Sunderland-born costume designer and Billie Piper body double on launching her own intimacy wear business
From London’s West End to launching the UK’s leading intimacy garment business for the staging of sex scenes, Sunderland-born Costume Designer Shoni Wilkinson shares her journey.
Shoni Wilkinson, 36, from Houghton is an accomplished costume designer and maker whose CV boasts projects for the BBC, Channel 4 and Virgin Media as well as shows in London’s West End.
The former Houghton Kepier pupil trained as a dancer and singer before moving to London in 2008 to pursue a career in acting, attending The Courtyard Theatre Training Company.
Shoni’s move into costume design came at the age of 26, following a three-year acting degree. She spent her final year at drama school designing and making costumes and knew the day she graduated she wanted to be backstage, not on stage.
In the last 12-months, she has added business Co-Owner and Lead-Designer to her skillset with new venture – Intimask – the London-based company specialising in inclusive modesty garments that protect and conceal performers during the staging of realistic sex scenes.
Here, Shoni shares her story in her bid to help revolutionise the modesty garment industry with practical, inclusive, high-performance products that allow actors to feel comfortable, confident and safe.
“Design has been a huge part of my life. My family is very creative so I was always making something. My mum taught me to sew. I always had a unique style and struggled to find clothes that I wanted to wear, so I started designing and making my own outfits.
“I was heavily involved in performance and theatre for a long time and thought I wanted to be an actor, but by the end of a three-year degree I knew that costume had become my passion. I basically switched careers overnight – it was one of those real lightbulb moments.
"My first professional role was Head of Wardrobe for Sesame Street Live. I was Head of the Muppets! It was a brilliant role and I learned so much. Those monsters are really complex!
“Over a period of five years, I worked in various roles – something that I recommend as it made me a stronger designer. The fact that I’ve built these costumes, washed them, mended them – it all adds to your knowledge and allows you to see and understand the items in a much richer context.
“I joined the Italia Conti Academy of Arts in 2014 as Head of Costume in charge of designing and supervising a total of 15 shows that the school produces across the academic year. It was a real baptism of fire but I took every opportunity I could to flex and build my design skills.
“It was there where I fell in love with my greatest passion – the fusion of historical and contemporary costume and modern materials with historic techniques and silhouettes. This eventually led me to the creation of my first haute couture-inspired collection in 2019. ‘The Art of Queening’ is an exploration of women and women’s issues from across the centuries. I needed so badly to explore this concept and see what I was really capable of as a designer.
“It’s my biggest achievement to date, both in design and construction.
“It was around this time that my Co-Founder and Lead-Product Developer - Yarit Dor – a pioneer in Intimacy Co-ordination and Direction approached me to discuss the lack of suitable, purpose-designed modesty garments within the industry. She asked if I could collaborate with her to design some pieces as part of the intimacy kit she uses on set.
"The very first Intimask garments, although initially basic, were created and used on several productions during late 2019 and proved an instant hit. I knew immediately that we had something special – the intimacy movement is so powerful we knew it needed its own tools of the trade.
"What followed was extensive product development in collaboration with Digital Sculptors, Prop Makers, Function Consultants and Intimacy Practitioners and in July of 2020, Intimask launched its current range of garments and accessories via its online shop.
“I think the success of Intimask lies in the blend of function and design which is a reflection of the collaboration between myself and Yarit. We’re both very skilled in our respective fields – we bring our own expertise to the product range.
“In addition to design, I was able to bring experience of my work as a body double for Billie Piper in ITV’s Secret Diary of A Call Girl. Piper’s character portrays the professional and private life of a high class London call girl and sees her appear in a multitude of scenes featuring nudity and simulated sex.
"I was young and quite vulnerable, but luckily I had a really positive experience despite having to make do with various forms of improvised modesty garments – the team were so helpful and very protective of me but the garments were so make-shift - it was awful! I had no idea at the time that I would be a guinea pig for my future business!
"Once I started working on Intimask, I soon realised that the items used to conceal and protect had barely changed since my experience on set almost 15 years earlier. They were still being created by either costume makers or, more recently, intimacy professionals who were repurposing fashion-based products or even sanitary towels.
"Items were disposable, ill- fitting, limited in skin tone and size as well as unaccommodating for intimate action. There were absolutely no design-specific modesty garments available on the market to support scenes of an intimate nature and we knew the industry was in need of practical solutions to improve procedures. And the rest, as they say, is history.
"Our garments have already been used on productions for BBC, Sky TV, Channel 4, ITV, Amazon Studios, STARZ 4, Sony, HBO, HBO Max, Netflix, Disney and Apple TV as well as feature films. It’s been incredible - the response within the industry from the intimacy community, costume departments and performers feels so positive, which is really what the intimacy movement is all about.”