Otter Expedition: BTS with Madame Tussauds
I played a major tourist on my trip to London, and I’m not mad about it! One of the coolest experiences I had was a behind the scenes tour of Madame Tussauds, where I learned what goes into the figures’ creation and how they’re maintained. It was ridiculously cool. I wasn’t allowed to take photos BTS, but I can share what I learned!
We have a few Madame Tussauds in the States, but the original is in London. I knew the wax figures were hyper realistic, but I didn’t realize the immense history of the Museum, or Marie Tussauds relationship with the Royal Court. Beyond being a cool attraction, it really is a fine art.
A quick history lesson: the Museum opened over 200 years ago. Marie Tussauds was basically a boss trailblazer for her time and created an entire empire out of her art. You can read a detailed history here, but here are a few of the highlights:
-Marie was an art tutor to King Louis XVI’s sister (she lived at the Royal Court in Versailles).
-She was allowed to do a death mask of Marie Antoinette and a number of other members of both English and French royalty.
-Marie and her mother were imprisoned during the French Revolution.
-After the Revolution, she inherits her mentor Dr. Philippe Curtius’ wax exhibition in it’s entirety, making her an extremely wealthy business woman for her time.
-She married an Englishman shortly thereafter presumably to further her business. As a married woman, she was able to move to London and tour her figures around the UK.
-After a successful tour, she opened a permanent exhibit at The Baker Street Bazaar (it was her grandchildren that moved it to its current location).
-She was extremely macabre and had an entire Chamber of Horrors where she would recreate murders that were happening in London at that time. She would even visit crime scenes and had a massive collection of real murder weapons on display.
-The Museum burned down completely in 1925, was rebuilt, and then bombed in World War II.
-Since then, it has grown and grown! A planetarium was added (which is now a 4K Marvel Experience), along with a ride, a restaurant and 21 locations around the world.
The history was cool to learn, but as a former costume designer, I geeked out over how the figures are made, how they’re maintained and the lengths they will go to for a cool experience.
Madame Tussauds is an incredibly interactive attraction. They WANT you to touch the wax figures. You can snuggle up to Tom Hardy and play with Kim Kardashian’s hair. Have tea with the Queen and then hold her hand after. You can touch everything.
All of that touching though, requires an entire team of people to maintain the celebrity’s look. They wash and style Kim K’s hair almost every day. Her Balmain dress had to have a special gusset sewn in under the arm (that’s a small, football shaped piece of stretchy fabric) so that her figure could strike a selfie pose. The artists go to great lengths to modify the clothing to fit certain poses. They hide zippers, drill holes through shoes and hack apart designer gowns so they fit and be removed easily. Each figure has back-up outfits (and hands) for when one is being cleaned, but a lot of the looks were gifted to the museum by the celebrity themselves.
Lady Gaga donated 20 some odd outfits so that her figures all over the world would be wearing something different.
I also thought it was cool learning they can completely restyle a wax figure’s head for a new look. I assumed they just threw it out and started over from scratch. Johnny Depp had a wax figure made as Captain Jack Sparrow for Pirates of the Caribbean. The museum was able to cut the hair, remove the makeup, add more hair elsewhere, and create a whole new red carpet Johnny for a different exhibit. You can only use the moulds so many times, so repurposing figures happens all the time. They only make a new mould if a celebrity ages too much to keep the current face. The Queen herself has sat for Madame Tussauds four times and is a big fan of the attraction.
Fun fact: all of the figures wear everything a real person would wear, down to their socks and underwear. So the Queen is wearing a slip dress and undies under her tweet skirt suit. They don’t skip over the details!
A huge thank you to Madame Tussauds for the really cool experience! I gained so much respect for the art and the artists behind it.
I had to throw in picks from Stonehenge too. We did a quick day trip out of London the day after Madame Tussauds and I would highly recommend it! It’s only an hour and a half by train and bus.