Fashionably Rebecca

What is a classical artist to do when their schedule includes traveling all over the world, living out of countless hotel rooms, performing almost every night of the week, and still trying to squeeze in some personal time. Rebecca Nelsen is no stranger to this lifestyle but somehow she seems to make it look oh-so-effortless.

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Photo: Maximilian van London

Currently with the Volksoper Wien, Nelsen has been performing her role as Violetta in La Traviata and is also preparing for the premiere of Beethoven’s Fidelio later this month. Vienna may be city with a rich musical history but the Viennese people also know a thing or two about style. Austrian designer, Lena Hoschek, is just one of many that the soprano goes to when she hunting for the next performance look. With such an intensive schedule, how does she do it?

MC: How do you choose your costumes and do you get help from stylists?

RN: Well, this is a bit of a complicated question to answer. When I am appearing in a fully-staged opera, I rarely get the chance to choose my costume at all. Each production has a leading team, usually consisting of a stage and costume designer, a director and a lighting designer.

The team puts a concept together, including lighting, stage and costume design
that is unified within itself. That being said, I have gotten to wear some
incredible vintage and couture pieces, as well as couture-inspired pieces in various
productions. I have been in vintage Dior and current-season Cavalli onstage, I
even got to help pick the Cavalli dress out, but generally speaking, costumes
for opera houses are either made in-house by the enormously talented
seamstresses in the costume departments or purchased by hard working costume
assistants in regular stores, for modernized productions. When I am singing concerts, however, it is a completely different story. Generally speaking, I get to decide what/who to wear and how to wear it. If you can’t be at a ball, standing in front of a full symphony orchestra in a beautiful concert hall is a great alternative.

MC:When you perform in Europe, do you turn to local designers and could you share some of your favorites?

RN: Well, first and foremost, Marcos Valenzuela and his incredible collection at Tiberius. The house started interestingly enough catering more to a niche market of high-fashion fetish enthusiasts, specializing in leather corsets for example. Marcos has transformed the label into a major haute couture contender, but he often mixes in elements that remain true Tiberius’ origins. Other favorite designers are, of course, Lena Hoschek and Omatu Fulani.

Performing as Violetta in La Traviata

Performing as Violetta in La Traviata – Credit: Matthias Creutziger

MC: Do you have a designer that you go to all the
time no matter where you are traveling off to?

RN: Not really. I travel a great deal and I enjoy meeting new designers and seeing their work, and of course it is wonderful to present a designer’s work that I find to be particularly gorgeous at a concert, gala or event.

Rebecca Nelsen and Thomas Ebenstein in Lena Hoschek, Salzburger Festspiele

Wearing Lena Hoschek while performing for a live TV event of Die Entführung aus dem Serail at the Salzburger Festspiele

MC: Is fashion important to you as a classical performer?

RN: Well, I am a performing artist – what I do is all about self expression and transmitting feeling and emotion to an audience. I think that fashion is driven by the same force. It is all about expression.

MC: Any tips?

RN: For me, it is not about the price or the name – it is about the look, the fit, the feel… I tend to avoid pieces with a visible brand name or logo and go more for things off the beaten path. I enjoy meeting and forging relationships with individual designers in boutique settings – that way, you get a real feel for the creative genius behind the clothes, the artist. Of course, the most important thing is to have fun! Nothing can ruin a fabulous dress quicker than a bad attitude.

 

Musical Diamond in the Rough

Cameron Alexander Shahbazi is wise beyond his years, a jewellery designer with an impeccable taste in stones, talented counter tenor, and definitely someone that I could talk to for hours. Both sophisticated and tremendously humble, his love for jewellery and classical music has been recognized by some of the industry’s rising musicians and this is only the beginning. Sharing beauty, many would say, is a key philosophy for Cameron so I decided to learn more starting from his core.Cameron Alexander1

Could you share more detail on your musical background?

CA: I started off with piano lessons at a young age, around four years old. I started to sing for fun as a child but was recommended to take lessons in my early teens. By fifteen, I was singing chorus at Opera Hamilton and at eighteen I entered the voice program at Wilfrid Laurier University as a baritone studying with Kimberly Barber. To make a long story short, within the year, I noticed my baritone range was a bit limited but that I had this weird “falsetto” or “head-voice extension”. I only found that out because I was often caught imitating the sopranos which led me to learn what a counter tenor was. I decided to take a risk, leave Laurier and applied to the University of Toronto. I am currently finishing my undergraduate degree there with Jean MacPhail and other faculty members.

