Long Bio

Long Biography

captured by karen-34x

(c) by Karen Gilbride

A personal approach to Tanja Schulz-Hess:


I live in Hamburg, Germany with different lives in one: Being mother of two small, cool energetic kids, 14 years work for Germany’s most prestigeous political magazine and my new life as an independent artist.

Painting, creative work on fashion items such as clothes, hats, shoes etc., building and dismantling things have always been my real passion, my hidden vocation. After my first public exhibitions (paintings) in 1987, I earned a scholarship for my creative work in 1990 but decided not to study art.

After an apprenticeship in publishing house administration I took a study year with the American non-profit cultural study & exchange program “Up with people”. In one year I traveled with 170 young people from 23 different nationalities around the world, performing in a semi-professional musical show, doing marketing, PR and stage work same as social work (more than 100 different community service projects such as cooking for homeless in Nebraska, USA, sorting clothes for the Salvation Army or holding speeches about German culture in schools). I stayed with over 100 hostfamilies in 21 states in the USA, three provinces in Canada, Norway, Sweden and Finland. During this time I was also doing a lot of creative work in stage decorations and other creative projects which ran within the program.

After being so inspired I returned home and moved to Hamburg in 1996 to study politics and journalism. After two years I decided that university was not my way of learning and studying. I was offered a job in a press agency, stayed for 1 ½ years and worked for DER SPIEGEL from 2000 till 2014.

Besides that interesting, intellectually stimulating work, I got more and more interested in the Venetian Carnival and its costume history and developed my skills in costume making.

My “Venetian love story” started in 1992 when I went on a cheap bustrip to Venice, Italy, for 3 days of Carnival with a friend. After seeing the Carnival, I promised myself never to return to this fantastic world of stunning masks, dresses and stories told by the costumes people made, without a being in real costume I made. Just buying one would have been too easy and especially not MINE.

But making one turned out to be more difficult than I thought. In 1999 I decided to go to Venice for my first „real“ carnival. So I made a design, a very simple big caftan-like dress with a big headpiece made of chickenwire and fabric. Easy to wear for a beginner. But when I dug out the sewing machine my mother once gave me, I had the same problem as always when I use a sewing machine: that stubborn machine did not stop producing knots, let the thread rip etc. Whatever I tried, the machine did not want to work… until today that is still the case. There seems to be a curse when it comes to the combination “Tanja + sewing machine”.

I am not superstitious but when or where ever I use a sewing machine it does not get far. In 2008 I even burnt a sewing machine in two minutes in London during a shoemaking class (but that is a different story…).

So I searched for another way to fix a costume. Stapler did not work, normal glue dried not fast enough. But finally I had an electric glue gun in my hand and THAT worked VERY WELL… until today. So good that all costumes ever after and even my wedding dress was entirely glued with hot plastic glue.

Until today I work “free hand” without patterns or tailor skills. This is why my costumes are more wearable sculptures than dresses.

Every year my costumes got bigger, brighter, more detailed, more “commenting nowadays life” –- which means they tell a story. Each costume has a history why and how it is made (you can read the detailed stories in the costume section), details to look at, background development history where the fabrics and laces (mostly old) come from. 90% of the materials are from flea markets around the world (but mostly Hamburg). But also hardware stores and friends houses are good sources for my inspiration and ideas… Literally EVERYTHING can become a costume. Inspiration is everywhere. An old kitchen curtain as well as a dream I had in my honeymoon in New Zealand after visiting a chocolate factory, fabric, wire, tubes, hair, old household things. In my costumes even the most “boring” things bloom to a second life and gets upcycled.

As “frame” I love the shapes of 17th to (mostly 18th!) 19th century dresses but always in combination with a “contemporary” theme or topic. In the last years huge wigs a la “Madame Pompadour” or stunningly high headpieces in general have become my “landmark” and are now also sold in Venice by places like „Atelier Marega“. Not always easy to wear but definately a flashy topping, they form a beautiful union with the inspirational dresses and complete them together with detailed little things like fans, walking sticks, shoes, handbags and muffs, earrings and chokers I also produce individually to each costume.

After winning the competition of “Most beautiful costume of the Carnival in Venice” three times in a row 2007, 2008, 2009 plus 2015 (not one dream-come-true, but four!) I continue making costumes, not to win in the first place but because I LOVE the making, developing of ideas and to make the people who visit the Carnival in Venice happy.

In the competition a lot of people from “the business” (professional tailors, stage decoration or costume makers, professional artists) take part.

Besides caring for my little children and husband, I now make the wearable sculptures as freelance independant artist focusing on exhibitions from my stock of about 40 costumes and giving workshops in costume and accessory making as well as seööing my wigs at high class ateliers in Venice.

During the year I spend some weeks in Venice to plan new projects, costumes and of course the new carnival season. In 16 years I have just missed one and cannot wait to start the new costumes. Next carnival will be fabulous with – after years of going alone – a cool family costume with my kids and hubby.