Frank Challis sits at his sewing machine recently.
By JESSICA CRAWFORD
• Daily Leader
As former Seward County Community College drama director Frank Challis sits down to his Bernina sewing machine for hours of costume creation, one word probably doesn’t come to mind – retirement.
When Challis retired from the college in the spring of 2009, he knew life would continue to be filled with passions that have always been very important to him. Through the costume business he runs out of his home, Challis remains busy and creative in this new and exciting chapter of his life.
Costume design has been a part of Challis’ life for 35 years now. Over the years, he said, he has worked with many schools. Now that the costume design business is his primary focus, he would like to serve the public as well.
“Other than being retired, I am hoping for people who need costumes,” Challis said. “They can be for various occasions, of course, I don’t do just Halloween. I do birthday parties, advertising and a lot of schools. Over the years, I have done so many schools in the area that they all pretty well, unless they have retired, know me by name.”
The costumes that come out of Costume Originals are handmade and 100 percent original.
“This is my 35th year of making costumes,” he said. “ I make them all, they are costume originals. These are made in Liberal, Kan., U.S.A. – these are not made in Hong Kong, Japan or Taiwan. I do buy the masks, the masks are what they call The Hollywood Masks. I do also buy a few accessories. I do make a lot of my own hats.”
The racks of costumes one will find at Costume Originals have not been created on a whim. They were a product of much work and study on Challis’ part.
“I taught costume history at the college for 34 years, so I have an extensive collection of personal costume books,” he said. “You might say I am a professional in costume history. I don’t just concoct something, I research it. I may use modern technology, but I do use period designs.”
In order to create such a vast selection, Challis taught himself to sew. He said he continues to learn new tricks of the trade every day.
“I love to do it,” he said as he sifted through his collection of costumes. “It has been 35 years. Now, before that, I didn’t sew – I just designed. Then, when I learned to sew, I just sewed day and night and learned tricks that you can’t teach yourself unless you do it over and over.”
Anyone can enjoy Challis’ designs, he said. His costumes are for rent for various occasions, but Halloween, he said, is just around the corner.
In order to take some time with Challis and look through his collection, he asks that customers call ahead at 624-7917 in order to make an appointment.
After an appointment is made, customers can choose from a lifetime of Challis’ work. Challis will also guarantee any costume chosen will be a complete original.
“I call it Costume Originals because my designs are originals,” he said. “In other words, I tell my customers, ‘Don’t ever worry about showing up at the party and finding someone with an identical costume.’ How many people can say that? If I make 40 Juliet costumes, every one of them will be different.”
Not only are Challis’ designs one-of-a-kind, they are affordable as well. Challis said costume rentals range usually average $25 to $35 for a three-day period. Not only does the customer get the perfect costume, they get to choose from a variety of accessories as well.
It is very likely that next year, there will be many more costumes for rent at Costume Originals. The reason for that, Challis said, is he is always learning.
“I never quit learning, ever,” he said. “It is like carpentry, it takes two life times to master. Every day I discover a new trick. And that is what keeps it exciting.”
What is next for Frank Challis? Who knows. But, he can promise it will be fun and exciting. Because every day to Challis, is an experience and an opportunity to learn something new - an attitude that won’t likely allow retirement to take hold of him.