Conversations in Cosplay: Saddle the Hippogriffs on Her Love of Disney, the Joy of Group Cosplay and Working on the Perfect Photoshoot
For a lot of cosplayers, creative costuming skills are developed through a desire to pay homage to their favourite characters as accurately as possible. The better a creator gets at crafting and sewing and designing clothes, the more impressive their cosplays look. Often, you see how someone’s skills are improving from cosplay to cosplay. For Lena, the creative mind behind Saddle the Hipogriffs Cosplay, cosplay provided an outlet for her lifelong love of sewing. Discovering cosplay provided the perfect hobby to blend her existing creative passion and her love of her favourite pop culture characters. The intricacy and carefully stitched detail in her cosplays make them a magnet for the attention of cosplay enthusiasts all over.
We talked to Lena to learn more about how the fusion of her two loves has evolved over the years.
PC or Mac?
MAC! I grew up in San Francisco, and since we were so close to Silicon Valley, we started using Apple computers in kindergarten. So I’ve used only Apple since… 1995? Haha.
What is your favourite cereal?
Weetabix! I became addicted when I lived in the UK, and I was so happy when I moved to California and found it at my local Trader Joe’s.
What is your favourite curse word?
I don’t really swear that much, though you gotta love the classics.
If you could pick a world from any video game, where would you live?
I honestly don’t play video games…I have always been terrible at them, and I’d much rather read, sew or watch tv or movies.
What fictional character from movies, comics, TV or video games have you secretly crushed on?
Obi-Wan Kenobi from the Star Wars: Clone Wars TV show. He’s British, sassy and wise. Also he has a past romance with Duchess Satine of Mandalore, who is the Star Wars female I relate to the most.
What got you into cosplaying?
I have been sewing as long as I remember – my mom used to send me to summer sewing camps when I was 6 – so sewing is a quintessential part of who I am. In college, I was the costumer for the theater club and worked in the theater department costume shop during the school year. I interned at the San Francisco Opera costume shop in the summers. When I was in grad school in the UK, I was slowly going crazy without that creative outlet, until a friend invited me to go to London Super Comic Con with her. I made Anna from Frozen before it was even out on DVD, and I was hooked! Cosplay helped me find a community of friends when I moved back to California after I finished my degree.
What was the first character you ever cosplayed?
Anna from Frozen. Back before it was even out on DVD, so there were only 3 Annas and 4 Elsas running around, haha. Not like the 30+ that are standard at every convention today.
How did it feel going out in cosplay for the first time?
AMAZING! I was on the tube–on the Jubilee line–and the doors opened. A little girl and her dad were standing on the platform and her eyes got really big! She asked, “Is that Anna?” And her dad said yes. I waved and gave her a huge grin. That probably made her day, and that was before I even got to the convention!
How does it compare to how you feel showing off new cosplays now?
It’s definitely different. That first time, it was all about exploring the convention, and oh hey I happened to make my first costume in two years. My primary joy in cosplay now is the creative outlet of sewing, so there’s more pride in my construction. I’ve learned so much and really honed my craft in the last 2.5 years. Also, I went to my first con with one friend and knew no one else; but I’ve made so many friends in the community, that now a large portion of time is spent hanging out and catching up with friends. And group cosplays are perfect for that!
What inspired the name ‘Saddle the Hippogriffs’?
I found an old old book in an antique store called Legends of the Middle Ages. On the inside cover, it read, “Saddle the Hippogriffs, ye Muses nine, and straight we’ll ride to a land of old romance.” It just perfectly reflected not only my joy and inspiration in cosplay, but also my medieval history degree and my love of Middle English literature.
When did you realise you were first getting noticed as a cosplayer? How did it make you feel?
I don’t know – have I gotten noticed? Haha. I have a pretty small online following, and I’m thankful that there aren’t too many trolls lurking about… yet. I have had people come up to me at conventions and say they recognize me and love my work, and I’m just like, “aww I’m just a potato with a sewing addiction!” I’m not used to it. I’m grateful, because my creations mean so much to me, and it means a lot to know that others get a similar amount of joy from seeing photos of my costumes. But it’s still so foreign to me.
