Pretty, pretty brutal princess

Miss Carlyfornia

photo by jonathan mendick

Check out Miss Carlyfornia's work at upcoming comic, horror and anime conventions across California, including the Big Wow! ComicFest in San Jose on Saturday, May 18th through Sunday, May 19th,; and Sac-Con in Sacramento on Sunday, June 2nd, For more upcoming shows, visit

One day, she's a princess, the next, she's slashing people's throats as a female Freddy Krueger. But that's just a typical week for Miss Carlyfornia. While most of us limit dressing up as our favorite heroes and villains to just one day a year on Halloween, Miss Carlyfornia (a.k.a. Carly Breslin) spends most of the year in costume as a cosplay artist and costume designer. She's created extravagant pieces that look like they could have come off the set of a Hollywood movie or right out of the pages of a comic book, and her work has been featured in magazines and convention shows across the Golden State. SN&R recently chatted with Miss Carlyfornia to discuss ruffles and lace, the Japanese schoolgirl look, and the rise of geek chic.

Where does the name 'Miss Carlyfornia’ come from?

That's a tough one. It's not a name that I came up with. It was a nickname that kind of just stuck.

How long have you been doing cosplay and costume design?

I've been doing cosplay and making costumes since I was a young girl and would always jump at the chance to dress up and be a part of things. I've been professionally known as Miss Carlyfornia since 2004, when manga/comic-book publishers Tokyopop approached me and asked me to enter their Princess Ai cosplay contest for Comic-Con International. I won, and they put me in their magazines and in their manga. I [had] made [costumes inspired by the] Gothic and Lolita [manga genre] for myself in the past, but all the positive feedback I received encouraged me to make clothes for sale.

What are some of your favorite creations that you’ve made?

Of course, my first Princess Ai costume will always be close to my heart because it's the first professional cosplay that I created. I enjoy conceptual design in costuming for film and comic books, or as I like to call it, “reverse cosplay.” I am really proud of my work for the [new] Dravn issue of Heavy Metal magazine. I love comics, and I am very happy to be a part of the process and would like to do more of it in the future.

Creative process?

Well, it's a little different for each piece. Sometimes, it's the fabric that speaks to me, and I can see the finished piece in my head and I just go to it. Other times, I sketch out what I would like to accomplish and take it from there. When I do cosplay, I usually create individual patterns on a dress form that I feel match the drawing.

What is it about cosplay and costume design that interests you?

That's simple for cosplay—I like to dress up. What got me into sewing cosplay and Gothic and Lolita [costumes] was seeing these amazing rock and fashion magazines from overseas and knowing that there was no way to buy these clothes or even afford them at the time. It really inspired me to learn how to create them myself. After I felt like I figured out the basics of the style, I was able to add my own touches, and then, eventually, evolve into my own style.

How long does it take to create a piece?

It's all different. With an elegant Gothic and Lolita piece, it can take me up to a month to finish. There are a lot of ruffles and lace that take me a long time to create. The materials can be difficult to gather for an intricate piece. If I'm doing something simple, like a Japanese-schoolgirl blouse, it would take me about an hour-and-a-half to take it from outlines with chalk on cloth to a whole finished blouse.

What materials and mediums do you use?

I use anything that strikes my fancy. I love using old velvet curtains, retro '80s bed sheets, quilter's cotton—you name it. If it has a pattern or texture that I like, I am going to use it.

Anything off-limits?

No, not really. But I do have fabric I [am] loathe to work with, like shiny acetate—fake silk—or gold lamé. Certain fabrics have a mind of their [own] and prove difficult to work with as you learn with the trade.

Cosplay is typically associated with video-game and anime conventions. Is it changing and becoming less niche?

Comics and video games are more in the public eye. It seems that Hollywood is turning more and more to the comic industry for fresh new ideas. Just look at how well the Marvel movies are doing, for example. I see more and more people dressing up like [characters from] The Avengers—not even knowing that what they are doing is called cosplay. People are more informed on the whole geek-chic movement, and I see it bleeding out into everyday life.

Advice for aspiring costume designers and cosplayers?

Go for it! If you feel nervous about cosplay or rocking some outfit that you've made, don't be. There are so many creative and supportive people out there at your local anime, horror or comic conventions. I would be sad if aspiring artists didn't take advantage of Sacramento's great convention scene to help them flourish in their own way.