This year, I got into the mood of Elf Fantasy rather late. With its many visitors, the fair does pose some problems for many costume-aficionados. What outfit is original? What stands out? What is appropriate to wear? And with so many options – wear my larp outfit, wear something fashionable or gothic, wear something of some cool show or movie – what is it that I really wánt to do? I didn’t know and it hit me real late this time. Moreover, it was about the eight time I was going and by this time, it felt like a boring must. When scrolling through the program, I felt quite detached. The Fair always features the same repertoire and gets a little more commercial each year. Still, observing it every year has it affordances.
Though the events are not the main reason I go and not even the costumes- I go for the people and the atmosphere, and I know that many other visitors do too – I find it a pity that I haven’t actively ‘done’ something at the fair for years. I’m a big event nut and I love volunteering at conventions and fairs and I always consider them a stage to ehance fan activities and get more visibility for that which is new or niche. This was different at some point since I worked at the manga square for our artist collective Mangafique until last year when we had to let it go. I am still lobbying for it to return because I feel it adds to the Elf as an event by itself and as a more visible platform for manga and games that are interesting for fantasy lovers. Plus, the Elf is about much more than fantasy fiction these days, as you can tell by the kind of costumes that people pick and the kind of booths that are there (e.g., comics, games). The fact that we see more cosplayers of Japanese fiction there every year pretty much accounts for this too. (For the record, this year the Elf had made an Asian garden but it was rather poor and only had one tent with kendou demonstrations). This year I heard that there was an artist tent somewhere, where a few illustrators that I know were sitting, but I failed to find it. Then again, I was accompanied by friends with an innate sense of direction that made us go an extra round over the entire fair just to find the muffin stand.
That being said, the Elf is great fun just with your friends and the diversity of costumes is simply inspiring. From fictional characters to original ones to fashionable outfits, the visitors tend to go all out with whatever they choose to do and you can really see that they put effort in it. I had my struck of inspiration rather late after seeing Hunger Games to make an outrageous Effie Trinket outfit. Sadly I did not succeed in a week in completely making a good look-a-like dress, but it felt liberating to sit behind the sewing machine with a very clearly defined purpose again and to work on a character that I very much like. This kind of mademoiselle/quasi-fashionable auntie trope is really my kind of thing (and what drew me into Pushing Daisies, Coraline and whatnot) and it felt good to express that. I hope to make her gorgeous kimono dress for the Animecon when I find the right fabric.
Before the Elf, I felt sad because my outfit wasn’t what I wanted it to be and I had made some mistakes when working on it, but when I was there and got some compliments on it, it was kind of okay despite all of that. It’s a sad fact when cosplaying that you can feel happier in a crappy outfit at times that people like, then not getting a lot of pictures or attention in an outfit you worked very hard on. Of course, here it wasn’t really the outfit that did it, but the recognizability and that’s something that people appreciate (hell, so do I!). That’s part of why we love spectating these outfits. Several of my friends remarked that it helps to choose something popular but this makes costuming seem like the kind of popularity contest that I don’t want to engage in. This is about me and the kind of characters I like and what I get inspired by. And if that happens to be something new, then that’s okay too, but doing this by default would be horrible. Plus it shouldn’t be about the attention. But I noticed that it does help and made me feel good about myself (and I cracked tons of Miss Piggy jokes and refused to wear the dress at many times before the Elf), so I don’t want to be all hypocritical about that either.
My friend Tamar donned up as Katniss and though we bumped into a few other Katnisses, and got saluted and admired by young girls, there were no other Effies. Though one woman did take a picture of me and very vividly expressed how much she loved me and my fashion choice. I roleplayed along a bit but I forgot to take a picture of her. (Her outfit was very shiny grey and Effie-inspired so this saddens me a bit). I had a good time hanging out with other fans here altogether. A Jafar cosplayer (yes, the Disney one) struck up a long conversation about how horrible many of the people at the Elf looked and that they, unlike us, did not understand fashion. They were clearly from the districts, we agreed. And it’s for these kind of moments that I still go the Elf, basically, you literally never know what to expect and there’s the weird blending of genres and characters really creates weird moments, references, and unexpected situations. Here’s a pic of Jafar again, hanging out with what appear to be some Death Eaters from Harry Potter?
In terms of new things, the Elf didn’t offer much other than what the visitors provided. Hardly any new stands (hell, we even passed the muffin stand because we were at our default mode and walked exactly as we did last year, the thing had moved three inches and we were already confused), no new events but those that wanted to see Rotherham or Robin Hobb again were surely pleased. The awful weather made things a bit horrible (mind the make-up!) but we survived by sitting at one of the small tents with coffee or ducking inbetween larp swords. Sadly, the big tents that the Elf used to have were gone so hiding for the rain turned into an adventure by itself. My friends didn’t buy much, neither did I. Hugo dug up a dystopian Wizard of Oz roleplaying game that I hope we’ll be playing soon.
All in all, I had a great time at the Elf but this definitely depended on my friends and the people from the anime fan community that we bumped into. The Dutch fan scene is small and many of us gather the Elf too. It might be a mainstream event that lost some of its fan roots but it’s still a place that we all like to go to. It inspires us. It’s something that we work towards and feel towards when planning our outfits, chatting with friends, when we think about sharing this with family or see it covered by the Dutch press. It’s a visible fan event. This is where we share stories and that’s why the Elf still matters.
Pictures (c) Randy Lek and Thomas Sauer.