Soyon An, American Idol’s longtime costume designer, may be the hardest-working person on the hit Fox TV series. She's been dressing the female contestants on the show for four seasons and she now does the men as well.
Her daunting task is to dress all the contestants twice a week; first, for their oh-so critically reviewed performances and second, for the nerve-wracking and sad elimination show the very next night.
Dressing Idol contestants is not as simple as picking pretty dresses for the women or nice suits for the guys. Their looks must reflect a combination of their particular song choice (and the music's decade) and their individual style. “It’s more than just putting someone in something fabulous," Soyon explains. "You have to make it all work as a full package."
To top it off, the contestant must feel comfortable in whatever they wear, right down to the shoes.
"They have to lose themselves, forget what everyone has said to them and just perform when they set foot on that stage," she explains. "And if they’re not comfortable in their jacket, shoes, dress, whatever and they don’t feel like stars, then they won’t give a star performance."
Even their age comes into play. “Jessica Sanchez is 16 and Elise Testone is 28," Soyon explains. "I always have to keep in mind that Jessica is that young. Even though she's very fashionable, I never want to make her look older than her current age. I want to make her be both on-trend and a trendsetter.”
"Compared to Jessica, Elise is more boho rock. We market her to a younger demographic but her song choices skew older so I want to make sure that she’s a trendsetter in her own right but don’t make her look too young or too old. You can easily go wrong in either direction."
Soyon is always weighing necklines, skirt lengths, colors and prints for the girls. “Brighter colors, funky prints, a shorter skirt and fun shoes are youthful. With Elise, it’s all about opening up her neckline, showing off her assets. But with Jessica, it’s always a more demure sweetheart neckline.”
For the recent ‘80s themed performances, she dressed Jessica in a pair of Robin’s Jeans, Boutique 9 fluorescent blue-green shoes with chrome heels, a Bebe dress with neon yellow trim (that Soyon cut into a short top), a denim jacket with big shoulders and perforated leather, and chrome and neon jewelry.
“When it’s a song from a different era, I remind them that it's about the fashion inspiration the '80s left us -- neon and crazy prints, skinny jeans, big shoulders, stuff like that -- but let’s not go completely over there. We’re not doing a period film. it’s American Idol."
Her recent fave outfits include 17-year-old Holly Cavanaugh's blue fringed shimmy dress for her B-52's song "Love Shack."
“I picked that dress because she told me she was gonna move and shake. And the color looked gorgeous on her," says Soyon.
She also loved 17-year-old Skylar Laine's bright fuchsia dress worn for Bette Midler's "Wind Beneath My Wings." "It's a color she wouldn’t normally wear and I chopped it up, making it short in front, long in back, her little personal stamp."
Soyon always has designers and/or showrooms happy to send items for the hit show. This season, she’s been loving Bod & Christensen, Elizabeth and James, Cohesive & Co., Levi’s, Creative Recreation shoes, Bebe, House of Harlow, and Jewelmint.
But every week, on Saturday and/or Monday, Soyon takes all the contestants (sometimes two at a time when they’re doing duets) to shop for (and try on) the upcoming show's clothes, shoes, jackets and accessories.
At the Beverly Center, she always hits the big department stores Bloomingdale’s and Macy’s, as well as Angl, Forever 21, H&M, Steve Madden, Bebe, Super Dry, Guess?, Bijoux Tresor (great for statement accessories), Hugo Boss and Express.
Her favorite Robertson Boulevard haunts: Kitson, Halle Bob, Allsaints Spitalfields and Moods of Norway because they work with her budget. “We do pop into other more expensive stores to get big pieces, but if the contestant wears it, we have to purchase it.”
She's a big believer in mixing high and low. She’s put a pair of Christian Louboutins on a female contestant who is wearing a Forever 21 blouse and a Band of Outsiders jacket on a guy wearing jeans. And she’d love to have some Valentino, Alexander McQueen, Prada, Marni or Prabal Gurung on the show. But she'd mix it up and make it look funky and cool, a blend of runway and street.
The best part of all this shopping for the Idol winners and losers? "They get to keep all their clothes at the end of the season and they get an awesome wardrobe," reveals Soyon. "They’ll ask me, ‘What do I get to keep?’ and I point to their entire rack and they go, “No WAY!”
Way. Colton Dixon is probably the luckiest guy this season. She dressed him in one of Ralph Lauren's son Greg Lauren’s expensive hand-sewn jackets, exclusively available at Barneys. She mixed it with an Alternative Apparel shirt, Serious Jeans, H&M shoes and an Alexander McQueen skull scarf much like this cheaper one at Zara. "Those jackets are like $3,000 to $4,000. But Greg worked with us on the price so Colton gets to keep his jacket."
As soon as Idol is over, Soyon will not rest. Instead, the costume designer, stylist, and design consultant will take a deep breath and head out on the Idol tour as well as start doing the costumes for So You Think You Can Dance, another hot show she's worked on for several years.