Our Style model, Megan Mur­ray, is also a cos­tume de­signer

Grand Magazine - - ARTS & ENTERTAINMENT - | LYNN HADDRALL

Megan Mur­ray mod­els all kinds of fash­ions when she walks a run­way. In her spare time she’s also a de­signer, es­cap­ing to worlds of fan­tasy.

Meet a 22-year-old Kitch­ener cos­player who’s build­ing a busi­ness by hav­ing fun with fash­ion.

You might have seen cos­play­ers at a lo­cal con­ven­tion such as Kitch­ener Comic Con or Tri-City Su­per Con. Par­tic­i­pants dress as pop cul­ture char­ac­ters. Cos­play has its roots in Ja­pan, but the role-play­ing fad is a global phe­nom­e­non now.

It’s a way to pay trib­ute to your favourite fic­tional char­ac­ters, and a way to con­nect with oth­ers who adamantly share your pas­sion, Mur­ray ex­plains.

“To put it in its sim­plest terms, cos­play stands for cos­tume play. Just think Hal­loween, but any time of the year. You take the Hal­loween as­pect of want­ing to dress up and make cos­tumes, and you mix it with just a love of what­ever char­ac­ter it is.”

Most cos­play­ers cre­ate their own out­fits, dress­ing as char­ac­ters from film, science fic­tion, video games and comic books. They at­tend con­ven­tions where they show off their fash­ions, meet fel­low en­thu­si­asts, and talk with ac­tors who play the iconic roles.

That’s how Mur­ray got hooked. When she was in Grade 11 at St. Mary’s High School,

a friend suggested at­tend­ing Fan Expo in Toronto, one of the biggest gath­er­ings in the coun­try. It has fea­tured ap­pear­ances from ac­tors in­clud­ing Lucy Law­less (Xena, of “War­rior Princess” fame), Paul Wesley (Ste­fan Sal­va­tore in “The Vam­pire Di­aries”) and Wil­liam Shat­ner (“Star Trek”).

Mur­ray went dressed as Black Widow, a Mar­vel comic book char­ac­ter re­cently played by Scar­lett Jo­hans­son.

“It was my first one. I had thrown to­gether a cos­tume from a Hal­loween store,” she re­calls. Laugh­ing at the mem­ory, she adds: “It was so bad. But it was a first try and it was fun.”

Mur­ray pur­sued her love of cos­play with like-minded stu­dents while study­ing broad­cast TV at Con­estoga Col­lege. Aca­dem­i­cally, she found her­self drawn to work be­hind the cam­era, such as set and cos­tume de­sign. Friends asked her to help with their short films.

Mur­ray grad­u­ated from Con­estoga in 2016 and launched her on­line shop on Etsy in 2017. She calls it Valkyrie Cus­tom Wear. A Valkyrie is a fierce fe­male char­ac­ter from Norse mythol­ogy.

“The Norse in­flu­ence was the main rea­son be­hind choos­ing the name Valkyrie for my shop, but it’s also a nod to my geeky/pop-cul­ture side. Mar­vel has a su­per­hero named Valkyrie and she’s amaz­ing. I wanted the name to evoke im­ages of some­thing beau­ti­ful and pow­er­ful.”

Mur­ray spe­cial­izes in made-to-or­der cos­tumes rang­ing from sim­ple Vik­ing tu­nics to elab­o­rate wed­ding gowns like the one fea­tured in the Pur­ple Wed­ding episode of “Game of Thrones.” Prices go from $200 to $500 but can be higher based on fab­rics and the de­tail work re­quired.

She has carved out a de­sign and sewing space in the kitchen area of the Kitch­ener home she shares with her mother, Sharon. Sadly, her fa­ther, Rick, died in 2012, but her grand­par­ents live nearby and of­fer lots of sup­port.

Mur­ray’s base­ment, pre­vi­ously home to an archery range and Vik­ing cos­tumes, now stores a lot of fab­ric. When not work­ing part time at Win­ners, Mur­ray sits at her Singer sewing ma­chine cre­at­ing mag­i­cal at­tire for cos­play­ers who are hop­ing to re­lease their in­ner he­roes. They reach out to her from around the world.

“I’ll make some­thing and I’ll need to print out the ship­ping la­bel and I’ll be like, wow, this is go­ing to France or this is go­ing to Florida, this is go­ing to Den­mark, and I’m like, this is cool.”

Out­door fes­ti­vals are a good place for Mur­ray to con­nect with cus­tomers and afi­ciona­dos. The Ox­ford Re­nais­sance Fes­ti­val is a sum­mer event held in Dorch­ester, Ont., which also holds a New Year’s Eve Mas­quer­ade Ball. Mur­ray was work­ing on an El­iz­a­bethan gown for that event.

“I have a wed­ding dress as my base, in my car. It’s an ’80s mon­stros­ity, but it will be good for the base. I can take out the sleeves and dye it and use that as the big poof.”

Valkyrie cus­tomers usu­ally have a char­ac­ter or cos­tume in mind when they con­tact Mur­ray. But some, like a re­cent cus­tomer from Wis­con­sin, work col­lab­o­ra­tively with her to de­sign a cos­tume based on a con­cept. That one was based on a sel­dom-seen char­ac­ter in the “Game of Thrones” se­ries.

Mur­ray likes to cap­ture the cus­tomer’s vi­sion. “Just go­ing back and forth and ac­tu­ally com­ing up with this de­sign with some­one is so much fun.”

