Arts & Culture

Five Minutes With: Pat Willcox, designer and seamstress

A dress can be art. That's what Pat Willcox has been telling her students at her "Art of Couture" classes she's held the past several years in Beaufort.

Willcox is an experienced designer and seamstress, having working for about 30 years in North Carolina before relocating to Beaufort about five years ago. Her North Carolina studio even worked on movie sets for productions such as "Days of Thunder" and "The Handmaid's Tale."

Her "Art of Couture" classes in her Beaufort studio end with annual fashion shows, and now two of her students will have their work displayed at Hilton Head Symphony Orchestra's Fashion Show and Silent Auction on Feb. 23.

Willcox, who owns Willcox Sudio and Sewing Unlimited based at Coastal Art Supply, explains the art of fashion.

Question. What do you have planned for the symphony fashion show?

Answer. I'll be taking two of my students. This will be my second or third year. Alicia Webb is in high school, and Tina Prioleau is at (Technical College of the Lowcountry). We'll be taking two of their designs.

I've been working hard to get the couture part into the arts genre. If you knew what it took to do what you do, you'd say it's an art. It starts with conceptual design. Once you get the picture, then you have to break it apart. You have the engineering part, where you have to understand how it's layered and understand the internal components that hold these dresses together and give (them) shape. It's a visual talent and technological talent.

Q. Do you still design?

A. I still design. I just got done with a custom vest for a woman. We took a vest of her father's, who had recently passed away, and remade it for her. It had fur and these wonderful yarns coming off it with leather. I do costumes for University of South Carolina Beaufort performing arts productions and the children's productions. This year we're doing "Seussical."

Q. What movies were you involved in?

A. I worked on Richard Pryor's movie "Critical Condition." We had Tex Cobb, who was an old boxer and played a strong arm in a lot of movies. You couldn't buy clothes for him because his body was so little in the waist yet big on the neck, so we'd have to make it for him. It was a lot of everyday wear. That was a contrast to "The Handmaid's Tale," which was science fiction.

Q. What was it like working on a movie set?

A. It was crazy at times. Very fast-paced. People would fly in in the middle of the night and you'd have to make (something) fit in a hurry because they'd only be there one day. On "Days of Thunder," I was sewing out on the racetrack. And just having the cars out there it would blow around everything I was sewing. So they built this big wall, this wind buffer for me, and I just had to keep on going. That's the kind of stuff that would happen.