Chris Calfa is more than a princess. Actually, he’s about 10 different princesses. And a few pop icons. And also a power ranger.

Cosplay is a unique artform, and Calfa is undoubtedly a one-of-a-kind artist. Known as Princess Chris for his Disney Princess gender bends, he turns iconic dress designs worn by Belle, Ariel, Rapunzel, and Elsa into ornate “dapper looks,” featuring hand-painted blazers and lots of shimmer and shine.

That’s the beauty of cosplay: It lets you portray any of your favorite characters anyway you want—as long as you are willing to put in the work.

Calfa’s love for dressing up and his passion for Disney started at a young age. “I was always the kid who wanted to dress up,” he says. “My birthday is on Halloween. My friends get scared when August rolls around because that’s when I start talking about Halloween, and I have 20 ideas of what costumes I want to do.”

But it wasn’t always about princesses. Calfa’s favorite childhood costume was Aladdin, which he wore for Halloween from ages 3 to 6. Growing up in the ‘90s, princesses seemed out of reach for a young boy. “I used to bring my Aladdin costume with me to Disney World to wear it around because I saw little girls wearing Disney princess dresses and I was like ‘well, I can’t do that,’” he says. “The ’90s were a different time. But that’s what ultimately made me want to do the gender bend stuff because I very strongly identify as a male.”

Eventually, Calfa’s love for costumes translated into his education, and he attended college for costume design. While designing his costumes came naturally to him, the more hands-on skills proved challenging. “The sewing professor once told the entire class, ‘he can’t sew for sh*t, so thank god he’s a good painter,’” he jokes.

His painting skills come in handy for his modern, princess-inspired dapper looks. Calfa takes standard blazers and customizes them with hand-painted details, turning drab into fab. He then pairs the blazers with custom makeup, wigs, shoes, and glammed-out accessories.

The gender-bend princess fun really began with Calfa’s favorite mermaid at New York Comic Con in 2014. “I did Ariel. I had dyed red hair, a purple tank top, green jeans, and a seashell necklace,” Calfa says. It all skyrocketed from there. “Right after that I did Cinderella, and then Rapunzel, and then Belle, and things just got out of hand. And now, I’m gender-bending things I never thought I would, like Odette from The Swan Princess.”

2014 was also the year Disney gender-bend cosplays really started to take off, thanks to lots of fan-created art hitting the internet. “I disagreed with a lot of what I was seeing, so I wanted to do my own thing,” he says. “There’s this weird line people cross between masculine and feminine. So people would make these characters that are either really, really masculine or really, really feminine and I try to bring balance to that. I want to be sparkly and pretty, but still masculine.”

Each dapper look only takes Calfa about a week to complete, but while the cosplay creation isn’t terribly time consuming, it is expensive. “Let’s put it this way: If I didn’t spend any money on cosplay, I think I would be able to save an entire year’s worth of rent for my apartment,” he says. Before cosplay, Calfa was a toy collector, and he looked to cosplay as a more affordable hobby—but that didn’t last long. “You want to up your game, you want to up the materials you use and then you end up spending more money,” he explains. “It just gets to a point where it’s not a little thing, it’s a whole thing. Now I have an entire rack of my costumes and an entire shelf of wigs.”

Calfa’s creative process starts with an idea, then he sketches his design before bringing the full look to life. “With the gender bends, you have to look at what is the most iconic. What details are people going to recognize when you translate it to a gender bend? Like with Cinderella, you need to have that specific blue, you need to have the sparkly shoes,” he says.

With his custom version of Odette from The Swan Princess, Calfa used rhinestones and holographic fabric to symbolize the transformation process from swan to human. He also used lots of feather details and a swan locket to finish the look. “It is not in your face that it’s a male Odette, but it has the elements of Swan Lake,” he says.

With countless princesses to choose from and so many avenues for inspiration, how does Calfa choose which princesses to cosplay? It all comes down to the ones he loves and to whom he feels a personal connection. “A lot of people ask me if I am going to do Anastasia and I say no, because I hate Anastasia.”

But it’s not all princesses all the time. Though cosplay is a huge part of Calfa’s life, it’s not everything. “In real life, I am a T-shirt and jeans guy. I love wearing flip flops, I hate wearing shoes. I love hoodies. When I’m not cosplaying, I grow out my beard so I look scruffier,” he explains. “Then it’s really funny when I show someone a picture of me as Cinderella and I have blonde hair, I’m clean shaven, and I’m wearing a blue jacket with butterflies all over it. It’s fun to transform.”

One of his most memorable cosplays, in fact, is not even a princess, but instead a Star Wars and Aladdin mash-up—Aladdin Fett. Calfa remembers this particular look as one of his most difficult forays into cosplay to date. “Foam armor and I are not a match. It sounds so basic and so easy, but once I started I was like ‘ooh, mama no,’” he laughs. “If I could do it again, I would hire someone else to do it. But I was really proud of myself because I do love that costume.”

Cosplay is gaining in popularity year after year, with thousands of people flocking to comic conventions all over the world in their own DIY creations inspired by their favorite fandoms, including Disney, Marvel, DC, and Star Wars, among the most popular looks. What once was a niche community of artists and fans is steadily becoming more and more mainstream. According to Princess Chris, the uptick in cosplayers is a result of “nerdoms” in general becoming more popular among more people. The cause of that? Nostalgia.

“My parents don’t understand our obsession with Disney movies because we always had it as kids, and as kids they didn’t have that. The only time they ever got to see movies is when they went to the movies. They never had a VHS. I think that’s partially what’s responsible for our nostalgia. I can’t imagine for kids these days what cosplay culture is going to be like when they grow up,” he says.

Calfa’s Instagram page (@princesschriscosplay) is an endless scroll of creative cosplays, from Mary Poppins and Walt Disney to Britney Spears and Freddie Mercury to almost every princess you know and love. The breadth of his cosplay skills is wildly impressive, and his passion for his art is immeasurable. He recently unveiled his newest creation at WinterCon in New York City—Princess Aurora. Princess Chris will be prepping for his next convention debut, Katsucon, undoubtedly with a few surprises up his very sparkly sleeves.

This article was originally published in the Pop Insider’s Winter 2019 Issue No. 2, click here to read more!

Photos:
Princess Chris as Odette (top): Freda Mattea
Princess Chris as Cinderella (bottom left): Nicole Horsfield; and as Ariel (bottom right): Rachael Krause