Thanks to the incredible support of Discover Egypt, four of us were able to go to Luxor to make a short video trailer for my new novel The Sacred River. I knew I wanted actress Sarine Sofair to play the part of Harriet Heron, the main character in the book. Like Harriet, Sarine has natural red hair. More importantly, she’s a wonderful actress and great to work with.
First, we had to sort out her costume. I emailed details of the kind of outfit I had in mind – and the period, 1882 – to CosProp, a costumiers in north London and we made an appointment for a fitting. I pictured Sarine dressed like 23-year-old Harriet, in something informal, a tea dress made of cotton, in bright colours.
When we arrived, Kat had sorted out several dresses that corresponded with what I’d requested. Sarine put on the camisole and was laced into the corset. We tied the soft, padded bustle around her hips, added a voluminous petticoat and the fitting began. This was the first of the dresses.
I liked the dusty pink of this dress but it was a bit too genuinely old and faded. She looked too much of a Cinderella in this. On to the next.
This dress fitted well and the bustle helped Sarine fill it out at the back! The silhouette was perfect for the period but the stripes too formal for the character of Harriet Heron, a dreamy young woman, more eccentric than fashion conscious.
Next we tried this more ornate costume. Again, the colouring was good for Sarine but my Harriet Heron would never have worn this, although her mother just might.
I was beginning to get worried. We were leaving for Egypt the next day and none of these dresses had seemed better than a compromise option. I wanted the costume to really be part of the characterisation of Harriet Heron, to say something about who she was. As we all know, this isn’t easy to achieve in life and it was proving difficult in CosProp’s airy changing room.
Luckily, I had a style-savvy friend with me. Kate marched off to the rails with fitter Kat and the two of them came back with another armful of dresses. Onwards.
Pretty and fresh-looking for the hot climate of Upper Egypt but rather milkmaid-ish, and overall too girlish for Harriet Heron, a young woman who since childhood has had to face the possibility of her own death.
This dress was a contender. The fabric was lovely, the colours subtle and the shape interesting. But the dress was too large for Sarine, gaping at the front when she moved. It would need alteration. We kept on with the search, putting this on the possible pile.
And when they came back, she put on a dress that made my heart race. It was right, in ways that were hard to define. It had style, but in a quiet, understated way. The tight fit accentuated her youth and natural beauty but the robust fabric and muted colour said something about the character of Harriet Heron.
Sarine put on Victorian lipstick. The seamstress came to see if the jacket might be let out by an inch, the hem lowered at the front.
We had our dress. It had taken three hours and was worth every minute. We chose a parasol, a tie-on pocket and a silk shawl. Laced brown boots and a straw hat. Two days later, Sarine was wearing the dress in Luxor, in character as Harriet Heron.
Did we choose the right outfit? I’d love to know what you think if you feel like commenting.