Ex­am­ples of other re­cent pro­jects are dis­played on man­nequins in her home. A long gown fea­tures hun­dreds of han­drolled roses, care­fully braided leather vines, stretch velour leaves, and sil­ver flower but­tons. It is painstak­ing de­tail work, but Mur­ray knows the joy it will bring to the peo­ple who as­sume the roles of their favourite char­ac­ters.

Mur­ray un­der­stands the thrill of wear­ing

de­signs cre­ated by some­one else. She joined Gem­ini Mod­els more than two years ago and walked her first run­way at a Fash­ion on Yonge show in Toronto, where new de­sign­ers show­case their own work.

“It’s al­ways so fun to wear the new de­sign­ers’ cloth­ing. They’re not nec­es­sar­ily mass mar­ket­ing or try­ing to sell that par­tic­u­lar line; it’s a pro­ject for school that they get to show, so nor­mally it’s the most fun things.”

While she en­joys mod­el­ling, Mur­ray’s fo­cus is firmly on cos­tume creation these days. She draws in­spi­ra­tion from a long list of hob­bies, in­clud­ing her back­ground in horse-rid­ing, archery and com­bat chore­og­ra­phy.

“I have al­ways found it weirdly re­lax­ing do­ing any sort of fight chore­og­ra­phy. It feels like danc­ing be­cause you have all the dif­fer­ent steps. I like fan­tasy and any­thing his­tor­i­cal and it re­ally ap­peals to that side of me.”

A friend who is mak­ing a short film asked Mur­ray to play a shield maiden. She’s pre­par­ing with kick­box­ing lessons and sword-fight­ing classes. At a lean five feet, 10 inches tall, she will be an im­pos­ing fe­male war­rior.

“I want to know what I’m do­ing when I do this. When­ever they need some­one to be a side war­rior, or be shot, I’m like: ‘I die well,’ ” she says, beam­ing.

Asked to choose her favourite cos­play char­ac­ter, she pauses. How can she choose? On any given week­end, Mur­ray could chan­nel her in­ner Lara Croft (“Tomb Raider”), Spike (“Buffy the Vam­pire Slayer”), or Dot­tie Un­der­wood (“Agent Carter”).

Even­tu­ally, she set­tles on her cur­rent favourite – Lagertha, the shield maiden who rises to Queen in the pop­u­lar “Vik­ings” tele­vi­sion se­ries.

There’s no hes­i­ta­tion, how­ever, when Mur­ray de­scribes the cos­tumes that get the biggest re­sponse at con­ven­tions.

“I get the most re­ac­tions when I’m in Dis­ney char­ac­ters. I feel some­times that adults or even other teenagers or cos­play­ers feel a lit­tle bit more awk­ward try­ing to freak out about some­thing,” she says. “But kids have ab­so­lutely no prob­lem with say­ing ‘that’s my favourite char­ac­ter. I’m go­ing to go and hug her now.’ It’s won­der­ful.”

Her favourite con­ven­tion mo­ment in­volved a cos­tume that was a cross be­tween Elsa from “Frozen” and a fe­male char­ac­ter from the video game “As­sas­sin’s Creed.” “Be­cause why wouldn’t that go to­gether?” she quips.

“I was dressed up as an As­sas­sin Elsa. I had the wig, coat, her colours and there were snowflakes. I like to think most peo­ple got it, but there was one lit­tle girl about three or four years old across the con­ven­tion hall. She looked up and ran from her par­ents full-tilt down the hall­way, screamed ‘Elsa’ and just launched her­self at me. I man­aged to catch her and it was adorable.”

Mur­ray re­tains her child­like won­der with ev­ery pro­ject she tack­les, mov­ing far be­yond her first Black Widow cos­tume. To­day, her at­ten­tion to de­tail means spend­ing hours braid­ing leather or cre­at­ing hun­dreds of roses to at­tach to the bot­tom of a long train. She de­scribes her per­sonal style as eclec­tic, an ex­ten­sion of her many hob­bies and a chance to wear one of her 10 coloured wigs.

“All the dif­fer­ent things that I do in­flu­ence the style that I have,” Mur­ray says, tak­ing a break from her lat­est cos­play sewing pro­ject.

“For me, fash­ion is fun. It’s cloth­ing. It isn’t go­ing to hurt any­thing. What­ever you’re wear­ing, the worst you’re go­ing to do is maybe of­fend some­one’s sen­si­bil­ity of style. So have fun with it. You only live once.”

Or maybe you can live more than once by don­ning a cos­tume to re­lease your in­ner war­rior. Mur­ray can help you with that.

PHOTO BY RAJEEMAN PHO­TOG­RA­PHY

Megan Mur­ray chan­nels the char­ac­ter Lagertha, a shield maiden who rose to be Queen in the pop­u­lar “Vik­ings” tele­vi­sion se­ries. Mur­ray cre­ated the cos­tume that fea­tures leather ar­mour and a faux fur cape. Mur­ray is also our Style fea­ture model, start­ing on page 59.

RAJEEMAN PHO­TOG­RA­PHY

Cos­tume de­signer Megan Mur­ray dis­plays some of her cre­ations with help from An­gela Fay Ban­nis­ter, left, wear­ing a dress de­signed for the Christ­mas/Yule sea­son, and Romy Done, right, in a cos­tume in­spired by “Game of Thrones.”

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