Masquerade Masques - from Poulton to catwalks across the globe
PUBLISHED: 00:00 03 December 2019
Masks created by Tanith Harvey-Smith in Poulton have appeared at catwalk shows, fashion shoots and events all over the world.
You know you've proved your credentials as a maker of masks when Venice, the home of the masquerade, of glamourous masked balls and dangerous liaisons just can't get enough of your work.
'I know, it does sound astonishing that I sell masks to Venetians, but then so does the fact that my masks have appeared on television, on the catwalk and in fashion shoots. It's true, though,' says Tanith Harvey-Smith.
Poulton-le Fylde-based Tanith of Masquerade Masques credits her romantic Venetian wedding to Angus as the spur that launched her career as a designer and maker of masks.
'I've always loved Italy,' she said. 'I trained and worked as a stained-glass restorer and conservationist there, so when I married Angus in Venice, we dressed in 18th century masquerade costume: me in a beautiful brocade gown and Angus in high heels and tights!
'It was just the two of us and we spent our wedding night at a masquerade ball in one of Venice's palaces. When we got back to England, we threw a party that continued the theme, with everyone wearing masks,' adds Tanith who was delighted that all her guests, even the initially reluctant ones, really enjoyed wearing them.
'It might be something to do with the fact that you can hide behind them a little, maybe have just a touch more confidence than you might otherwise have.'
Tanith quickly realised that sourcing stylish masks that didn't resemble some version of Spiderman or Hannibal Lector wasn't an easy task, so she decided to make them.
'My training in stained glass has taught me how to construct delicate materials into something spectacular so, in 2010 - while I was still working as stained glass restorer and conservator - I took the plunge and made a website to showcase my masks. I had barely finished it - in fact I was still uploading pictures - when I had a call from the luxe pen and accessory company Montblanc. They wanted me to make 50 custom made stick masks, complete with Swarovski crystals and feathers, for a ball they were hosting in London.'
The fashionistas at the ball wanted to know who had created the beautiful masks and before long other prestigious companies such as Louis Vuitton were asking Tanith to design masks.
'They wanted customised leather eye masks; L'Oréal wanted futuristic mesh style masks for their catwalk show and Hooker and Young wanted a punk style for their catwalk. I've also made headdresses such as an Egyptian style creation that was worn for a shoot with a Vivienne Westwood outfit and that was great fun to do. These days, I'm used to stylists getting in touch and wanting something designed yesterday - I've had to get used to it - but when I see my work featured in high end fashion magazines and catwalks, it still gives me a buzz,' says Tanith who has also seen her creations appear on shows such as Britain's Got Talent and Made in Chelsea.
And it's not just celebrities and stylists who love Tanith's masks.
'I have 200 designs on the website, so people often just pick one from there, although naturally we can customise them by changing a colour, adding feathers or crystals. If asked for advice, as a rule of thumb, I generally advise that if a dress is understated then it can take an elaborate mask and vice versa. Tartan masks are popular not only in Scotland but in Canada and America where, quite often, there are strict instruction about the exact type of tartan to use - it would be a disaster to mix up the McDonalds with the Campbells: touch wood, it hasn't happened yet,' smiles Tanith who has found that one of her biggest markets is Sweet Sixteen events in the USA.
'Girls in the UK like them for proms too and masked balls are becoming very popular especially at Christmas because masks lend themselves beautifully to black tie events, where men can wear soft leather or stag type masks,' says Tanith who has designed masks for a very swish Prince's Trust ball as well as a black and red ones, complete with LED lighting, for a celebrity packed Halloween ball.
'I can also supply bespoke ones. It's great to work with a client who wants something unique to them, whether it's for a ball - clients will often send pictures of the dress they want the mask to match - or a wedding. I did design some wedding masks for a fashion shoot but filigree lace styles are popular for real life weddings too, as they can incorporate sentimental tiny pieces of material such as lace from a mother or grandmother's veil,' says Tanith who might need up to six weeks to design and create a bespoke mask, working from her gorgeous light filled studio.
'I work in total silence, as I like to let my imagination roam free unhampered by any noise. For bespoke commissions, the first thing I do is to always take the shape of the client's face into account because what can look great on a broad face might be overwhelming on a narrow one, then I cut and shape the base very carefully before even beginning to add decorations - as no mask will work well unless that base is perfect.'
* To see more of Tanith's creations, co online to masqueboutique.com