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Paula Drake, Founding Creator of Tutus Divine - Luncheon and Interview

by Susan Weinrebe
November 7, 2006
Chicago, IL
(See previous interview with Paula Drake)
(Dining at the Park Grill)
(Tutus Divine website)
Paula Drake and I met for luncheon at the Park Grill before attending the Masterworks (see article about MasterWorks) performance at the Harris Theater, of the long-awaited returning New York City Ballet.

The last time I had met with Paula, the entrepreneur behind the custom-designed ballet costume business, Tutus Divine, we had been in her studio and she was casually dressed for work. Today, tall and willowy, and wearing an elegant black dress, she looked very much like a dancer herself.

Being with Paula is to recognize that her passion is dance. As Paula sees it, "I look at dancers as these amazing creatures. They start young, they're focused, they have a goal. I don't think there's another sport out there that challenges as much as dance. They don't do it for fame; they don't do it for the money. They can't imagine doing anything else." Well she should know this with a daughter who performs with the Cincinnati Ballet!

Paula's gift of design enhances the total esthetic of these 'amazing creatures' who perform. I asked her what role she thought her clothing played in a presentation. "Costumes show the degree of respect you have for your audience." Just as a dancer must honor the audience and reach for perfection, their appearance is part of that perfection.

A costume must "read well" on stage. What this means is that when Paula and her associate, Elizabeth Schiller, create a garment, the clothing is an extension of the role. It must move properly, assist a partner to lift and turn a ballerina, for instance by critically placed boning, and go beyond merely being pretty. Paula's design must, "…show the dancer to her best advantage," and this can only be achieved through intensive fittings and measurements for each custom-created costume.

Recently, she was in the audience when a young dancer wore a poorly conceived costume, one which was negatively noteworthy. It "…receded into the background and didn't look like a princess." Using her expert eye and vast experience to assess the effect of a costume, Paula told me, "If something doesn't read well on stage, we (she and Elizabeth) fix it until it's perfect."

Being a former teacher, I was delighted to hear that Paula has never stopped learning, taking classes and going to school. "When I went to tutu school, I went because I like to and then to find people who can help us, Elizabeth and me, do what we need." One of the challenges, faced at Tutus Divine, might be like a recent request.

One lady's company had a limited budget and needed to stretch their costume dollars as much as possible. "We're designing costumes to be intertwined in her ballets. The fairies will be in the Waltz of the Flowers, Hansel and Gretel, Cinderella, and the Nutcracker."

Enrolled in a tiara class, no task was too mundane to learn properly. From threading crystals to fabricating the framework of
the tiara itself, Paula hand built each headpiece. In these classes, I wondered, didn't a lot of sharing and potential copying go on? Matter of factly, Paula explained, "There are knock offs in all designs," but, "I can create faster than they can copy!"

How would Paula sum up the value of her work to a dancer? The motto of her company says it well: "You only have one chance to make a first impression."
Park Grill Sign and Marathon Tent

Park Grill Sign and Marathon Tent

Photo © & courtesy of Susan Weinrebe


Park Grill Entrance

Park Grill Entrance

Photo © & courtesy of Susan Weinrebe


Emily and Robert

Emily and Robert

Photo © & courtesy of Susan Weinrebe


Cajun Chicken

Cajun Chicken

Photo © & courtesy of Susan Weinrebe


Paula Drake

Paula Drake

Photo © & courtesy of Susan Weinrebe

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