Great Pretenders' Belle gown.

Belle’s Gown: Interview With Children’s Costume Designer Kate Muddiman Frey

Playing dress-up has been a beloved playtime activity for millions of children spanning generations. Noting the popularity of dress-up play, many companies such as Rubies, Party City, Props in a Box, and Great Pretenders have started releasing lines of costumes that are meant to be worn all year long, not just on Halloween. The increasing popularity of these garments has resulted in many talented designers finding steady work designing highly detailed outfits. Kate Muddiman Frey is one such designer who recently created a glittery version of the yellow “Belle” dress, from the classic story Beauty and the Beast, for Great Pretenders. The dress is accented with red roses and it was released just on time to celebrate the impending live-action film based on the classic fairy tale. Kate was happy to discuss her career and the inspiration behind her version of Belle’s iconic yellow gown.

Meagan Meehan (MM): How did you get interested in clothing design, especially designing costumes for children?

Kate Muddiman Frey (KMF): I believe creative play is integral to early childhood development — a theory supported by exhaustive studies and reports. Make-believe and pretend/role-play games are a wonderful way for kids to “try on” different traits and communicate with less fear and more ingenuity. Designing costumes to encourage that is a wonderful opportunity and passion in my life.

MM: How did you partner with Great Pretenders?

KMF: Great Pretenders is a family company — I work with my mother (the Founder and President of Creative Education of Canada), stepfather, and brother, as well as an amazing staff of people who also feel like family! I always wanted to work with my mother so I suppose you could say kids’ costume design was in my blood from the beginning!

MM: Overall, how many costumes have you designed?

KMF: This is my ninth year working in a full-time capacity with Great Pretenders, I stopped counting designs a long time ago!

MM: One of your most recent designs is the Belle gown from “Beauty and the Beast” which features over eight different kinds of materials. How did you secure this project?

KMF: We were at a trade fair in Nurnburg, Germany, and one of our key accounts, Franc Jeu from Quebec, Canada, came to see us, asking to see “anything Belle.” After an in-depth discussion of all things Emma Watson, and the projected popularity of this film given the Harry Potter fan following, we immediately tasked our sample team with the challenge of finding glittering fabrics and sparkling tulles to create a dress that would inspire fairytale fun!

Girls and their dolls can wear matching Belle dresses.
The Belle gown by Great Pretenders comes in human size and doll size. [Image by Marina Arnaout]

MM: The dress is the classic yellow, but you added an accent with red roses. How did you think up that gorgeous twist?

KMF: For us, dress-up is iconic and fairy tale characters are rooted in the literature that inspired them. When we work on designs, we fall back on the original scripts and texts (often dating decades back). Belle is anchored by the wilting rose, the element which acts as a ticking time bomb on the Beast’s curse. This rose is symbolic of his dwindling hourglass, grains of sand falling with every last petal. Belle had to fall in love with the beast before the last rose petal fell — to break the curse and find a happy ever after.

MM: What has been the best part of designing costumes for children thus far?

KMF: The best part in designing costumes for children is the parent feedback. Involved parents make our jobs at Creative Education so special, with some parents sending images of birthday parties—or kids loving their costumes so much that they wear them to bed as pajamas! When you get to your desk and look up to see pictures of kids you never met smiling in a costume you designed, it’s a pretty powerful moment!

MM: What kind of outfit would be your “dream project” to design?

KMF: I would love to work with CAS (that’s the Canadian Social Service for Children) on making a superhero cape for kids that are relocated from their homes. I think empowering underprivileged/at risk kids to be their own superhero would be an amazing project to be a part of. We do work with several charities at present. However, a nationwide project would be a very special thing to be a part of!

A doll in the yellow Belle gown.
A doll wearing the lovely yellow Belle gown by Great Pretenders. [Image by Marina Arnaout]

MM: How would you like your career to evolve from here?

KMF: We have recently expanded to warehouse in the EU, allowing us to expand in the European market. From a design standpoint, I would love to make historical costumes that would tie into history and the many learning opportunities available therein.

MM: Is there anything else that you would like to mention?

KMF: In today’s highly tech-inspired world, unstructured play is becoming more and more critical! When we let kids “be kids” and play games without rule books, imagination fuels one of North America’s greatest assets; creativity and innovation! In this regard, I think pretend play is more important than ever!

To learn more, visit the official website of Great Pretenders, their Twitter, and their Facebook.

[Featured Image by Marina Arnaout/Great Pretenders]

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