What makes a character jump out at you as something you have to cosplay?
A large aspect is the personality: the strong, independent female who is maybe a bit introverted and not the center of attention, but a key player in events. Basically a reflection of me, haha. I love Katniss Everdeen, Sansa Stark, Brienne of Tarth, Duchess Satine of Mandalore, Inara Serra, etc. But I also cosplay characters because their costume is pretty, I loved them as a kid, for a photoshoot opportunity, or because I’m bored and want to start something new.
I made Lady Tremaine because I wanted to approach her costume in a way no one else has before. Most people follow the Disney parks design, but I went for a more Victorian influence. And I think it is one of the best things I have ever made. I made Jolly Holiday Bert and am in the process of making Prince Kit from the live action Cinderella for the same reason.
It’s fun to test my skills, and put my own twist on the design. Since I have that theatrical costuming background, I like to show my creativity instead of doing a 100% exact reproduction. But I will also stop at the fabric store on my way home because I’m bored, and whip up a new costume in two days sometimes too!
What’s your most memorable con experience?
I was on one of the upper floors charging my phone at San Diego Comic Con, and I was exhausted. It was my first SDCC, and it really isn’t my type of con. I was about to leave and go back to where I was staying, when suddenly I heard a full orchestra playing the Star Wars theme song. I walked to the balcony, and watched a fireworks display and the San Diego orchestra celebrate Star Wars. Apparently all of Hall H was funneled out to this outdoor area for the event, but I got to watch it all from above. There may have been tears.
What’s your favourite character to cosplay?
Probably Bert from Mary Poppins. The jacket is so unique because it has the iconic stripes, but the shape was inspired by a Victorian riding jacket. I have a curvier figure, so I knew a boxy silhouette would be so unflattering. It was really a turning point in my approach to cosplay and my skill level, but he is also just so much fun to portray! He has so much joy, so much energy! Many of the other characters I cosplay are so somber and serious, but with him I can just have fun!
If you actually had to live as one of the characters you’d cosplayed, which one would it be?
Well definitely not Sansa! So many of these characters have a tragic backstory and have terrible things happen to them. Maybe Inara from Firefly? I would have fun hanging out on a ship with Kaylee and Captain Tightpants!
You do a lot of photo shoots to showcase your cosplays. What’s the most fun you’ve had on a shoot?
They’re so much fun! Probably my favorite was the last time I was in London, back in February. Project Sagittarius is one of my favorite photographers, and we always set up a shoot whenever I go back. We thought it’d be fun to do a very iconic London shoot, so I made Evie Frye from Assassin’s Creed for the occasion. We did a nighttime shoot, moving from Bank Station to Big Ben, and we were out so late that the lights in Big Ben turned off on us! So we had to stop shooting shortly after midnight.
I don’t have any photos back from that shoot yet, but his photos are so beautiful that they are worth the wait. I loved running around businessmen and hanging out in alleyways in front of old churches! I also loved shooting Margaery Tyrell’s dress from the Purple Wedding with him. We shot it at the Lambeth Palace Gardens, which is right next to a library where I studied a 12th century manuscript during my Masters degree.
Do you like to have creative control over how the images turn out or do you let the photographers take the reins?
We collaborate on location and overall tone of the shoot beforehand, but I mostly let the photographers take the lead on location and with editing. Of course I have my poses and I’ll suggest different areas on location, but the photographer sees through the lens. They know a lot more about how the final product will look than I will. And I trust them.
Who are your favourite photographers to work with?
Project Sagittarius is probably my favorite photographer, but Geri Kramer, Con Woman and Colfox are really awesome too. I also love working with Chief Geek and Robert T, and I have just started shooting with Surfside Images and Schou Photography. I love working with a wide variety of photographers, because their styles are all so different, and I learn something new every time I step in front of a camera. So I am always happy when a new photographer approaches me at a convention or online!
You’ve done a lot of group cosplays. Do you prefer working with other people or working alone?
