In May of last year, I got the harebrained idea to try to crank out a Marion Lavorre costume before the end of Critical Role's Campaign 2. Spoiler alert: That didn't happen. What did happen is that I reminded myself that blitz builds are not my preferred mode, and realized I've been veering away from accuracy-focused replication and into a "creative interpretation" phase of my cosplay career, in addition to gaining a lot of satisfaction from quality construction and finishing. I took my time and finished her in the fall.

So she wasn't intended as a competition costume at all, and in fact I didn't really consider her labor-intensive enough for a high-level cosplay competition. But then it was announced about six weeks out that C2E2's anomalous December 2021 edition -- which we already knew would be skipped as a Crown Championships of Cosplay qualifier due to pandemic-induced schedule shuffling -- would have a standalone "Cosplay Celebration" competition in that traditional Saturday evening Main Events slot. And I figured, hey, why not? The usual heavy hitters would probably be sitting this one out (or, like JediManda, judging), so it might be a chance for some new faces to get on the stage, and it could be fun to be one of them.


And it was, And... then I placed third. *boggle*

What follows below is the original, wordy version of the text for my "build book," the packet of information given to the judges at pre-judging, where each entrant meets with them individually. You only have a few minutes to explain your process, and they have very limited time to review anything later. So my standard practice is to write it all out and then pare it down to the absolute essentials for brief, impactful photo captions. If you're curious, you can see the final version of my build book here. (I've developed a panel on creating a build book that I hope to present at cons in the near future; I'll be sure to announce if/when it's scheduled.) But the wordy version is just right for a blog post, so here we are!


Critical Role's player characters have official portraits for cosplayers to work from, but for NPCs like Marion Lavorre, the Ruby of the Sea, we take our cues from descriptive details provided by Dungeon Master Matthew Mercer and the wealth of fan art created by the Critter community.

Marion, mother of the Mighty Nein's beloved "little blue tiefling" cleric Jester, is a famous courtesan and singer in the colorful city of Nicodranas on the Menagerie Coast. The more Mercer described the city - a culturally rich and diverse seaport, known for its striking architecture, part of a confederation of autonomous city-states - the more I was reminded of Renaissance Venice.


So my initial idea for a Marion cosplay was to go full Dangerous Beauty, drawing from the sumptuous and fanciful look created for the legendary Venetian courtesans of the 16th century by costume designer Gabriella Pescucci when director Marshall Herskovitz wanted them to be visually distinct from the wives of the aristocracy.

I was just starting to think about sketching ideas when I ran across Tough Tink's stunning Renaissance-inspired illustration of Marion, and from that moment on, that was what I had to make!MarionbyToughTink


This wasn't intended to be a competition cosplay. In fact, I tried to blitz-build it over Memorial Day weekend, hoping to create and share it before the rapidly-approaching close of Campaign 2. I still used the full holiday weekend, but it quickly became apparent that, while I could probably pull out all my community theatre tricks to make something presentable by my self-imposed deadline, I wouldn't be satisfied with it. I had to do it right.

I would, however, stick with the challenge I set myself at the start of the pandemic: Any "unplanned" costume must come as much as possible from either my existing stash or thrifted materials. In the end I managed that with all the fabrics and much of the trim, as well as most of the jewelry components.


MarionbyKiriLeonardThe horns came first, for a makeup test before I decided for sure to do a proper cosplay. Starting with inexpensive black plastic costume horns, I initially tried out a beige/gold paint job (inspired by another fan portrait by Kiri Leonard). The horns came first, for a makeup test before I decided for sure to do a proper cosplay. Starting with inexpensive black plastic costume horns, I initially tried out a beige/gold paint job (inspired by another fan portrait by Kiri Leonard).

Once I committed to the Tough Tink design, I repainted them red, but kept the idea of the gold wash.

horns1   horns2

Products: Vallejo brush-on primer, acrylic craft paints, acrylic varnish

Techniques: dilute wash, dry brush

horns3   horns4   horns5

The wig is one I "rescued" from the Halloween shelf at a thrift store a few years ago - it was there with no bag or anything, and wouldn't have stayed looking this nice for very long! The metal split headband used to have a jeweled butterfly on it, but the solder broke several years ago and I've been holding onto it to use for something else. Now was the time!

I made craft foam bases on the horns and the headband to set the neodymium magnets into so they would be flush. Everything is attached with Barge cement.


chemiseThe sheer white peeking from the neckline and draped over the leg slit in the illustration imply a sleeveless chemise, but I added sleeves for reasons of body paint practicality, providing a washable layer between painted skin  and decidedly-not-washable gown and oversleeves, as well as camouflaging the edge of the illusion gloves.

JesterbyAriOrnerAfter a couple weeks of hunting, I found the perfect fabric in a pair of curtains at a local thrift store - just the right amount of sheer with woven-in gold accents. Casings for the sleeve elastics and the neckline and leg drawstrings are made with soft lace hem tape to complement the sheer fabric. The base pattern was the blouse from Simplicity 7756 (out of print), modified for length, a narrow neckline ruffle, and trailing split sleeves. I didn't consciously plan for the sleeves to echo Jester's (official 2018 portrait by Ari Orner), and in fact was thinking more of some of the Dangerous Beauty costumes, but it was a happy outcome!




