From 'Judy' to 'Rocketman': How Costume Designers Created the Perfect Show-Stopping Looks

10:45 AM 11/14/2019

by Cathy Whitlock

The teams behind 'Once Upon a Time in Hollywood' and 'Dolemite Is My Name' also spill secrets behind how they created looks for their stage and screen icons.

How Costume Designers Created the Perfect Retro Looks-Split Publicity-H 2019
Courtesy of Sony Pictures Entertainment; Paramount Pictures; Roadside Attractions; /NETFLIX

Many of this year's top films required costume designers to craft looks, both historical and original, for characters that were putting on a show, from TV actors to singers and comedians. “Costumes inform who the character is and provides all these visual clues so important to the storytelling,” says the multi-disciplined costume designer Arianne Phillips. “I love the tactile experience when an actor puts on a costume and think of it as a ‘beam me up suit’ as it’s an invisible assist to help the actor access that character. And I love the quote from Laurence Olivier, who said he starts with his characters from the shoes up.”

  • 'Once Upon a Time In Hollywood'

    For the costumes of Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio), Arianne Phillips looked to director Quentin Tarantino. "He is an encyclopedia of Western culture," she says, adding that he wanted them to "feel like TV Western costumes and yet a little bit elevated." When Dalton is shooting Lancer, he's fashioned in a leather jacket with fringe, evoking the styles of Dennis Hopper and Peter Fonda, reflecting "where the culture was at during the time of 1969."

  • 'Rocketman'

    British designer Julian Day created 85-plus outfits for the Elton John biopic. One million Swarovski crystals were used on everything from jumpsuits to jackets. "As he became more famous, his clothes became more extravagant and more expensive," says the designer. From his authentically accurate Dodgers uniform and red-winged devil outfit to his ode to the Wizard of Oz costumes, fantasy and flash were key to creating Elton onstage and off. “The person I wanted to please the most was Elton. He always has a unique way of dressing, and his looks are for the show,” says the designer. “When you look at him offstage, he is pretty eccentric as well.” 

  • 'Judy'

    For the Judy Garland biopic, director Rupert Goold had one request for costume designer Jany Temime — a long floral gown with a bateau neck that was synonymous with her style. "It took me a long time to find the fabric; everything looked like a sort of cheap wedding dress," says Temime, who finally found some leftover couture fabric in a glittering damask silk, which had a 3D shine to the flowers. "It was also difficult to find [a pattern] for a tiny body like Renée [Zellweger]."

    Temime noted that working with the actress was a true collaboration: “Renée helped me to design the costume, and I was designing the costume to help her get into the character. It was a real exchange on that level.” For Garland’s life in London in the 60s, the designer dressed her as a stylish mom (armed with a Chanel bag and Hermès scarf inherited from the designer’s mother) and her life in the public with a paparazzi-ready blue feathered wedding ensemble, two-piece jacquard jacket and pants and an ultra-glam red-feathered hemmed gown.

  • 'Dolemite Is My Name'

    "A costume designer has to be an anthropologist, especially when dressing a celebrity figure who was a cultural touchstone," notes Ruth E. Carter of working on Eddie Murphy's look as comedian Rudy Ray Moore. Carter was reuniting with Murphy for the seventh time. "I want comfort for him and I want it to look right for the character," which meant patchwork denims, matador pants and matching suit and hat combos along with his signature rose applique.

    Carter even took comfort one step further, transforming a pair of Adidas sneakers into platform shoes. “We are not 25 anymore, so putting Eddie, who’s in his 50s, in platform shoes he had to wear all day was not an easy feat literally or figuratively," she says. "I remade them several ways to try and make them more comfortable.”

    This story first appeared in the Nov. 13 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.