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Hocus Pocus 2 costume designer Salvador Perez helped give the Sanderson sisters a modern update. And while the iconic witches (played by Bette Midler, Sarah Jessica Parker and Kathy Najimy) are just as bewitching as you may remember them from the 1993 Halloween cult classic, the sequel finds the sisters with new costume details that add more to the lore of Hocus Pocus.
“This all started with Mary Vogt, the original costume designer, who is a friend of mine,” Perez tells The Hollywood Reporter about the costumes’ origins from the original film. “And when I got this, I immediately called her and I’m like, ‘So, why aren’t you doing this?’ And she’s like, ‘Look, I did the first one. I’ll let somebody else do the next version of it.’”
Coming off projects like The Sex Lives of College Girls, Never Have I Ever, The Mindy Project and the Pitch Perfect trilogy, Perez dove deep into Wiccan research in order to add new meaning to the details on the three sisters’ costumes.
“[Director Anne Fletcher] was like, ‘Everything should have a meaning, so give it a meaning, give it a background,’” Perez remembers. “We studied a lot of Wiccan culture and Wiccan language and Wiccan symbolism and the three witches’ coven … I sort of used the patterns that were already there, but I gave them a backstory. I just wanted the details to have a little more significance.”
And like so many who grew up watching Hocus Pocus at Halloween time, Perez was a fan prior to taking on the job.
“I am a costume designer because of watching Bette Midler films,” says Perez. “So to get to meet her and work with her was just — you know, I was like a kid. I’ve been doing this a while, this is my 30th year in the business, and I felt like I was new, working with icons. … It was just fun to collaborate with these ladies and really get their input.”
Since his work on Hocus Pocus 2, it would seem that Perez is now on a holiday kick. Currently, he’s costuming the upcoming Disney Christmas film Dashing Through the Snow, starring Chris “Ludacris” Bridges, Lil Rel Howery and Teyonah Parris. He also currently serves as elected president of the Costume Designers Guild.
In a conversation with THR, Perez touches on all things Hocus Pocus 2, working with the iconic Sanderson sisters and how he got each costume exactly right for the long-awaited sequel.
Your past body of work includes The Mindy Project, The Sex Lives of College Girls and the Pitch Perfect series.
I’m sort of known for dressing girls in beautiful fashion. But this is not that movie.
Coming from that background, what was it like to work on this film, which incorporates more traditional fantasy costumes?
Before I was a costume designer, I was an assistant, and I ran work rooms. So I built Titanic and Stargate and the Brady Bunch and the Flintstones. I come from a building background. So when it came to this film, I was able to use my background as a costume maker to sort of re-create the details. Since I sew, I was able to like, “Well, how can we make this better? How can we make this different? How can I re-create what was done before?” This all started with Mary Vogt, the original costume designer, who is a friend of mine. And when I got this, I immediately called her and I’m like, “So, why aren’t you doing this?” And she’s like, “Look, I did the first one. I’ll let somebody else do the next version of it.” We started talking about the details and where her inspiration was because I wanted to have the background on the costumes. And then, of course, the studio and [director Anne Fletcher] wanted a modern take on it. They didn’t want to just re-create the original costumes. So I think that we had to honor these iconic costumes that the fans love, but just give them sort of a modern update.
The first film is known for its nostalgia, as are the costumes. In creating the looks, how did you balance staying true to the original film, while also bringing your own twist to the designs?
Well, one of the big things from Disney was that you can’t change their colors and we’re gonna stick to the same silhouette, but the details can be improved. The original costumes had sort of made-up symbols on them. It was from Mary Vogt’s creativity. But Anne was like, “Everything should have a meaning, so give it a meaning, give it a background.” We studied a lot of Wiccan culture and Wiccan language and Wiccan symbolism and the three witches’ coven. So we did this whole thing with the three moons and three goddesses as a key part of a woman. That symbolism became the details on Winnie’s (Midler) coat. And then I wanted that to come from someplace. So when we designed the Mother Witch (Hannah Waddingham), I added those same symbols to her, as if they were some Wiccan lore that’s been passed down from centuries. And the Mother Witch had it, and that’s where Winnie got her inspiration. So it was the updates on the patterns on Winnie’s coat. I sort of used the patterns that were already there, but I gave them a backstory. And little things, like the brooch that’s on Winnie’s coat used to be two snakes. I like things to be opposing, and it was just two snakes in the same direction. So I came up with this symbol that was the woods with a star and the moon and the same malachite stone as the original thing. But then when we had our fitting with Bette, she was like, “I think two [brooches] are overpowering, let’s just do one.” Then we switched to the one, and it just sort of made sense. It just fit into the costume.
Did the other costumes have similar research?