While the illustration suggests a solid purple silk lined in gold brocade, the choices that jumped out of my stash reversed that a bit. I bought the purple brocade with gold accents on eBay over 20 years ago with thoughts of an Elizabethan court gown that I eventually admitted was never going to happen, but I couldn't bring myself to let go of the fabric. Now I'm glad I didn't! I love it even better in this fantasy-inflected silhouette than I would have in a purely historical gown. For visible linings, I didn't have enough of either the moiré bengaline (left over from a long-ago theatre project) or the synthetic dupioni (thrifted about a year ago), but they worked side-by-side.

The base skirt pattern was McCall’s 3676 (out of print). redrafted to add a curved train and leaving the left front seam open. All skirt panels are flatlined, with the gold dupioni for the front and side front panels around the slit, and the rest in black broadcloth. The skirt is finished with French seams, bias bound hem (in the gold dupioni), side seam pocket on the right, and placket behind the back closure. Closure is two flat skirt hooks and a large snap. A crescent-shaped balayeuse attaches to the underside of the train with snap tape for easy laundering. The train can be bustled up and snapped to two twill tapes inside for an effect similar to an 18th century polonaise (and keeping the train safe on a con floor!).

skirtpattern   skirt   train   bustled
balayeuse   bustletapes   pocket   fastening

The base bodice pattern was Simplicity 8881 (out of print), redrafted for straight instead of curved seams for a more conical 16th century shape, as well as a slightly lowered neckline. Center back, diagonal side front, and center front boning channels were attached to the cotton twill lining before joining it to the fashion fabric. The base bodice pattern was Simplicity 8881 (out of print), redrafted for straight instead of curved seams for a more conical 16th century shape, as well as a slightly lowered neckline. Center back, diagonal side front, and center front boning channels were attached to the cotton twill lining before joining it to the fashion fabric. Recycled shoulder pads are handstitched inside the lining for optimum cleavage. Trims and embellishments are about 60% from stash. All embellishments are hand-stitched.

bodicepattern   bodicelining   bodiceconstruction   bustpads   bodiceembellishment

The partlet comes from the same pattern, with scrap cotton inner neck band and frog closure from stash, and attaches to the inside edge of the neckline with small snaps. Shoulder puffs drafted from scratch and hand-stitched to bodice after construction. Bodice connects to skirt waistband with a flat skirt hook on each side.

The sleeve pattern was Simplicity 7756 (out of print), redrafted to add length. The sleeves attach to the bodice with large snaps.

sleevepattern   partlet   insidebodice   sleevesnap


I already had these historically-inspired gold brocade shoes, but the original plastic heel taps had shattered, so I replaced them with veg-tan leather attached with Barge cement.  Then I made clips with five-loop bows from stash ribbon and the "ruby" poly gems purchased for the bodice embellishment. (Mules are pretty, but I can't ever seem to keep them on my feet, so going with pumps instead was a deliberate departure from the design.) 

shoes   shoeheels   shoeclips


I briefly considered not making a tail, since it's not seen in the illustration. But that would imply that it was hidden under the heavy skirt, which I have to imagine would be terribly uncomfortable for a body part that extends from one's spine! That led me to thinking I wanted it to have a little more internal structure than just a stuffed tube, and after some aimless wandering around the hardware store, I settled on plastic split-flex tubing meant for organizing electronic cables. I had some red fleece-backed tablecloth vinyl in my stash (I honestly don't remember why!) with a faux leather texture, and the fleece gives just enough padding under the "skin." I patterned it from scratch, opting for a heart-shaped spade at the tip because it just seemed to suit her. It was a bit too shiny, so I toned it down with acrylic matte varnish and rubbing alcohol.

tailcore   tail   tailbase


drawersdrawerspatternThere was a hilarious conversation among the player characters in which Jester was surprised to learn some of her friends not only didn't wear underwear, but didn't know what it was. Which means Marion raised her little girl to wear it, which means, although no such thing is seen in the illustration, clearly some fancy undies over the tights representing her red skin are called for! I decided on purple silk dupioni with a nice froth of off-white lace and purple ribbon trim, all from my stash, using Simplicity 3618. Bonus: Poofy drawers under an open(ish) skirt echo my original Dangerous Beauty idea, since the film has several instances of courtesans wearing feminized trunk hose under open overskirts.


The necklace was another deliberate variation from the illustration, because she has a sapphire choker in canon to represent  Jester, her "Little Sapphire," and I had purchased a vintage faux sapphire pendant on Etsy for my costest. The base pearl necklace was one I had with a broken clasp; I removed a few inches from the links and added a new clasp, as well as the additional details around the sapphire pendant.

The headdress is made from two filigree tassel caps, an old earring drop, a few bits of chain, small pearl garland, assorted individual pearl beads, and goldtone wire, all assembled pretty much by trial and error until it looked enough like the illustration. Then I put on the wig and horns, hooked everything up, and got very lucky that it turned out secure and balanced!

sapphirependant   headdress   valmarionheadshoulders


For more photos of the finished look, check out my Cosplay Gallery!

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