Think about the last time you went to a VIP club in New York City. Those millionaire playgrounds can be a lot of fun—or they can be five hours of non-stop Avicii—but one thing is for sure: within those cavernous halls of EDM and champagne, you will find a lot of dancing babes. Some of them will be models. Others will be aspiring models. But many of them will be professional dancers, employed by the clubs themselves. These dancers are the ones who are responsible for keeping you, the cocktail-swilling customer, entertained for hours. Blessed with the ability to shimmy around knee-high bottles of champagne and hurricanes of sparklers without ever breaking a sweat, this breed of dancing babes are the bread-and-butter of luxury nightclubs. As for their costumes, the sequined and feathered concoctions that adorn their perfectly toned, bronzed, and hairless bodies? Those are all made by one woman, and her name is Carmela Lane.
Carmela is a 36-year-old Brazilian native who designs all of the outrageously sexy costumes for New York's most high-end clubs: Marquee, PH-D at Dream Downtown, TAO, Lavo, and Avenue. With her short blonde bob and tattooed arms, there's no denying that Carmela is just as stylish as the designs she comes up with. In the five years that she's been on the job, she's dressed dancers for club nights headlined by Avicii, Afrojack, and Tiesto, a private auction on Leonardi DiCaprio's birthday, and even the stages at Ultra Music Festival. For a $325 consultation fee, Carmela also makes custom costumes for private clients—usually high-powered career types who are willing to shell out thousands of dollars for the perfect outfit. No one wants to be outshined at Heidi Klum's party.
As is to be expected, Carmela hasn't been sleeping much in the days leading up to this weekend's Halloween festivities. For the last three weeks, she's risen while it's still dark out, at 4:30AM, and doesn't quit for another 16 hours. Aside from a couple of assistants who help with scheduling and fittings, Carmela truly is a one-woman production team, doing everything from coming up with costume themes to sewing each piece by hand.
The path that led her to where she is today started at New York's Fashion Institute of Technology, where she graduated in 2008. After styling and interning for glossies like Harpers Bazaar, Elle, and Teen Vogue, she quickly realized that she didn't want to be a fashion designer. "It was too strict for me," she admits, "My designs always looked like a costume—I could design for a drag queen, not a real person." Then, friends put her in touch with a fellow Brazilian woman who needed a costume for Heidi Klum's Halloween party. That woman happened to work for TAO, and soon, Carmela found herself designing for several clubs in the city. When the woman had to leave the country because her visa expired, Carmela took over as creative director.
The key to a truly spectacular costume, Carmela says, is creativity—and originality. The small industry of nightclub designers is rife with copycats. "I hate when people copy me, and it happens a lot," she says. She cites an example: a while ago, she came up with lit-up umbrellas for dancers to twirl at Avicii's birthday party at Marquee. A few months later, she saw the same umbrellas posted on social media, used at a rival club. But in the end, she shakes it off. "Of course, everything has been done and nothing is 100% original, but you can always make your own version. Turn it into something that's yours."
As for DIY designers looking to make their own Halloween costumes at home, Carmela offers one piece of advice: trimmings make everything better. "Sequins are your secret weapon," she adds with a hearty laugh. Take it from a pro.
Michelle Lhooq is the Features Editor of THUMP - @MichelleLhooq