A Candid Chat About Cosplay with Elle est Forte
I've known Ms. Forte pretty much as long as I've been part of any gaming communities on the internet. She's one of the most honest, warm, friendly, and caring people I've ever known, and she makes some kick-ass snickerdoodles. I've had the distinct pleasure of watching her go from building a single costume to a whole giant wardrobe of fantastic characters. She's also a ConTessa GM, and GM'd one of our first tournaments! Her creativity is limitless, and I find her a deep inspiration (whether she knows it or not). It takes a lot of ovaries to dress up in a chainmail bikini!
Stacy Dellorfano: Let's start off with the basics!
Elle est Forte: Hello! I'm Elle est Forte Cosplay.
I started cosplaying in early 2012, but I have a long history of loving to dress up. My day job is an EKG technician, but I also own a little store called GingerGoneGaming.
I sell home decor, toys and accessories and take costume commissions. I'm also a professional maid performer (more on that later) and an avid gamer (hence my store name).
SD: Give us a quick twirl through your costume closet. What are some of your favorite things, and why are they your favorites?
EF: Ok quick may not happen but here goes...
I like to have a new cosplay every event or about 4-6 new ones a year, so my closet is getting a little stuffed. My favorite is the Sorceress from Dragon's Crown:
I first saw the art about six months before the game came out and debuted the cosplay two days after it released. As with a lot of my cosplays, the first version was created about a week before the event and went through several alterations until it was as accurate as possible. I feel powerful and sexy wearing it and I look like the character.
My other cosplays include (but aren't limited to), a White Mage from Final Fantasy (my first ever cosplay), Aurora from Child of Light, Pier from La Pucelle, Chiho Sasaki from Devil is a Part Timer, Miku Hatsune and Red from Transistor (photos below). You can see others and my in progress photos on my page.
I've also started branching out into other non character cosplays. I revamped a very old costume into a Renaissance Courtesan cosplay:
And I made a cosplay based on fanart of a rabbit and a bear from Dangan Ronpa (my husband even cosplayed with me!):
SD: When I first met you a few years back, you were just getting into cosplay. It might not have been your first cosplay, but the first cosplay I remember was that awesome Red Sonja costume you put together. Can you take us back to the very beginning? What were the major motivating factors that pushed you from thinking about cosplaying to going through with it and creating your first costumes? How did it make you feel?
EF: Red Sonja has always been a favorite character. I first made the costume as a surprise on Valentine's for my husband (another fan of Red Sonja so it went over big). A big motivation to make her was I was terrified of cosplaying her. She's all naked and attractive and powerful and I was none of those. I saw it as a challenge for both my skills and my self esteem. So I bought some sequined fabric and hand sewed it together. The first time I wore it I was visibly shaking and it almost fell apart instantly but I did it! I had worn a favorite character! I remade it stronger and wore it several time since then. She's still a favorite though I've retired that cosplay.
I still have a lot of self esteem problems, especially after some medical problems that caused me to gain a lot of weight. I sometimes have trouble being kind to myself in photos or even the mirror. Cosplay is a way to know my body size well and to be pleased with it. I love dressing up and being pretty and admired. I even admit I like the attention! I love that connection I get with strangers who also love my character. It can be a hard, frustrating and scary hobby but those little moments make it all worth it.
SD: As you know, I cosplayed for the first time ever at Gen Con 2015. I didn't even pick anything particularly difficult or even revealing. Even then, I felt majorly self-conscious the entire time I was in costume. When I met up with you on the other hand, you were cool, collected, and totally in-character for our picture. I seem to remember that Red Sonja costume being one of the first you wore publicly (which you lookedfantastic in, by the way). That must have been difficult, and nerve-wracking. How did you get over your nerves and just go for it? What was it like? At some point, did it turn from nerves to empowerment? What sort of advice would you give other girls who may be interested in cosplaying, but find themselves a bit afraid to be that vulnerable in public?
EF: First I WAS SO STINKING PROUD OF YOUR COSPLAYS! THEY LOOKED AWESOME!
It's weird being in costume even in a place where everyone else is. There is a level of ridiculousness and pride you have to get over. I still sometimes make my husband pump gas for me if I'm in cosplay. You have to understand that people will look at you and they will have an opinion of you, good or bad. I try and focus on how fun it feels to dress up! That I get to step out of my comfort zone and be a little brave. It's also a really good ice breaker for strangers and I feel more brave around people when I have that buffer of being dressed as their favorite character.
If you find yourself nervous, that's ok. Be nervous, don't fight it. Accept you will feel silly and will actually look silly. Start small, something simple, a beloved character, or something just cosplay enough to feel comfortable. Know your comfort level and if you never get past that its ok. Also know it's ok to push it and be brave. Go with other people because bravery loves company. Eventually the nerves turn into excitement and when you find yourself getting stares at Noodles and Co as you eat in a petticoat and 3 foot bridal train, you like it.
