Featured Image by Lindsey Bahia
By day, thirty-two year old Andrea Portelli works in administration at the University of Malta. A history buff and dog lover, he spends his weekends going for country walks with his beloved whippet Tina, on the archery range or researching battles that took place hundreds of years ago on our isles. An environmentalist and human rights activist, Portelli is better known by his alias Citoyen Port, short for his last name. Citoyen meaning citizen.
Citoyen Port has been getting more and more attention as of late for his love of historical costuming, and we can see why! His era of choice is the late 1700s, and he meticulously sources fabrics that are as true to the originals used at the time. Using archival drawings and artworks as a starting point, he decides on a design and has them tailored locally. The results are astounding! We love anything fashion history here at Indulge, and of course we needed to know more about the man behind the makeup, wig and brocade waistcoats. Here’s what he had to tell us!
We love what you do! What time frame are your historical costumes based on?
My outfits are dated between 1770-1800; in the English world, they would stylistically be termed ‘Georgian’ or ‘Late Georgian’ however I tend to shift more towards French influences. My latest outfit would be stylistically fit the closing years of the ‘Rococo’ period, my upcoming outfit will also go a bit further back in the Rococo period and would date to the 1750s.
What are your interests outside of historical costume?
I love my archery. I also enjoy painting miniature figurines of soldiers (mostly from this same epoch), backpacking to places not many would frequent (Uzbekistan, anyone?), and some gaming when I have the chance.
When and how did you get into historical costume?
There are several causes which lead me to that. Looking far back, Me and my siblings would play a lot of historically inspired games on Amiga and early PC (Monkey Island series, Tomb Raider, Age of Empires etc.). I also used to do fencing years back which is a discipline which has its roots in sparring and duelling among nobility in the 17th and 18th centuries with rapiers and court swords.
I used to do a lot of military re-enacting, first starting off as a volunteer at Fort Rinella. They’d do late 1800s (Victorian era) which wasn’t my thing, until I finally found a local society which would re-create Napoleonic Wars both locally (French occupation of Malta 1798-1800) and we’d also take part in pitched battles abroad (Waterloo 1815 etc.) with uniforms and weaponry. I moved on from that and decided to do 18th century costuming as a solo gig. Certain series and films were also an inspiration such as Dangerous Liasons and Stanley Kubrick’s ‘Barry Lyndon’.
Cool! What was your first costume?
My first one is this brown/biege ensemble which I got made back in 2011. It’s a regular late 1780s/90s attire suitable for a walk on the town and such. I was really happy with it at that time, I thought it was the peak of sophistication being my first outfit!
Amazing! How does your inspiration start for a new historical costume?
As with many other persons within the creative sphere, inspiration isn’t forced, but rather comes naturally by itself or when exposed to a certain stimulus. My latest outfit was inspired by watching one of the performances of the Valletta Baroque Festival of 2020, at Ta’ Giezu Church in Valletta.
The music just got me in the zone, along with the surrounding art. From there the colours and silhouette just started coming to mind. Sometimes I hear or watch something and the images begin to form in my head and I say “Right, that’s going to be my project for the year!”.
How do you source fabrics and what do you “go for”?
It’s all done online; it takes a long time to find the fabric I want as I’m quite picky! I don’t have any exclusive go-to source for fabrics, though I have some places regularly bookmarked. Sometimes the stores I have bookmarked are good for certain outfits, sometimes not. I’m always discovering and hearing of new online stores, which is great! Etsy works wonders for such a hobby, particularly for the accessories.
The fabrics I choose naturally have to match the purpose of the outfit and the character I am trying to go for. If I’m aiming for an outfit for Royal court then it would have to be silk taffetas, for instance. If it’s a regular morning outfit for a walkabout the town, then wools and cottons will do. If it’s something fine, but not too fine, then cotton velvet is a good compromise, and so on.
I definitely go for pure fabrics and those which are historically accurate for this era – same with the weaves. I’ve had to make a compromise for the fabric relating to waistcoat for my upcoming outfit as it’s got some synthetic fibres to it, however the embroidery and the design on it are entirely accurate for the look I’m going for.
