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Triple winner of Venice Carnival’s ‘Best Costume’ award, Tanja Schulz-Hess speaks to Lifestyle Boutique

After 14 years of creating costumes as an amateur hobbyist, Tanja Schulz-Hess, winner of the three consecutive Best Costume awards at the Venice Carnival from 2007 to 2009, has decided to start her own business under the name World of Costumes. We caught up with the German costume maker to find out what it is about her creations that stand out from the crowd and leave such a lasting impression.

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When designing a new costume, where do you draw your inspiration from?

Everywhere! Ideas jump out at me wherever I am, in the street, when I read a book, browsing the flea market or playing with my children. The world and everything in it is my playground. I have visions of the wildest dresses in my heart popping up more often than I can make them. So many wonderful creations, but so little time.

Do you create and develop your own masks to accompany your costumes?

I create everything – the dress, shoes, accessories, jewellery and mask. This year I want to buy a 3D printer to create masks never seen before in Venice.

Tanja Schulz Venice Carnival (58)

Image courtesy of Tobias Schulz-Hess

What is it about your creations that set them apart from the competition?

I create costumes with strong influences from Venice’s contemporary and historical culture that tell a story. They are witty and playful. The more the observer opens their mind to the creation, the more there is to see and discover. For me, Venice is the perfect symbiosis of the past, present and future. When you visit the city, you can feel the connection with time, art and depth.

That is the same with my costumes which is why I call my creations ‘Contemporary Carnival Art’. My dresses are not just reproductions of bygone designs, they are a combination of the old and the new. For example, my 18th Century Jeans Dress. The shape and pattern are from the past but the fabric and details are contemporary. The clash of old and new with unusual materials bring my creations a fresh twist.

Do you have a favourite event at the Venice Carnival?

In Venice there are various kinds of events. Some of the bigger ones have become increasingly commercialised and lost their spirit. In recent years I have been invited to more private events that have fewer people but with very high quality costumes and entertainment such as the Raffaele Dessi & Francesco Briggi banquets. I love these the most because they are full of people who really embrace the carnival spirit. This year I have been invited as the star guest at a banquet Michele Doardo, one of Venice’s best wig makers who used to work in London with Alexander McQueen.

Tanja Schulz Venice Carnival (57)

Image courtesy of Tobias Schulz-Hess

The carnival aside, what is your favourite thing about Venice?

The atmosphere in general. Nowhere in the world does the past meet the present and future so perfectly. Since I mostly hang around with Venetians and speak Italian, Venice feels like a second home to me. I just have to set foot in the city to feel calm, inspired and healthy.

Have you ever designed a costume for a celebrity?

Since I have not worked as a professional until now and did not promote my art, I have not dressed a celebrity yet but someone is welcome to be the first!

Do you meet with customers who want a bespoke costume?

I enjoy the process of digging out what people see in themselves or want to become for a day. I tell them ‘forget your limits, forget what a normal tailor would do, start with your dreams and desires and then we can go where you haven’t been before’. That helps them to free their mind and what comes as a result is usually very beautiful and inspiring for both of us.

Tanja Schulz Venice Carnival (79)

Image courtesy of Helmut Drinhaus

Do you have anything special in store for this year’s Carnival?

The theme of one of my two costumes this year is ‘The Descent of the Titanic’, which was inspired by me stumbling across a model of the Titanic in our basement that my husband was given as a communion gift in. It will sink in my wig and stand out from the hair by approximately 80 cms.

What materials do you use to create a costume and where do you source them from?

I have used saris I bought when I was in India, playing cards and decorations I found in Beijing, lace from Shanghai, literally anything I can find. I have about 48 boxes of vintage items from around the world sourced from my travels. Even old lace inherited from my husband’s family is finding a second life again. Isn’t it a beautiful thought? That an old curtain from the 50’s will shine again in the streets of the Serenissima and make people gasp!

Tanja Schulz Venice Carnival (70)

Image courtesy of Tobias Schulz-Hess

Tanja Schulz-Hess lives in Hamburg, Germany with her husband and two children. She has won the 1st Prize Award for ‘Best Costume at the Carnival of Venice’ in 2007, 2008 and 2009 and taught summer Venetian Mask Making and Venetian Costume Making classes in Vicenza. For 14 years she worked at Germany’s most prestigious political magazine DER SPIEGEL before opening her own costume making business World of Costumes.

World of Costumes displays the three Venice Carnival award-winning costumes in a themed exhibition. Customers can rent costumes, wigs, handmade hats, jewellery from the ‘Veramente Venezia’ collection and unique accessories garnished with Venetian style that are all designed and created by Tanja Schulz-Hess. The shop also runs workshops, event planning and a gallery where photographs and canvas prints of the Venice Carnival can be purchased.

For further information, please visit the World of Costumes website. It is currently in the development stages and a new look site will be available from April 2014.

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