I like a mixture. When you’re in a group, there’s a pressure to finish a costume on time and make sure it’s cohesive. But it is also fun to collaborate and divide the tasks based on your skill set. That’s why I love my Love Live! group: half of us are seamstresses, and half are propmakers. So we split up all the tasks, and everyone has a hand in everyone else’s costume.
I also cosplay with my roommate a lot! We watch shows together or just sit around talking and go, “I want to cosplay this character!” And the other says, “I want to cosplay that character!” It’s nice to have someone else motivating you, and to watch your creations come to life at the same time. It’s also useful if you want to make a less recognizable costume. My roommate made Kaylee’s pink ruffle dress from the Shindig episode of Firefly, and I always wanted to make Inara’s gown from that scene. It’s just not as recognizable for most people walking around a convention, so identifying her costume helps them figure out mine.
I do also love cosplaying solo. Then you are only answering to yourself, and it is no problem if you want to delay your plans. I hate rushing a costume, since sewing is my favorite part. So I would always prefer to re-wear an old costume than rush a new one. With a group, you feel that pressure to finish it and make it look as good as everyone else’s. I always recommend a balance of group costumes, solo costumes, and re-wearing old favorites.
What about a group of characters will make you want to get people together for a group cosplay?
For my Love Live! group, one friend convinced us all to start watching it. And we were hooked! She is definitely our Honoka – she brought us all together, and inspires us all to be the best versions of ourselves. Each of us had a different favorite character, so it was easy to collaborate on group cosplays. Plus the designs are so pretty! Sometimes, it can also just be a few people saying, “hey, we have this idea! Want to join?” Sometimes we follow through and the photoshoot or convention is awesome, and other times the group never happens. But it’s still fun to meet new people who like the same fandoms as you. Sometimes you may not get your favorite character in the group, but it’s the love of the fandom and the people that really inspires.
Do you often initiate group projects? How difficult is it to organise group cosplays?
My roommate is more outgoing than me, so if we create an idea together, she’s usually the one who brings in other members to the group. I did initiate a studio shoot a few months ago, though. I booked the studio, invited the photographers and cosplayers, and split the cost amongst all of us. It became far more affordable that way, plus a number of photographers and cosplayers had the chance to collaborate for the first time. Every cosplayer wore at least two outfits, and each outfit was shot by at least two photographers. I want to organize another one again soon!
As well as direct character cosplays, you also do cosplays of characters in pin-up style. What inspired that?
My personal style is very retro. I wear my Pin-Up Girl Clothing skirts at the office all the time, and it’s honestly one of the most flattering silhouettes for my body type. Retro and Victorian are my favorite silhouettes, but retro is far easier to wear on a daily basis!
What about a character will make you want to give them a pin-up twist?
It usually originates in a random spark of inspiration. I am always dreaming up costume ideas or thinking about how exactly I want to make an upcoming project. Especially on my long commute to and from work. For Pin-Up Captain America, I had a white underbust corset that I never wore, and I was inspired to take it apart and add the red panels. It took me less than an hour to make the spandex dress, and boom I had a costume! I already had the blonde wig and red heels, and I bought the shield at Spirit last year to hang on my wall as decoration.
How do you create the pin-up look in characters that don’t necessarily lend themselves to the style?
Humor and creativity! A group was doing pin-up Disney villains, and I went, which villain would be the angriest about being pin-up? COUNT FROLLO! As a medievalist, I love Hunchback of Notre Dame, so I thought it would be a fun challenge. I started with the iconic hat and shrunk it, then dove into my closet and found a white low-cut blouse, black circle skirt and a necklace with a cross (yay, Catholic school education). I spent maybe an hour on the hat, and the rest was a closet cosplay.
What’s the most difficult cosplay you’ve ever made?
The most difficult was probably Coronation Anna. I started making it when I lived in the UK, and I didn’t have a sewing machine. So I had to go to a sewing cafe in Clapham whenever I needed to do any machine sewing. I also grossly under-estimated the yardage I needed, so I went back to the fabric store maybe three times. I moved to LA half-way through this process, so I was frantically hand-embroidering the panels of the skirt while moving into my new apartment. It took me over 100 hours to embroider the skirt, so I whipped up the bodice in three days and it was a mess. I still have the skirt and I love it, but I sold the bodice a year ago and plan to re-make it eventually. I just have too many other cosplays I want to make first.