When did you start designing jewellery?

CA: I began designing jewellery in 2011, soon before my nineteenth birthday. My interests have always been around shapes and  the layering of textures. My inspirations drew from the people I would see on the street, both in my home town and in my travels, by nature and architecture. More than anything I was inspired by the music I was listening to and studying. To me, sketching a piece is similar to writing ornaments into an aria. There’s a starting point with a basic structure which I then look to enhance. Like a musical ornament, there is a sense of flexibility required. No design can be rigid and forced. It has to be simple and organic!

Of course, in addition to all of this, the client plays a huge part in the design. I cater to them!

We talked a lot about your philosophy on sharing beauty – could you elaborate more on that?

CA: It’s quite simple; my goal is to inspire the people around me to become better versions of themselves. I do this with beauty. I am obsessed with beautiful things, scents, tastes, feelings, sensations, sounds and more. It is just who I am. My goal in life is to remind people that they are worth investing in themselves. I love the feeling of wearing something extravagant, feeling totally moved and inspired after hearing an amazing concert or smelling something incredible. I want to share as much of that with my client and audience. Hopefully this leads them to work harder, or be a better version of themselves and inspire those around them.

Necklace for blog-Cameron Alexander

Your relationship with clients is very personal and you’ve mentioned that designing for you is an experience where the client plays a huge role. Walk us through this experience…

CA: When it comes to designing jewellery, it becomes my responsibility to get to know my client as much as I can before even sketching something out. In fact, forget responsibility, it’s a pleasure and that’s why I do it! I want to get to know them, see what their demeanour is like, how they react, their choice of words, and all the little subtleties that make them who they are. This step, which takes a few consultations, is essential. There are far too many people in the jewellery business (just like one could say the same about musicians), but I am not a jeweller, I’m an artist. I am sensitive — I am attentive — I am observant. My method is to understand each individual client’s story. Their story, their journey is what makes a piece of jewellery worth the investment and creates the feeling of extravagance.

You design various pieces for clients – any favourites? Or what do you find yourself currently designing right now?

Each piece is so different, as is each journey I embark on with the client. I kind of feel like a parent having to choose which child they love more. In this moment, I have been enjoying working with brides, recently engaged couples and those renewing their vows. I feel such an honour being part of that process and helping them get a piece that symbolizes so much more than gold and diamonds.

Do you have a client wish list of people you crave to design for?

In all honesty, I don’t think I can name anyone in particular. I can say that whoever it ends up being, I hope they are open minded and love to laugh.

I have asked many people what fashion means to the classical music industry today and the role it plays. What are your thoughts?

Well, this ties in directly with my philosophy on beauty. Everything is connected. You see with your brain and your heart just as much more that with your eyes. When you are in love, everything looks good! Similarly, sound is an experience. You don’t just hear with your ears – you hear with your eyes, your brain, your heart, your whole body! Although I admit that when you close your eyes, beautiful music can do the trick on its own, the experience is amplified when all the senses come together. When a musician is on stage, be it a chamber music concert, opera, recital, or symphony, their performance, whether they admit to it or not, is affected by what they wear. This is where fashion is essential. An amazing gown or suit, with the right accessories, hair and make-up can, and usually does, bring out a lot of stored confidence in a person. Now take that confidence to an artist who will then feel like a million bucks and more than likely perform like that too.Cameron Alexander Ring

That said, however, I am usually disappointed with fashion choices in classical music concerts. I think it’s a little ironic that some musicians are so daring and experiment with their instrument, yet step out wearing something boring, unflattering and anti-climactic. I think that just as much as it is our responsibility to serve the music, we must also serve the crowd. I mean, we are talking about PERFORMERS, not mechanics (no offence).

If you could design a piece for a composer from any era (baroque, romantic, etc.), who would it be?

Hmmm… what a good question! This is similar to the question regarding a client I’d love to have. You know what, a composer I’d really love to design for is Nico Muhly. He’s a young American composer, whose music I really enjoy. From his musical language, to writing style to his own ‘look’, I think we would have a great time meeting a few times and creating some exceptional pieces for his jewellery cabinet. To me, I find he has the awareness of what has happened musically in the past, what is happening and what needs to happen. Not only knowledgeable of the classical world, Muhly is not shut out from what is happening in pop culture — in fact, he’s quite up to date. I recently read his blog post on his website regarding the Beyoncé album…very, very funny! As you can see, I chose him because of his personality, and a sense of positive energy that I feel. That’s important to me!

Cameron AlexanderVisit cameronalexander.ca