announced that Simplicity has asked them do another pattern for their Outlander cosplay series. I should note the pattern is not licensed and does not name the show, but it’s clear Simplicity is aiming for this audience. They shared a few photos of the work in progress (spiders, insane pleating, etc.) and made clear that they viewed Terry Dresbach’s creation as “an original piece of haute couture” and would not be copying the design, but using the dress as inspiration in combination with historical garments, namely the Robe de Cour.
The Robe de Cour, also called a grand habit or grand habit de cour was to be worn in court (the kind with royals, not lawyers) and had several unique design elements that differed from other dresses of the same time, including: fully boned, separate bodice with laced back, wide or puffy lace sleeves, a low scooped or off-the-shoulder neckline, and sometimes tabs similar to stays. These elements are very clear in this portrait; see the tiny tabs at the bottom point of the bodice?
To myself, and many, many Outlander and costuming fans, the news of the pattern’s release was exciting, but not a surprise. Apparently, not so for Terry Dresbach. She made several comments on social media, partially removed her blog, and then shut it down completely. Ooof.
In her mind, the pattern is an attempt to make money off of her original design without her permission or compensation. Truth be told, capitalizing on trends and pop culture is the aim of the big pattern companies, but to me it’s clear it was not the intention of the designers. They did not make a carbon copy of her design, and sought to draw from historical styles while still giving fans (and Simplicity) what they wanted. When Lord of the Rings came out there were lots of vaguely medieval, Elvish patterns (and yes, high school me did ask my mom to make me one for Renn Fest!). When Pirates of the Caribbean was big there were tons of sexy pirate, corset-type costumes. When Game of Thrones blew everyone’s minds… you guessed it, Westeros now at a Joann’s near you.
I think it’s certainly any artist’s right to protect his or her original designs, but Terry’s reaction also stems from her frustration with the larger problem within the industry of costume designers not receiving any royalties from their designs. (She had written about this issue on her blog at one point, but can’t link back anymore since the blog is gone.) I have to admit her post was the first time I’d ever considered the thousands of branded Indiana Jones Halloween costumes or the knock-offs-trying-to-avoid-being-sued with names like “Lady Cat Villain” that will continue to make money for the studio or merchandiser—without the designer who created the iconic image ever seeing a cent. This is so entrenched in the entertainment industry it would take a huge boycott, similar to the writer’s strike that crippled Hollywood a few years ago, to have any impact.
Is the pattern inspired by Outlander? Absolutely—but I wish that Terry had realized that these are historians and experienced dressmakers that DID NOT need her blog to figure out how make a court dress. Imitations of a gown that fans of the books have envisioned and dreamed about for over a decade were inevitable, no matter what it looked like. But her vision for Claire’s Versailles red dress is destined to be as iconic as the gowns of Hollywood leading ladies, and in my opinion only topped by her genius 1740’s meets 1940’s Dior Bar Suit mashup. But whereas both of those creations are a step out of time—befitting a time-traveler—the Simplicity pattern is based on extant dresses and fashions. The original pattern, now pulled from shelves, makes the connection more obvious with the sample’s rich scarlet satin. The replacement was altered to a fakey Photoshopped blue and my last check on the website showed a teal color.
It’s a real loss that Terry’s blog is offline indefinitely because casual fans and historical costumers alike could see the incredible amount of work that went into each costume, plus get close-up photos and sometimes design or process elements of a garment that may have been in the background, or only on screen for a few seconds. Maybe we can start a petition to bring it back for season 3? We know there’s another wedding dress coming and so many different characters to introduce and various new locations—really want to see how they tackled a whole new set of problems!