Friday, May 31, 2019

Quality in Motion: What it's like to get a full custom costume

Have you ever wanted a custom costume? Something made just for you for a special program? Designed, and beaded  to accompany the music, showing off your best skills, and with colors, cut, and material just for you, as if you’re an elite skater?

Of course you have. Everyone looks at the costumes in the Olympics and thinks ‘I wish I had that one.’  So, I interviewed the new owners of Del Arbor (Rushdah & Mustafa ) about the process of developing and designing a full custom costume from scratch.

Rushdah & Mustafa

They have lovely  off the rack costumes, and have introduced  simpler costumes in their new FIRST GLIDE line, but they also create one of a kind costumes for customers, including elite skaters. Here's what it's like to have a custom costume made for you.

It starts with the music.

The music gives the designers the concepts of the rhythm and flow the costume will need. Also the theme of the music and the lyrics may even influence the design.  Del Arbour  also keeps up with the latest changes in requirements for costumes since they do change.  (Does anyone remember the several costume scandals in ’89 – including the naughty Alexander Fadeev one? ) Del Arbour stays on top of changes in the rules to make sure that doesn’t happen with the costumes they make.

Accompanying the costume order will need to be a full frontal and full back photo, and notes from the skater regarding comfort (do you like it tight, or low cut, or more relaxed?) and how much sparkle they prefer.  ( I made a comment about Johnny Weir liking Swarovski Crystal AB, and was told that not only did Del Arbor exclusively use Swarovski, but they use the AB Crystal in almost every design due to its superior reflectivity and iridescence.)

 The skater’s coach may put in suggestions for a younger skater; for an elite skater both the coach and choreographer may make suggestions. I suspect some adult skaters with experience and a distinct sense of personal style may want to work with the designers directly, but to me that spoils the fun of working with a team of skater-coach-designer.

I was curious about color selection since I had some ideas about the effect on the dress color by rink lights, but I was wrong! I was told that the overwhelming effect is  the ice itself and its reflectivity really makes the most difference. The ice overwhelms everything and the costume color has to be a strong contrast to the ice. There are some colors that don’t work well: white and certain shades of yellow, and pastels can wash out the skater, and look faded on the ice. (What looks good on a skater in close-ups on TV, probably isn’t the same thing as looking good to the judges at a distance at speed).

But in addition to the costume’s color there is the variety of shades of the illusion mesh. Del Arbour has 10 shades of illusion mesh, and sends swatches to the skater to test on the ice, so their coach can help them select a color that closest matches their skin tone under the glare of the lights on the ice. Del Arbor also sends swatches of the costume fabrics to aid in selections. As this process goes on Del Arbor builds a database on the skater's needs, sizing , and preferences for the future.

During all this time, Del Arbor designers are creating sketches by hand to capture the critical movement and flow of the performance.  The sketches go back and forth to the skater and the coach (and the choreographer if one is involved) until final approval.  And at the point, the design is agreed upon, the fabric is approved by the coach-skater team, the illusion mesh is selected to match the skater’s body, the crystals and their pattern, the sizing, everything is ready to go. And then Del Arbor begins to construct the costume in their work shop in Milford, CT.

I said ‘construct’ the costume, not ‘sew’ the costume because with the demands placed upon the costumes by the athletics of skating, the costume must stand up to repeated use in practices, programs, and do so without showing wear, or having ‘a wardrobe malfunction’.  The costume is made of high quality 4 way stretch fabric that stretches to 3 times its size. Every single piece is lined with three layers –mesh, tricot, and flesh tone lining. They also use metal hook and eye rather than plastic ones.  This  process is so incredibly reliable that Del Arbor has had daughters compete in costumes their mothers competed in!

After the dress is completed, it goes through a rigorous final quality finishing check.Checking all the beading, the seams and the edging; double checking for missed stitches to ensure there will be no rips during a performance. This costume is designed and constructed for many wears, even to survive the number of wears required for an entire elite season!
Quality finishing

Del Arbor  wants every client to feel that special thrill once that package arrives. They call it "the Del Arbour experience." The garment is packaged in tissue to keep wrinkles from forming, then the box is tied with ribbon & a card is included to provide a personal note to the skater.

 When the skater receives the costume, any minor changes are easily taken care of because the workshop is in the USA.  No waiting for something shipped from overseas. Quick response is part of the company's mission.

