Leather armor has been around as long as men have seen fit to fight with each other - and is found in the history of most every culture in the history of the world. It can be worn on the body, head, feet, arms/legs - and can be carried as a shield. It is easy to make, lightweight and strong, can deflect an arrow or sword swipe, and can absorb blows from sticks, cudgels, and other dull weapons. The material to make the armor is readily available on local livestock or wildlife.
In order to make the armor one needs a design or pattern. Asian, European, African, or Middle Eastern - while being similar, each has it’s own design elements. Then some heavy leather, a cutting tool, a punch, some lace and a source of hot water and we’re off to the races.
Once the parts are cut they need fitting and hardening. A simple process really: place the parts in very hot water for a few minutes to allow the leather to absorb the water thus expanding and softening the leather so that it can be formed as it dries to fit the anatomy for which it was designed. The hardening occurs as the leather dries. Some use hot paraffin (in place of water) making it waterproof - but this is not necessary in theater applications.
On stage, the armor not only needs to allow for freedom of movement and breathing, but also offer reliable protection as stage combat can get rather rambunctious. Protecting the lives of the actors is paramount to the run of the production.
Once we have the costume designs on paper, the real fun begins in trying to flesh them into three dimensional garments. As this production is staged outdoors, we a few added parameters to consider: wind (lightweight fabrics will blow too much), and an under-the-stars open, dramatic space (costumes need to make big, bold, dramatic statements) to name a few.
With that in mind,and drawings in hand, we drove to New York City to shop for fabric. We are so grateful that New York is only five hours away; the garment district offers a variety of fabrics and trims that can’t be beat. We walk up and down 37th to 40th streets, wandering in and out of stores packed with bolts of fabric. This part is a bit like a treasure hunt, you never know which little shop will have the perfect fabric. Some fabrics practically jump off the shelf, some take the normal due diligence, but there is always one elusive fabric that brings us to the brink. For this production it was imitation black wolf fur. It was getting late in the day and we still had to drive home, so we decided to split up. Divide & conquer! I finally found what we were looking for in the furthest reaches of a small store and called the others to tell them I had found it. They were in the final negotiations with a street vendor to buy a rabbit fur pelt, and I caught them just as they were about to close a deal. Oh if Julius Caesar had had a cell - the story may have had very different outcome.
Now, with beautiful materials in hand, we start to bring the costumes to life.