Eleanor Von Boetteicher never planned to be one of the world’s main suppliers of Elvis Presley costumes. It just happened that way.
A former political science major at the University of Toronto, it was while pursuing her masters at Dalhousie University in Halifax that something reminiscent of her childhood interest in sewing caught her attention. She signed up for the costume studies certificate program.
After university she and husband Timothy ended up back in Toronto where she made costumes for the National Ballet and various theatre companies and even circuses.
They decided to move west and wound up in Calgary in the late 1990s where there was no shortage of work. He built movie sets and she went to work making movie costumes.
It was there that she met Will Reeb, an Elvis tribute artist – they dislike the phrase Elvis impersonator – who was looking for some help putting together suits for other Elvises. “He had started to make his own suits and he had other Elvises looking for suits as well so he was really the instigator for the business,” she says. “He was looking for someone to help sew the suits and he put all the studs in himself.”
When Reeb eventually found other interests, she kept on making one or two costumes a month under contract. They moved to Vancouver in 2003 and the work followed her. She made costumes for blockbuster movies such as I Robot, X-Men and Catwoman, all the while continuing her profitable Elvis costume venture on the side.
Then in 2005 they moved to Nanaimo and she made ProElvis Jumpsuits her full-time business. Today she makes suits for Elvis tribute artists all over the world. “I ship them anywhere, so it’s handy to be close to a post office,” she says, laughing. For her customers, who are in North America as well as Ireland, Holland, France and Germany, the first step in placing an order is usually a visit to her website, proelvisjumpsuits.com. She can’t imagine how she could survive without the Internet. She communicates by e-mail and by telephone, although she often finds telephone a less than effective means to communicate, due to scheduling conflicts and time zone differences.
Clients start out the process by downloading a fitting form from her website rather than filling in their measurements. The measurements have to be accurate, so she gets them to take the form to a local seamstress, then they send the numbers to her. Next she sets to work making a pattern, which she ships to the seamstress, just to make double sure the fit is accurate.
She has a lot of repeat customers who buy a new outfit every year. But quality can’t be rushed. “I say a minimum of eight weeks.” She does about 30 suits a year, and would prefer to spread that work around the calendar. But the bulk of her orders arrive in the latter part of the year. “It’s geared to gigs,” she says. “If people get a lot of gigs, they get money rolling in. And a lot of these guys love putting on their outfits and it’s nice to have a set of new clothes.”
Her suits start at about $900 and run as high as $2,500 for the King of Spades version, a replica of the original Elvis’ most intricate stud-covered jumpsuit. Capes range from $250 to $950. The 40-year-old stay-at-home mom tries to match them as closely to the originals as possible, although the gabardine-wool mixture the king of rock ‘n’ roll preferred to wear is no longer available.
With approximately 8,500 Elvis tribute artists in the world, she has a steady stream of clients. And the business keeps growing. She recently had her website translated to German and soon it will be in Japanese. “A lot of these guys do two or three shows a week and they want to do a costume change or two during the show.”
She builds the costumes to last so her clients get good value. But at $1,000 or more per costume, she would strongly advise that they watch their weight. “You really can’t alter them because of all of the studs on them.”
Von Boetteicher was too young to be a true Elvis fan. She was nine when he died, on Aug. 16, 1977. But she loves her Elvises. “I really enjoy the people I work for. They’re all very nice people – helpful, and they love what they do.” See the whole story in the Nanaimo Daily News.