Costume Designer Julian Day Talks Paying Homage to Elton John With "Extravagant" 'Rocketman' Looks
"As he became more famous, his clothes became more extravagant and more expensive," the designer says of John's furs, jewelry, shoes and rhinestone-encrusted sunglasses.
From the opening scene of Rocketman, where Sir Elton John struts into rehab clad in an orange devil’s suit complete with a speckled, horned heart-shaped headpiece and rosebud specs, viewers know they are in for quite the fashion show.
The film, which bows Friday, tells the journey of the iconic British rocker’s fantastical rise to fame through the soundtrack of his greatest hits. While the memorable music and the ups and downs of his life are front and center, the flamboyant singer’s wardrobe nearly steals the show, each costume more eye-popping and outlandish than the last.
The man responsible for John's 85-plus wardrobe changes was costume designer Julian Day. No stranger to costuming British rock legends, Day had just wrapped Bohemian Rhapsody when he was tapped by director Dexter Fletcher to design the kaleidoscope of campy costumes and whimsical sunglasses that brings John (Taron Egerton) to life.
John's cinematic journey begins in the 1950s as the young 8-year-old Reggie Dwight living in the suburban world of Pinner, England. Conservatively clad in knickers, a sweater vest, a tie and a suit, he discovers the piano and becomes a child prodigy at the Royal Academy of Music. As the designer notes, "The '60s finds him in Northern England, where he meets up with an American tour band, becomes a 'teddy boy' and realizes clothing can be more than just keeping you warm."
Eventually, John finds his fashion footing at his first U.S. appearance at West Hollywood's Troubadour, clad in a silver starred T-shirt and white overalls covered in crystals. Day cites the quote from the movie that says it all, "You got to kill the person you were born to be in order to become the person you want to be," and John soon finds himself as well as his signature style (with plenty of Gucci, thanks to its spring-summer 2018 collection).
"He became this ‘Elton Hercules John’ type character and clothing played into that. As he became more famous, his clothes became more extravagant and more expensive. The furs, jewelry, shoes and rhinestone-encrusted sunglasses were such an important part," Day says.
The 1970s are represented by John's custom sequined Los Angeles Dodger uniform (originally created by Bob Mackie) and reinterpreted with Swarovski crystals, while The Wizard of Oz inspired the costumes (blue suit and ruby red slippers) for the Goodbye Yellow Brick Road tour.
"In the '80s, the excess became too much and was also part of his story arc in terms of the clothing," Day says. Costumes then became bigger and more outrageous until the performer’s breakdown, when they were toned down a bit (such as the tracksuit he wears in rehab).
While Day had free rein in designing the wardrobe for the fantasy musical, he wanted to pay homage and make sure he didn’t replicate every single outfit. Day met with John and visited his clothing archives in London for research, and then created his own looks for the film. The costumes were part vintage, part rental, but mostly made from scratch.
They made the T-shirts, sunglasses (David Cox Eyewear, who designed glasses for Dame Edna Everage) and shoes — John liked a pair so much that they had one made especially for him, monogrammed with an 'E' on one shoe and a 'J' on the other.
And those fur coats? Eco-friendly faux replicas for the film were sourced from House of Fluff. "There are so many memorable costumes that it’s hard to choose a favorite," says Day. "When we first started, I didn’t realize how many it would be, they kept adding 10 outfits here and 10 outfits there."
Creating the styles of a living icon can be daunting, and Day found out how he was doing when John praised his work on Instagram as "amazing." "When I first started doing the film, the one person I wanted to please the most was Elton," says Day.