Freddie Mercury: A World of His Own | On Stage
Freddie Mercury: A World of His Own | On Stage
September 7, 04:38 PM GMT
40,000 - 60,000 GBP
Freddie Mercury's white ‘Mercury Wing’ catsuit
‘The White Queen’ by Wendy de Smet, worn by Freddie Mercury on stage for the 'Night At The Opera' tour, 1975-1976
a two-piece stage outfit comprising a catsuit and bolero of white [now aged to ivory] stretch satin. The catsuit with deep-cut zip-fastening front from waist to curved stand collar, the long narrow sleeves with partially concealed zips at cuffs - the cuffs and slightly flared trouser legs applied with quilted panels stitched and cut to resemble bird wings, these wrap-around trouser leg panels graduating in width from their apex below the knee to their widest point at the foot, each trouser leg with a stirrup of ribbed webbing at the base, labelled inside at the base of the neck ‘Wendy de Smet’ the label with an orange paper cleaning ticket with typescript date details: ‘Apr 13 77’ attached by a large safety pin.
The corresponding quilted bolero tailored to resemble bird wings, the front with curved lines of stitching extending to the open edges to create ten feather-shaped panels either side, eight of which terminate in points. The wing-shaped back of this bolero with a pattern of eight lines of curved stitching – four panels either side simulating the back of wings, labelled inside at base of the neck ‘Wendy de Smet’. The distinctive stitching pattern on the reverse of this bolero distinguishes it as being the second of Freddie’s two bird wing boleros to be made in either December 1975 or January 1976
Freddie had been closely involved in the design of his ‘Mercury Wing’ stage costumes. He had approached Wendy with a pencil sketch of what he wanted, which was based on an idea of a character from Richard Dadd’s intricate masterpiece ‘The Fairy Feller’s Master-Stroke', the inspiration behind Freddie's song of the same name. Freddie wanted his stage persona to resemble a Mercurial god-like figure and once he and Wendy had worked together on this idea, she was given free rein to design the costume. It was Wendy who suggested adding winged panels to the cuffs and trouser legs, and to balance these out with a wing-shaped bolero (boleros are included in lots 43 and 151). Freddie provided the designer with the high-quality stretch satin fabric she was to use in the construction of these significant stage outfits.
Three Mercury Wing catsuits and one winged bolero were made in the autumn of 1975 to coincide with the start of the album tour. A second bolero and a replacement third white catsuit (whose predecessor had shrunk when Freddie sent it to the drycleaners) were made at a later date, either before the end of the UK Tour in December 1975 or before the start of the US Tour in late January 1976. One catsuit (lot 43) has been identified as being worn in the promo video for 'Bohemian Rhapsody', so the replacement catsuit is either this example or lot 151. It seems probable that Freddie wore white leather platform shoes with this outfit (lots 149 and 171).
Mercurial White Wing ensembles representing the good ‘White Queen’ were worn for the first half of the show, their evil counterparts the ‘Black Queens’ (lots 45 and 152) for the second half of the show during both the European and US legs of the 1975-76 tour.
The visual contrast between black and white was central to Queen's visual image in the early years of their career. It symbolised a struggle between good and evil that was at the core of the fantasy elements of Queen's early lyrics, epitomised by two tracks on the band’s Queen II album, May's 'White Queen' and Mercury's 'March of the Black Queen'. The album itself was divided into 'Side White' (predominantly written by Brian May) and 'Side Black' (all songs by Freddie Mercury) - see lot 115. Freddie and the band’s devotion to this visual juxtaposition continued throughout the 1975 tour, and Freddie’s collaboration with Wendy de Smet meant his spectacular stage costumes were a perfect manifestation of the strong theme.
In June 2023 Wendy Edmonds (née de Smet) confirmed her account of how her design for Freddie’s famous ‘Mercury Wing’ costume came about – originally published in 2011 in Queen in Cornwall by Rupert White.
In September 1975 Wendy, who had trained as a fashion designer, was asked by Freddie to create His famous outfit the ‘Mercury Suit’:
"Freddie wanted to look like the God of Mercury…he bought fabric from Borovick’s in Broadwick Street in London. You could buy stage fabric there. It was a stretch satin, skin tight, with a low neck and a zip. The sleeves were long and tight, and I made little padded wings on the cuff. And the wings on the heels were Velcroed on so they were detachable. They were quilted, like a bird’s wing and attached with Velcro on the front. He had the ideas and we worked on them together… Then I made him a little white bolero which you can also see him wearing in the 'Bohemian Rhapsody' video [see lot 43] … I made several [catsuits] three or four of the white ones, but one of them shrank and I had to unpick it….”
The wrap-around bird wing adornments on the trouser legs of the three White Queen catsuits in the auction are no longer removable but firmly stitched onto the trouser legs. On seeing the three auction catsuits recently, Wendy de Smet confirmed that the stitching of the leg panels to the trouser legs would have been done by Freddie himself. She suspects that Freddie required a greater security for the attachment that sewing would provide over the Velcro. Freddie had also added the stirrups of ribbed webbing sewn to the foot of each catsuit trouser leg himself. He had studied fashion design at Ealing College for a time and was very hands-on with the construction of his stage costumes. Freddie knew what he wanted and would make any practical amendments or embellishments he felt necessary and could do himself without consultation with the designer.
Wendy visited Freddie at his Holland Road apartment for fittings: “Freddie always just wanted them really tight! It was great fun doing the costumes. They had my label ‘Wendy de Smet’ inside. I’ve still got the original newspaper pattern.”
This and the two almost identical ‘Mercury Wing’ catsuits, and their two ‘Black Queen’ counterparts, are confirmed as being the earliest examples of what was to become Freddie’s signature look in the mid to late 1970s.
Photographs of Wendy Edmonds’ original paper pattern for the first quilted bolero (lot 43) show stitching lines for the quilting drawn on to it. The designer commented on the other examples that: “I changed the stitching on the back …but both fronts are the same”.
A swatch of the original stretch satin fabric Wendy used to make the white ‘Mercury Wing’ catsuits and boleros has been donated by the designer to illustrate its original bright white hue and will be present at the auction view. Photographs of the swatch will also be available to view on request.
Rupert White, Queen In Cornwall, Antenna Publications, 2022, 2nd Edition, pp.276-277 & photographs of Queen performing in Liverpool the evening after shooting the video for 'Bohemian Rhapsody' in Elstree Studios, 14 November 1975, showing Freddie wearing the ‘Mercury’ ensemble, illus. pp. 277 & 279 (illus.)
Killer Queen, The Official Limited Edition: Mick Rock Photographs, Genesis Publications, 2003, pp.120, 166 and 167 (illus.)
Freddie Mercury – The Great Pretender, A Life In Pictures, Welbeck, 2012, p.66 (illus.)
Phil Sutcliffe with Peter Hince, Mick Rock, Reinhold Mack and Billy Squier, Queen The Ultimate Illustrated History of The Crown Kings of Rock, Voyageur Press, 2009, pp. 70. 84 & 91(illus.) and pp. 102-3
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