SAN ANTONIO — If you've ever been excited about the gowns people wear at the Oscars, the Fiesta coronation gowns in San Antonio will knock your socks off. Decked out in rich colors and jewels hand-sewn into long elaborate trains and accompanied by crowns that look like they came from a princess fairy tale, the pieces of art are crafted carefully by local dressmakers.
Although they weren't worn for the Battle of Flowers and Fiesta Flambeau parades due to the pandemic canceling those events, they are on display at the Witte Museum through August 17.
So how much are they each worth?
"This is the most asked question by far and the answer is that I don’t know," Amy Fulkerson, chief curator at the Witte Museum said. "Each participant and their family negotiates the price of their coronation robes with the dressmaker and crown maker. The price may vary depending on many factors including time and materials."
Fulkerson said San Antonio is fortunate to have so much local talent that is able to make the visions of the Mistress of the Robes come to life.
"What many people do not realize, is that the crowns, dresses and trains are made here in San Antonio. We have our very own couture industry made of highly-skilled dressmakers and crown makers who have honed their craft over years," she said. "At the Witte Museum, we like to shine a light on their talents by allowing the public to see these stunning works of art up close. In this way, they can appreciate the intricate details of the embroidery, beading and design that go into translating the coronation robes from a two-dimensional sketch into a wearable work of art."
The Mistress of the Robes is selected one to two years in advance of the coronation, Fulkerson said. Part of her job is to select a theme for the court and to conduct research (which will aid her in choosing the design for the coronation robes for each member of the court), the script and the set design.
Then it's onto the sketching process which has gone digital.
"This allows the Mistress of the Robes and the Court Artists to create their sketches to scale and to be very precise in their designs. This specificity along with an abundance of new materials has contributed to the dresses and trains becoming increasing elaborate," Fulkerson said.
The process continues over several months while the dressmakers and crown makers work from August until February to create the coronation robes (which includes a dress, train and crown).
Fulkerson said each dress and train can take up to 150,000 hours of work, so the dressmakers and crown makers have teams of assistants because they are often working on more than one set of coronation robes at a time.
The key figures for the Court of Parisian Splendour are:
- Mistress of the Robes: Kate Park
- Court Artists: Wendy and Amy Stieren
- Dressmakers: Clara Chumney, Javier Castillo, Roberto Gutierrez, Veronica Prida, Laura Sepulveda and Mechiel Whitmore
- Crown Makers: Javier Castillo, Robert Gutierrez, Cari Hill and Veronica Prida
Plans for the 2022 coronation robes are already underway. In August, the Mistress of the Robes and the Court Artists will present sketches to next year’s court and the process of creating the coronation robes will begin again.