Animal magic

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A Harrogate artist is creating stunning partywear and dressing up outfits for children. She talks to Yvette Huddleston.

Whether we are prepared to admit it or not, we all love dressing up once in a while – for a wedding, a special occasion, a ball – there is something very satisfying about sprucing yourself up, putting on your glad-rags and transforming your everyday self into a different or more glamorous version of you. It probably all goes back to childhood where dressing up is an important part of the rich fantasy world that children inhabit. Harrogate-based designer-maker Demelsa Haughton has recognised this desire – particularly among children – and is launching her new brand, Racoma Costume, at the end of this month.

She will be creating exquisite high-end made to order costumes initially for children but eventually also for adults. A 37-year-old mother of three daughters aged 19, seven and five, Demelsa’s background is in art – she was formerly a painter who specialised in nudes. “They weren’t full nudes rather snapshots of various parts of the body,” she says. “They were quite photo-realistic and focussed on the texture of the skin. I sold my work through the Art Apartment in Knaresborough but then when I had my two younger daughters, painting just became impossible.”

In order to continue to satisfy her creative urge, Demelsa decided instead to try out dressmaking and enrolled on an evening course at Harrogate College in 2008, following it with a pattern cutting course the following year. She enjoyed the combination of the creative, practical and technical that the two courses provided so much that she went on to sign up for the college’s degree course in fashion design and production. Dressmaking had not been a particular interest for Demelsa before – she chuckles as she remembers the “horrific” garments she made when she tried to make clothes as a teenager – but she found that she “ended up absolutely loving it” and got a first in her degree.

For her final year collection, Demelsa designed and created a set of children’s luxury costumes for which she received the Dean’s prize for outstanding work. “I am not particularly interested in High Street fashion,” she says. “I like things that last for a long time. My children like to wear costumes and dress up and I used to have a Victorian bridesmaid’s dress that I loved as a child – I suppose I was trying to relive my childhood in a way.”

Her pieces are beautifully designed one-off costumes with intricate beading, feathers and lace combining different textures and topped off with stunning embellishments. “I like to add depth to things,” says Demelsa. “Adding an extra something, putting different fabrics together to see what effect I can create. I am more interested in turning a garment into a little piece of art than mass production.”

Creating the costumes, which are all handmade, is very time-consuming and Demelsa is currently trying to get the production time down to four or five hours. Her first creation is the Queen Bee, an eye-catching bee costume for girls aged 2 to 10 years, made out of cotton velvet, corded champagne lace, satin ribbon and sequins. “I am making a stand-alone dress that is designed for special occasions,” explains Demelsa. “Then you can add the various extra elements – wings, sting, mask and so on – to make it into a costume.”

Demelsa’s original collection for her degree included a swan, butterfly, ladybird, crow and bat. All the costumes will be designed and made to order in Harrogate by Demelsa. Adult ones will follow and in the longer term she says she would like to create an illustrated book to accompany each piece.

Costumes start at £80 and masks at about £40.