1st Place

Madeline Usher



Svenja Niehaus


(click images to to enlarge)

Other Credits

Photography: Hannah Haeseker, Model: Caro Hellweg

Outline the story …

The Fall of the House of Usher by Edgar Allan Poe is a story about two siblings‘ downfall along with their crumbling ancestral line. Everything surrounding them and the old house they live in is breathing decay and death. Every word of the story weaves the vibrant but dim picture of their doom and that is the exact tone I wanted to catch making this costume of Lady Madeline Usher.

Most inspiring for this design were the shapes of the illustrations made by Aubrey Beardsley and Harry Clarke as well as many of McQueens designs such as the oyster gown. The goal was to make her look ghostly and frail while still maintaining the aristocratic touch – thus making her suffering seemingly noble.

Madeline is first seen almost ghost-like in appearance while still alive due to her suffering of catalepsy. This culminates in her haunting her frail brother after her apparent death. The design is therefore aiming to make her look sickly and transcendent using layers of transparency. Other elements, such as the overly long skirt impeding her legs while walking and the luxurious but fine ostrich feathers are a nod to her being of aristocratic descent. The corset is the main feature of the design: it is stiff and straight-lined, ignoring her actual body features. It‘s shape is geometric, almost non-organic, further obscuring the person inside it. Also the color palette with it‘s pale violets, greys and browns makes her look as if she is slowly fading away.

Outline the construction…

A very important characteristic of this project are structures. The front of the corset and back of the coat are smocked in an irregular pattern, evoking the likeness of soft tissue or cancer cells growing. This was actually the first time I used smocking techniques, aiming to achieve much more depth than the original smooth silk taffeta provides. Since the silk is changing colors in different light situations, the structures give even more life to the corset.
All the patterns are self-drafted; the corset is influenced by rococo in shape (especially the flattening front) and mixed with late 18th century adding in techniques – the main part of the corset is carefully stitched to form tunnels for wood boning in various forms which accentuate the V-shape of the upper body, while the exaggerated hips are mainly formed through cording. The forms are then further highlighted by black piping, fitting the beading in color.
Corruption and sickness are also shown with black goo running down from Madeline's head and neck. This was one of the first features I had in mind for her design. Since I didn't know of any technique to achieve the look, I had to come up with a solution myself. For the headpiece, a base of thermoplastics and beads of different sizes were covered in liquid latex. The part running down on the chest is the same technique using thick jersey threads. This was the most experimental part of this whole project and I utterly enjoyed it.




  1. Avatar Martina Girardi on March 11, 2021 at 8:29 pm

    I love this dusty lilac palette, feels melanchonic and tragic. The whole ensemble, the pose, are just stunning

    • Avatar Svenja on March 12, 2021 at 5:23 pm

      Thank you so much, I’m delighted the melancholic mood I aimed to transport is received so well.

  2. Kitty Mortensen Kitty Mortensen on March 11, 2021 at 9:14 pm

    This is such a clever use of fabrics and textures! It works beautifully

  3. Avatar Laura Holland on March 11, 2021 at 9:55 pm

    Fabulous- much better than the films costume.

    • Avatar Svenja on March 12, 2021 at 5:27 pm

      Thanks Laura, I’d indeed love to imagine a movie redone in this design.

  4. Avatar Mary Jo Ernst on March 12, 2021 at 1:23 am

    Love every detail of this design Its brilliant

  5. Avatar Rebecca on March 12, 2021 at 4:01 am

    the beaded creep of black over the hip cording is spooky and evocative!

  6. Avatar Kathleen Davies on March 12, 2021 at 4:57 pm

    The SHAPE. The BEADING. The FEATHERS. My mind is blown!

    • Avatar Svenja on March 12, 2021 at 5:19 pm

      All the parts taking most of the time, yes! I loved every minute of it. Thank you for appreciating!

  7. Avatar Maria Jones on March 12, 2021 at 9:22 pm

    Absolutely gorgeous! I love the combination of structure, gossamer and ethereal

  8. Avatar Rowan Rubin on March 12, 2021 at 11:18 pm

    Immediately, the shape of this corset makes it really stand out! And I absolutely adore your inspirations. You have great taste. 😀

  9. Avatar Amanda on March 13, 2021 at 1:02 am

    Such gorgeous detail!!

  10. Avatar Carly Van Groeningen on March 13, 2021 at 10:06 am

    Beautifully done, and I admire how every aspect of the outfit is influenced by the character.

  11. Avatar Stanislava Pilkova on March 13, 2021 at 9:43 pm

    It gave me shivers, E.A. Poe would approve

  12. Avatar JAYE SUDAR on March 14, 2021 at 3:30 am

    Amazing. I love your interpretation of the character.

  13. Avatar Mathilde on March 14, 2021 at 6:10 am

    What a delicate and precise work. I love it, I’t really amazing

  14. Avatar Camille on March 14, 2021 at 3:06 pm

    it’s marvelous, the delicate beading, the chaotic smocking, the colors, the transparencies…
    it’s exquisite.

  15. Avatar Elowen on March 15, 2021 at 9:42 am

    Oh good grief, it’s incredible. Just, incredible. The perfection of all those rows of cord, the delicate beading. Amazing!

  16. Avatar Maeri Certo on March 15, 2021 at 2:12 pm

    Phenomenal job! It’s a very evocative piece, and one of the most beautiful renderings of decay I’ve seen. Your color palette is ephemeral in the best ways, and your details are incredible. Well done!

  17. Avatar Tanaka on March 18, 2021 at 8:40 pm

    This is INCREDIBLE! Oh the drama! And that picture is amazing too 🙂

  18. Avatar Kikkii von Fustian on March 21, 2021 at 9:18 pm

    Oh, the colour choices and detailing are just gorgeous! And the headpiece is really cool, I like how you solved that idea 🙂

  19. Avatar Danielle Probst on March 27, 2021 at 4:31 pm

    I’m not familiar with this story but having seen this costume and read about how you interpreted it makes me want to go back to the original. Incredibly creative and a very moody blend of colors. Outstanding.

  20. Caroline Woollin Caroline Woollin on March 28, 2021 at 9:25 am

    A fabulous combination of textures on this piece – I love how you have combined so many techniques. Oh and the pattern cutting is pretty darn good as well! Incredible.

  21. Avatar Lizzie Blake on April 1, 2021 at 9:10 pm

    These are some of my favorite colors, and I love everything that you’ve been able to incorporate with the smocking and beading

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