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"Shriek or Chic" Contestant Gabrielle's Inspirations: Disney, Childhood, and Travels Abroad

Gabrielle Ruffino is one-third of the trio of young designers vying to create Martha's Halloween costume for 2014. Here's a look at the experiences that helped shape this artist's creative vision -- in her own words. 

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I think it was inevitable that my life would lead to a career in design. As a child I was always playing dress-up, and I had an unwavering love of Disney movies and anything fantasy-related. When I was a little girl I would draw little girls, then take scraps of paper from my grandmother's sewing room to make “outfits” for them.

 

Around the age of 12 I learned that you could actually have a career in making clothes; I was hooked from then on. That same year I traveled to New York City for the first time since my toddler years -- and eventually I moved to Europe. My time there taught me that I would end up in New York City at some point in my life. And Italians taught me what fashion really is.  

 

For me, inspiration never comes from just one source. Design inspiration can spring from anywhere: a recent vacation, a book, another garment, images, a beautiful fabric -- anything. As an artist, inspiration is just the life around me. My mind sort of seeks out inspiration every day in the world around me. It's similar to the way a scientist sees a chemical reaction and starts analyzing the catalysts for that reaction.  

 

One of the best costumes I've ever seen was worn by a man just walking down the street as I was riding by in a bus. That particular Halloween happened right after the government shutdown, so public dissent was at an all-time high. The man wore a powdered, congressional-style wig, and around his neck, a sign that read, “Sorry, we are closed.” It was literally one of the funniest costumes I had ever seen. I laughed hysterically, to the point that every other passenger on the bus likely thought I was insane. The costume was so thought-provoking even in its simplicity.

 

But my own favorite costume is probably one that my grandmother made for me when I was in elementary school. My grandfather always called me his “Southern belle” because I lived in North Carolina for many years, so my grandmother made me a Southern belle dress. It was a big, poofy, and pink, filled with white lace ruffles and a matching headpiece. I was absolutely in love, and to this day I don’t think I have ever felt so pretty in a garment. It was my prized possession and I wore it whenever the occasion would allow -- and even a lot of times when it wouldn’t. I didn't care. I never really cared about anyone's opinion; I only cared about playing in my own fantasy land. Half of my childhood was probably spent in a costume. 

 

I'm hoping this Halloween to be Belle from "Beauty and the Beast." I'm slowly working my way through constructing each costume for each Disney princess from scratch. I want these costumes to truly be couture garments, so I am going to spend a lot of time constructing them properly. The Belle costume will have a boned bodice (a.k.a. a corset) and hand-appliqued flowers and beading. I want these gowns to be beautiful and realistic; I truly wish making them could be my full-time job. I can think of literally nothing I would want to do more than work on costumes all day, every day -- especially for movies and TV. For me, designing costumes means you only have to grow up as much as your imagination will allow. It's like finding the path to Neverland. 

 

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One of the best costumes I've ever seen was worn by a man just walking down the street as I was riding by in a bus. That particular Halloween happened right after the government shutdown, so public dissent was at an all-time high. The man wore a powdered, congressional-style wig, and around his neck, a sign that read, “Sorry, we are closed.” It was literally one of the funniest costumes I had ever seen. I laughed hysterically, to the point that every other passenger on the bus likely thought I was insane. The costume was so thought-provoking even in its simplicity.

 

But my own favorite costume is probably one that my grandmother made for me when I was in elementary school. My grandfather always called me his “Southern belle” because I lived in North Carolina for many years, so my grandmother made me a Southern belle dress. It was a big, poofy, and pink, filled with white lace ruffles and a matching headpiece. I was absolutely in love, and to this day I don’t think I have ever felt so pretty in a garment. It was my prized possession and I wore it whenever the occasion would allow -- and even a lot of times when it wouldn’t. I didn't care. I never really cared about anyone's opinion; I only cared about playing in my own fantasy land. Half of my childhood was probably spent in a costume. 

 

I'm hoping this Halloween to be Belle from "Beauty and the Beast." I'm slowly working my way through constructing each costume for each Disney princess from scratch. I want these costumes to truly be couture garments, so I am going to spend a lot of time constructing them properly. The Belle costume will have a boned bodice (a.k.a. a corset) and hand-appliqued flowers and beading. I want these gowns to be beautiful and realistic; I truly wish making them could be my full-time job. I can think of literally nothing I would want to do more than work on costumes all day, every day -- especially for movies and TV. For me, designing costumes means you only have to grow up as much as your imagination will allow. It's like finding the path to Neverland. 

 

"Shriek or Chic: Martha's Haute Halloween Challenge" premieres October 7 right here on marthastewart.com/shriekorchic. Check out the trailer below!