For Sarah’s costumes, in the 16th century, they would have embroidered their clothes. So as opposed to a random embroider on the fabric that was cut into, we had the costumes custom-embroidered by hand for Sarah’s corset. Then, the embroidery pattern was thorny vines and spiders and little beetles because I wanted it to be something that had to do with Sarah’s concept. Then Anne was like, “The mesh sleeves are so ‘90s, let’s do something that’s a little more period-correct.” So we had a knitter crochet the sleeves out of cashmere yarn, and they were just a series of spider webs — again hearken to Sarah’s love of spiders. Then, the updates for Mary, she had these really pretty filigree rings on her corset, which didn’t really have any significance. But I thought in that world, let’s make them more Wiccan. So, I went to a jeweler, and there’s little pounded, hammered brass rings, and in the alphabet of the Magi, which is like sigils of the Wiccan language, we did the four elements — fire, water, earth and air — on them. So, as an alchemist, these are the elements that she uses. I just wanted the details to have a little more significance. And then we went to a traditional tartan fabric as opposed to the ‘90s plaid that was there just so that the costume felt a little more period authentic.
But we started the movie with 200 people in 1650 Salem. I mean, those clothes don’t exist. I thought I could rent them all. We were able to rent a small portion, but we had to custom-make the majority of it because there’s just not a lot of 1650s clothes that are wearable. And the Halloween costumes! It’s a Halloween movie, and we probably had over 800 Halloween costumes that could not be licensed characters, or clearly recognizable from any other brands. We had to do our own 800 generic Halloween costumes for that crowd scene.
Bette, Sarah and Kathy are all such icons, especially when it comes to fashion. As a designer, was that exciting to get to collaborate with them?
I mean, I am a costume designer because of watching Bette Midler films. C’mon, Beaches, For the Boys, The Rose, I grew up watching Bette Midler and watching her movies inspired me as a costume designer. So to get to meet her and work with her was just — you know, I was like a kid. I’ve been doing this a while, this is my 30th year in the business, and I felt like I was new, working with icons. Even Kathy and Sarah — Sarah was so busy doing And Just Like That …, so I would have to fly to New York to go to her house and have fittings in her bathroom because she was so busy. She was like, “Sunday from 3:30 to 4, I have half an hour, can you come over?” I’m like, “Yes, I’ll be there.” And we had the fittings in the bathroom. It was just fun to collaborate with these ladies and really get their input. Sarah was like, “It has to move and I need to be able to move in this. I like my sleeves to be a little bit three-quarter because I think it makes me look taller.” So I really listened and wanted to make the costumes comfortable because they wore these for 15 hours a day for months. Even Mary was like, “The original costume was so heavy, can you please make it lighter so that I can dance and move in it.”
The film also introduces three young female protagonists in Cassie (Lilia Buckingham), Becca (Whitney Peak) and Izzy (Belissa Escobedo). Knowing that they will become the future witches, how did you go about crafting their costumes?
We wanted to give the girls — because they are the three new witches — the same colors as our original three witches. So, Becca is in greens and purple, Izzy is in the burgundies and browns and Cassie was in the pinks and purples. I also did little Easter eggs like Cassie’s final outfit, we were shopping and we found that tie dye T-shirt, and I’m like, “Oh, my God, it reminds me of Max’s [Omri Katz] T-shirt.” And then when we put the cardigan on, I’m like, “Oh, my God, and that’s Allison’s [Vinessa Shaw] sweater [from the first film].” So it was a very subtle homage to the original film without being in your face about it.
Do you have a favorite costume or piece from the film?
I’m really proud of Winnie’s new coat because the original coat was printed on velvet and our coat is hand-embroidered with metallic red crystals. It was great to be able to have the time — because it takes time to do that, you can’t do it fast to be able to make something that lavish — and it was a multi-step process, because I could not wait. The DP said, “We’re shooting this on digital, not film, so the original movie had very dark colors. But there was light because of the film. We can’t go so dark because it’s digital because they’ll disappear in the darkness. So please give them a little more light.” So as opposed to that deep forest green screen, I did a dark chartreuse. And it was just because we wanted them to be able to see them at night. If they were dark, they would disappear. Then, adding the layers and things because you really wanted these costumes to move, and the witches are so dramatic and they’re twisting and turning, and for the first fitting with Sarah at her house, she just twirled and twirled. I was so pleased that you could tell they just love their costumes. And Sarah was just overjoyed, she’s like, “The movement is so beautiful. Thank you so much.” The same with Bette. I have all these videos and without even telling them, they would just start twirling in their costumes. That was the best part. They loved the movement.
Interview has been edited for length and clarity. Hocus Pocus 2 is now streaming on Disney+.
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