SD: As a cosplayer, what are some of the events and types of things you typically do? I think a lot of people think of cosplayers as folks who dress up and go to conventions, but I know there's much more to it than that!
EF: Conventions are a big cosplay draw, especially anime conventions. But other events cosplayers go to are picnics, day trips to parks or museums, specially set up photo shoots, Renaissance fairs, movie openings and lots of others. A lot of cosplayers will make a costume and set up photoshoots especially to capture their hard work. Some professional cosplayers get paid to make appearances and even do modeling on the side. I did a maid photoshoot in a public library once and IT WAS TERRIFYING! It was full of people and everyone was watching and I wanted to sink into the earth. But the photos turn out amazing and we ate Korean food afterwards so no regrets!
SD: Let's talk about Maid Cafes! When you first started talking about them on social media, I'm completely embarrassed to admit I had to Google 'Maid Cafe' to figure out what as going on there. Even then, the explanation largely depended on who was giving it. As someone who actively participates in maid cafes, can you give us a brief Maid Cafe 101 class? I promise I'll sit still and be attentive!
EF: First of all contrary to popular belief, they are not sexual. They in fact strive for innocence and cuteness. If someone gets a boner off of that, it's not our intention nor problem.
Maid cafes are originally from Japan. It's a sort of dinner theater where your wait staff are dressed in cute uniforms and greet you as if you were the master of the house. Common greetings are "Welcome home." It's meant to provide an adorable, welcoming atmosphere where you can go eat, be entertained, and escape outside problems for a while. In Japan there are year round cafes you can visit, but in the U.S. they're mostly associated with anime conventions. While I've been a professional maid since 2013, I recently became a member of My Cup of Tea, part of Anime USA's convention and the most popular cafe in the country. We serve adorable food and drinks, dance, sing, and play games with the customers. Men are Master, women are Princess (and whichever variation you prefer we gladly accommodate). It's a lot of fun and very high energy. Most people are determined to enjoy themselves and we all end up having a blast. It can be a very rewarding hobby.
SD: So, I don't know how to sew, I'd be a wreck on a sewing machine (seriously, there's one sitting out in my garage TERRIFYING me at the moment), but I'm super excited about cosplay. Where do I start? How do I get involved?
EF: What if I told you you don't have to sew? A lot of us started as closet cosplayers. That means we scrounge for parts that we can throw together to make a character. A good example is my Mitsuru from Persona 3. She's 95% stuff I pulled from the closet.
You can also *gasp* buy your cosplay. I will warn you it can be expensive and you get what you pay for. If it's inexpensive it probably is really poorly made. But I know a lot of people buy their cosplays or commission them and it's ok. Cosplay is about having fun, not who's the best and most talented.
If you're determined to make your own stuff I highly suggest getting a good, solid lesson. Either a class or a patient friend. Even the most simple sewing machines are confusing and you have to know the basics of troubleshooting. A basic sewing machine wont cost too much and as long as it has a straight and a zigzag stitch you'll accomplish a lot with it. Learn some basic hand sewing too, like how to sew on a button. Sometimes if you can get a good base for a cosplay you can sew accessories onto it to be more accurate.
Know your skill level and PUSH it. I'm determined to always learn something new. I could hardly sew in a straight line when I was 21, but I was determined to spend the summer learning. I always want to learn skills and increase my crafting vocabulary. My goal next year is to take on armor *shudder*
There's a lot of resources out there to learn what you need. A lot of my problem is I'll have the head knowledge, but not the skills or tools to perform it. I had to learn applique, wings and worbla for Aurora and I'm so proud of how she turned out. I'm a weird shape so I had to learn to make my own patterns and fit them. When I started I had no idea you have to iron your seams or backstitch or wash your fabric before you cut. And it took me 10 years to know what little I do now. But it's always expanding and interesting and stimulating.
To get involved find an event you can cosplay it. Gen Con is great, its big and friendly and encouraging of cosplayers. There are forums, facebook groups, Google+ communities and many ways to get in contact with cosplayers in your area. While it is intimidating and you hear horror stories of mean people, for the most part it's just people who want to enjoy dressing up. Find some good cosplay buddies and help each other. If you feel really motivated start a cosplay page on facebook or instagram. Get some followers, they'll encourage you to stretch yourself and keep it up. If you want photos find a photographer to take them. Most shoots I've had are free or at most $30. Do some research in your area. Most cosplay photographers do it as a hobby too so colaborate. But even if you just want to low-key cosplay once that's perfect. Find a character you enjoy and it does not need to be strictly anime. Any character, even from books and video games and D&D campaigns are welcomed. The goal is to enjoy yourself and try something new.
I hope I've encouraged and answered some questions. If anyone wants to know more they can contact me via my facebook page or email at firstname.lastname@example.org.