And the nice thing about Del Arbour dresses, is that if you buy one of their dresses second hand at a sale, you can send it to them for refurbishment, change of skirt or the underpants, or to get it gently resized.  As long as it has the Del Arbor label in it, it doesn’t matter who its original owner was. Therefore, make sure that label is in the dress. You might find it's worth 10-20% more than you thought!

As the new owners look ahead, they're planning on expanding the line to gymnastics, sport dance, practice wear, and lifestyle. Head to toe for the person who is always in motion!

Saturday, May 25, 2019

Working on my Back Threes

My coach turned her back on me for a moment while I was practicing my back threes. When she looked at me again, she asked:

 "Did you properly look over your shoulder during that turn?"



Wow...where is the trust?


Friday, May 24, 2019

Little Mr. Axel

So there's a boy who skates every Saturday, and last week he told me he had his Axel.

So, I told my coach "He has his axel," I nodded to the boy, "I think that's great."

My coach has been a big supporter of this kid and helped him get his first real boots, but she snorted and rolled her eyes. 

At the end of my lesson, she had him check my left spin, and when he just looked polite, she told me, "Now spin the other way."

So I did, and very nicely too. But my coach had something up her sleeve.

The kid looked at her

Where my coach is going with that, no idea. I know to push back and just not ask questions. What happens on freestyle, stays on freestyle.

Saturday, May 11, 2019

When I Get A Compliment

A 9 year old in Freeskate 5 says:
"You're Very Graceful on the Ice"

Kids these days, they have much better manners than when I was a child. 

Tuesday, May 7, 2019

Superfitting your Skates: Insoles

 I had a revelation at LTS tonight, So this works down to a point of useful information.

I've written previously, about how you can double your insoles to get a too wide skate to fit, or how I like to tweak Superfeet Yellow skating insoles to act as  homemade orthotics.

 I'm still a fan of superfeet insoles, but my needs have changed.

Due to the bunion-bone spur from hell, I now need more space in the toebox of my right foot, to get both my foot and my toes spacers in the boot at the same time. This means I need thinner insoles than my sturdy Superfeet.

Now you know why I.NEED.MORE.SPACE
So I opened my magic skate bag, secure in the knowledge that I would have some insoles, or pieces of insoles in there. And I did. I had 1 and a half pair leather insoles that had come out of my Harlicks or Jacksons, never worn.

 The Magic Skate Bag.

After I struggled getting the Superfeet out of my boots, I struggled to get the leather insoles in, and then my feet with the toe spacers.  THEN I GOT ON THE ICE!

With the new thin leather insoles I could finally feel my edges right down to the edge.
 I've heard of people who skated in bare feet (an experiment I'm not willing to try) and I finally  understand why that appeals to some. The sturdy Superfeet that I could make into orthotics, muted my sense of what was going on under my boots.

Will it make my skating better? Mmmm...I don't know. But as an interesting experience, it was revelatory. I look forward to a couple of more times on the ice to see what happens!! Maybe it will improve my skating

(I still have to pad a couple of spots in my boots, I have a thin lacebite pad I'm going to cut up. And my right foot needs a little tweaking in the counter, But I've had worse.)

Sunday, May 5, 2019


It's just not possible to get enough practice time where I live. I work, and the rinks are all far away, so the only way I can get enough practice time is to sign up for two LTS classes in two separate cities.

Coaches at one rink have put me in Freestyle 4, not because I'm qualified, but because I'm too good for Basic, and Freeskate 4 needs another skater in it to keep it open.
I'm Not Worthy
So, the other skaters (of about 13 y.o.) do their jumps, and the 3 of us do our footwork and spins together like a regular class. I've been skating at this rink for about 6 months, and they know what to expect when my body gets shoved onto their class roster.

However, I've been gone for so many months from LTS at my home rink (which is further away) that the coaches teaching adults have changes, and most don't know me. 
The LTS director--who knows me and was so happy to see me back--put me in Freeskate 3, with a coach who doesn't know me from anyone. And to my great sadness, I found all the adults who knew me from last year are now either coaching, or have an injury, or moved. So I'm now in a class with....'youts'
(Amusingly, the young adult skaters all know me. The coach, not at all)

So I work on my spins, and my alternating 3's, and my power threes, and my waltz 3's, and my waltz 8, and that's it.

The coach comes up to me and says, "Don't you want to jump?"

Man, I just shake my head, "Foot problems. I don't jump."

The coach looks at me seriously.
 "Then why did the skating director put you in Freestyle 3?"
Yeah, the only reason I can guess is she likes to mess with my mind!  This new coach will either get used to me, or I'll get moved around. It's not a problem, I'm just here for the ice time!