Carmela Lane: The Woman Behind The Glamour
Carmela Lane, the powerhouse designer behind some of the hottest costumes in New York City, is also a master of management. The TAO Group, a popular high-end night club company with locations in New York and Las Vegas has opened a pop-up venue during Sundance’s opening weekend that would play host to one of the most exclusive, celebrity-filled parties during the entire festival. Brazil-native Carmela Lane, the creative director behind the venue’s go-go costumes, is here to oversee the girls during the event and SLUG was able to come along for the ride.
Those who have been to a TAO Group location such as TAO, LAVO or Marquee will know these places are here to cater to the one-percenters. Bringing in some of the hottest acts in electronic music, nothing about these clubs are low-key, and Lane’s designs are a major aspect of the one-of-a-kind environment that makes these VIP experiences so glamorous. In the car on the way to the event, Lane is on the phone with LAVO in New York, sorting out an issue with one of the dancers. Aside from designing the costumes for the clubs, Lane is in charge of managing the dancers as part of the package her event company, 26 Stars, offers. Running out of her home in Weehawken, New Jersey, 26 Stars is behind the costumes that appear at Ultra Music Festival in Miami and the Robot Heart art car at Burning Man, as well as private consultations making Halloween costumes for celebrities or private events.
We arrive at the club—which is located in a basement parking garage below Park City’s Main Street—and Lane begins helping two of her dancers, Alice and Deanna, prepare their first look for the evening. Her designs are extravagant, and I wonder why she’s never approached the world of street fashion. “For awhile, I tried to do clothing and I tried to make a collection, [but] it would always come out looking very glitzy and drag queen–ish,” says Lane. “I started making costumes and working with the TAO Group and they gave me a lot of freedom of creation and a good budget to [work with] and there wasn’t really micromanaging. They would give me a theme and I would work with it.” For Sundance, Lane played into the theme of the sun for the costumes the girls would be wearing that night. She pulls out groups of two identical mesh leotards, each dripping with gems and studs in bright, warm tones of gold and bronze.
The detail in the costumes makes them closer to a work of art than anything, as each gem is carefully placed and symmetrical to each side. “I want to be very avant-garde here, I want to do elaborate hair and use the most elaborate costumes because I want the girls to really stand out and have something really different in TAO,” she says as she helps the girls intertwine metal fixtures into their high ponytails. Her passion for design is what makes her creations stand out, and throughout the night people talk about how the dancers at TAO are the best-dressed dancers at any Sundance event.
The club hits capacity in an instant, and hundreds of people are lined around the block to get into the event. Celebrities such as The Jonas Brothers and Diplo have been sighted, before Alice and Deanna have even finished getting dressed. Once the girls are onstage, Lane is beside them, making sure the area they dance on is safe, keeping them hydrated and alerting them when it’s time to take a break and change costumes. Each night, the girls go through four outfit changes, all created by Lane and hand-sewn to great detail. Usually, Lane creates new sets of costumes for TAO when there is a special event. “When Tiësto plays, we can usually put his logo on things and make a costume out of his logo, so I usually work around the DJ that is playing. We do that for Ultra, too,” says Lane. “We have the main costumes, but then we have others for Carl Cox [and his stage] … For Ultra, this year, I am doing 14 sets of costumes … I work very closely with the creative director, Katie Krause, and she [gives] me a theme and I present her with my ideas. For Ultra we always go toward the femme bot, more like a warrior type of girl,” Lane says.
The inspirations for Lane’s designs do not come on a whim, either. The concepts behind the pieces come from a desire to embrace feminine power, as Lane grew up admiring female characters from comic books and graphic novels. On top of that, she looks to innovative, historic designers such as Alexander McQueen or artists like David Bowie for inspiration in her pieces when she begins sketching for new ideas. However, she doesn’t feel that high fashion would be her niche in the industry. “I see pieces that are very powerful and avant-garde but I feel like [there is no market],” she says. “There is a market for the costumes that I make [among] people that go to festivals or night clubs or in film but [high fashion is] so specific that it feels, to me, like [the pieces are] for only movie premieres. I’m not sure I could survive as an artist by selling that art.” Looking at the piece she is holding in her hand as she speaks—a shoulder-pad accessory that features black, bejeweled spikes—I can see her influence comes from a very passionate side of fashion—the side that treats the human body like a canvas, ready to be altered and painted in the name of art.
Additionally, Lane works in film and theater doing tailoring projects or working with the costume departments. “That’s what I really want to do,” she says of the film industry. Citing the costumes in films like Alice In Wonderland (2010) as her inspiration for venturing into the world of elaborate and glamorous costuming, Lane aspires to one day work full-time in film costuming. In between her time at the pop-up club, she’s on her computer putting together presentations for the wardrobe she’s working on for a theatrical production in New York, while a film she worked on last summer, Little Men, premieres at the festival.
Her company, 26 Stars, is relatively all-inclusive—offering costume design, event planning and a team of dancers, choreographers and hair and makeup artists that can be hired for large or private events. In just a few weeks, Lane and her team will be off to Miami for Ultra Music Festival where her designs and dancers will be onstage in front of thousands of people at one of the biggest electronic music festivals in the world.