How interesting! How, where and by whom are your pieces made?
The clothes are all done locally. All outfits are tailored, none are off the shelf. My outfits have been made by four different tailors, however I’m now trying to stick to the one! The outfits are done by using sewing patterns which reflect the outfit I am attempting to replicate. Trends and silhouettes would change every ten or so years, so it’s important to find the sewing pattern which is applicable to the exact decade in question.
All other accessories and bits and bobs are done by my various contacts across Europe. I have a button seamstress and perruqier in the UK, and a hat maker in Germany. I correspond with them via email and try to be as meticolous as possible with all the necessary information and go the full mile with research needed to make sure what I seek is accurate.
Would you call yourself a designer?
This is a question where I want to be humble in my response. Professionally, no. I would call myself an amateur costume designer at best. Some mistakes have been made, usually because access to research for particular aspects were not possible at the time. I’m always learning and challenging myself to improve as I go along.
How do people react? Both friends and the public when out and about?
Friends have always been unreservedly appreciative and supportive of what I do. Where public goes, it’s a mixed bag. You get confused looks, sometimes a laugh or two (however that does not concern me), but you also get people stopping to ask why I’m dressed like this and what’s it all about, and they’re always rather chipper when they hear what it is I do.
I think it’s nice when you brighten someone’s day up like that and in turn encourage you in what you do. I also receive some direct messages on my Instagram account from time to time that people enjoy my content and are inspired to do the same. That is a also a goal of mine, to share this hobby and engage others to take it up, and not necessarily fashion of this era. I think we need more of this in Malta.
What is the most common response when people see you in historical costume? During Valletta Carnival weekend for example?
Usually, it’s people just saying “look it’s Napoleon!”. If I had a Euro for every time I heard this I’d probably be able to afford an apartment in Fort Cambridge by now!
What are your plans for your passion?
I don’t have a definitive and concrete answer to this though I’m trying to get myself out there and get involved in as many creative spheres as possible, trying to somehow turn this into a dream-job somehow.
You’ve had some fantastic professional photo shoots! How do you go about making them happen?
I tend to think of venues suitable for the outfit when I’m still designing them. Take my last outfit for example; as soon as I settled for pastel colours, that lovely ball room at the top floor of Palazzo Parisio came to mind. It has matching colours and a historically accurate backdrop to boot. I already have the venue for the next outfit in mind though I can’t mention the venue as I haven’t even approached them yet myself. Sometimes the shots are thought of in my head in advance, at times they come to me at the spur-of-the-moment from something hidden away in my memory.
Normally photos are taken by friends, however I was approached by someone who saw my Facebook page and wanted to do a photoshoot and I accepted; she did a very good job might I add!
My latest photo shoot was an equestrian one with a riding habit applicable for late 1780s/early 1790s. There are plenty of these country-side portraits of gentry on horseback and it’s one I’d been longing to have!
Absolutely stunning! Where have you visited in costume so far?
Apart from bobbing around locally, I use these outfits for Carnival in Venice; it’s the ‘annual conference’ for historical costumers, particularly those into Renaissance, Baroque and Rococo outfits. Lots of partying to be had in Venice! Sadly it’d been cancelled this year and last!
There is the Fetes Galantes ball in Versailles held every year which I would like to attend along with the annual Schlossfest at the Friedrichsfelde Palace in Berlin, both in 2022.
What is the best part of your passion?
I think it would have to be the fact that nobody else has engaged in costuming this particular period – at least to my knowledge – so it’s nice to know that you’ve opened up a unique niche for yourself, and that people would associate this era with me.
These outfits are a big confidence booster for me, and have an empowering feel to them. I do what I love and I love what I do. I was on a long hiatus from this hobby for personal reasons, though this pandemic has taught me that life is too short to stall, so I’m back in full swing making the most of my abilities.
Thank You for speaking to us, Port! We love what you do! Xx