Have you ever given up on a cosplay idea because it was too difficult?
Yes! I started making Spider-Woman, but I have so little experience with spandex. I need to ask a friend for some tutorials before I try it again. My Pyrrha Nikos from RWBY is 80% done, and it was my first time making armor. The corset is also my first time working with real leather. The corset just needs to be shortened at the hips and hemmed, and the armor needs weathering. But I’m mostly stumped about how to attach it all together. I hope to finish it soon though, because I used Pyrrha as a test subject prior to making Brienne of Tarth’s armor. I have worked with Worbla a bit before, but I wanted to learn some foam armor skills with Pyrrha.
Are you working on anything new now?
I love the faux dupioni silk at LA Alex in the LA fabric district. I use it as much as possible! It’s in my original design hippogriff Game of Thrones dress, Sansa rose tourney dress, and Maki from Love Live. I have a few projects in mind for that material in the near future. I also love just a high quality cotton or linen. I use it as much as possible because it’s easy to use, machine washable, and it breathes in this awful LA heat. I hate satin, so where others use satin, I use faux dupioni or cotton.
What are your favourite materials to work with?
Galacticat, Kyoshi Cosplay, Lindsay Jane Design, Stella Chuu, Ginny Di, Santatory, Timeforlemontea and Starbit Cosplay. Just to name a few!
What’s your favourite thing about the cosplaying community?
People are so nice and helpful! We all geek out over each other’s costumes, and give advice on techniques and materials. A girl on a game of thrones facebook group bought my Margaery Tyrell finale dress fabric in Germany for me. A friend wants to make Sansa’s new gown, but she’s been struggling to find the right teal velvet. She approached a random Merida cosplayer, and she sent her the website where she got her fabric! It’s wonderful.
How do you think the cosplaying community could be improved?
There’s always petty drama. Thankfully, most of my friends avoid the drama, but it’s still a constant problem. Can’t we all just get along?
Outside of cosplaying, what do you like to do with your time?
Read, watch too much Netflix, and go to Disneyland. I have an annual pass, and so do most of my friends.
You recently shared some photos from your trip to Japan. How was your holiday? What did you get up to?
Japan was amazing! It was the nerdiest – and maybe the best – trip I ever had. I went with my Honoka and Nico from my Love Live group, so we were just anime trash. We went to the new Love Live cafe, visited the Kanda shrine, and saw the Sailor Moon musical, which was amazing! We also visited a number of shrines, went to a Visual Kei show, ate so much good food, got drunk at an Alice in Wonderland themed cafe, bought kimonos, went to Disneyland and Tokyo Disney Sea, and ate more delicious food. I love seafood, so we were really adventurous with our sushi!
Do you think you’ll still be cosplaying in ten years’ time?
I don’t think I’ll still be cosplaying in 10 years, but I will definitely be sewing. I think I’ll slowly transition into historical fashion. I am fascinated by the different historical techniques and silhouettes, and many of my creative re-designs of certain characters are based on this. I did a Victorian Lady Tremaine, my Jolly Holiday Bert is loosely inspired by a Victorian riding jacket, and I have plans for an 1850s inspired Belle gown. I absolutely love cosplay, and without it I never would have met some of my favorite people in the world. I always want new challenges, though, and I find I prefer sewing and photoshoots over attending conventions.
Do you have any goals, in cosplaying terms or otherwise?
My goal is to never stop learning. I want to keep being inspired to improve my skills and push my creativity to the next level. I don’t care about “cosfame” or any of that; I just want to keep creating.
Do you have any advice for aspiring cosplayers?
Have fun! Cosplay for yourself. Everyone cosplays differently. Are you focused on craftsmanship, and do you want to constantly improve your sewing or fabrication skills? Do you want to commission other people to make you gorgeous costumes, so you can achieve some beautiful photoshoots? Or do you want to hang out with friends and don’t care about the quality of craftsmanship or buying a cheap (or not so cheap) costume from China? You may want to do a combination of the above, or none of the above. There is no one way to cosplay!