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Costumier to the stars
LAMENTING her lack of academic ability at school but noting her artistic talent it was suggested by Sue Simmerling’s needlework teacher that she might try her hand at fashion design.
It proved the best possible advice for fashion fanatic Sue, who went to study art and design at Southampton City College.
For she has since found herself working as a costumier for stars ranging from Paul O’Grady to Stefanie Powers, travelling the world as a designer aboard luxury cruise liners and working for top TV and theatre shows.
As her business, ‘Carry On Costumes’, has grown she has also been able to call on the creative talents of her three daughters: Carly, Ellie and Lauri.
Based in New Milton, Sue, the girls and her team have designed and made costumes for the brand new stage show Strictly Burlesque which is on its debut run at Bournemouth Pavilion from Thursday to Saturday prior to a UK tour and possible West End run.
With international burlesque super-icon Immodesty Blaize headlining, joined by the Burlesque Bombshells this is a show that will ooze glamour and sex appeal so the costumes will need to be particularly gorgeous and lavish.
Sue, 55, set up her fashion business in New Milton over 30 years ago when she quickly made a name for herself and was approached by a local cruise director looking for someone to teach needlework classes on the MS Canberra. An instant hit, she was soon travelling the world making costumes for the luxury liner’s stage shows and from here she was asked to make them for other ships including The Sea Princess and Oriana.
This has been the ‘backbone’ of her business since 1980 but Sue also has a reputation for sumptuous and innovative pantomime costumes.She has been working with Michael Rose Ltd since 2007, designing and creating costumes for Aladdin, Cinderella and Peter Pan at The Mayflower theatre, Southampton with casts including Christopher Biggins, Stephen Mulhern, Matthew Kelly and Les Dennis.
When Paul O’Grady brought his alter-ego Lily Savage out of retirement to star as Widow Twanky in the spectacular Mayflower pantomime Aladdin in 2010 Sue created all the amazing costumes. And she worked with the star again last Christmas when Michael Rose took it to the O2 Arena.
So what is it like working so closely with the stars?
“I enjoyed that aspect of it when I was younger but as you get older you are not so star struck. At the end of the day they are just people,” she says.
She had particularly enjoyed working with Paul O’Grady at the Mayflower and O2.
“He’s ‘fab’ - he’s lovely!” she says.
“He is very, very particular but he likes everything to be right. Of course Lily Savage as a pantomime dame isn’t your usual dame- there’s a lot of glamour. We did designs for him and then he added to them with jewellery and we had several fittings.
He has good vision; he’s creative and he likes to do his own embellishments.
Other people will let you just dress them but Paul likes to have input.”
As we spoke Sue was busily making last minute adjustments to numerous sequinned and feathered creations and was really excited about being involved at the launch of a new stage show.
“Strictly Burlesque is very exciting as Bournemouth is the starting block: it is always exciting to be involved in something at the beginning, especially as there is very little new stuff out there.”
And she revealed that there have been discussions with Paul O’Grady about him joining the show at a later date and she is hopeful he will as he “loves burlesque!”
Sue’s TV work has become very exciting too. Last year in the build up to the Olympics she worked on the Vernon Kaye-hosted entertainment ITV mini-series Let’s get Gold!
alongside This Morning and X-Factor stylist Faye Sawyer.
“She’s very good at street wear and she asked us to get a little bit more involved; such as being on stand-by if someone’s boob falls out or a zip needs mending!”
Let’s Get Gold was a game show involving choreographed sport to music. One of the jobs Sue had was to supply and customise hoodies in 18 different colours for 18 different teams. Easier said than done, she had to dye some.
Now while working on Strictly Burlesque Sue, is currently dashing back and forth to London to work on Stepping Out which is a new dance show for ITV involving big celebrities in dance competitions.
“We are very excited as we shoot the pilot next week and we are actually involved in the styling. It will be street meeting theatre customised clothes, unlike Strictly. It should be on TV before Christmas.”
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