'Julie and the Phantoms' Costume Designer Shares 8 Wardrobe Secrets: See Her Sketches (Exclusive)
By Philiana Ng
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This story was originally published Tuesday, Sept. 29 at 9:57 a.m. PDT.
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‘Julie and the Phantoms’ Cast on Season 2 Hopes and Season 1 Cliffhangers!
A frequent and trusted collaborator on Kenny Ortega's projects, An was given "free rein" when it came to dreaming up the main characters' overall style and key looks in crucial moments in the season. But there were three things that Ortega, executive producer and director on the series, wanted her to keep top of mind. First, it was important that newcomer Madison Reyes, who was plucked from obscurity via a nationwide casting call, and her Puerto Rican heritage be embraced against the backdrop of a "mixed cultural diversity pot" that is the Los Angeles neighborhood of Los Feliz, where the series is set. "That was Kenny's main thing, to make sure we didn't lose the integrity of the Latin culture and the culture of being a Los Angeleno," An said.
Second, figuring out a way to differentiate visually between the lifers, aka living human beings, from the dead, aka the ghosts, in the Hollywood Ghost Club scenes. "The ghosts would be in color and the lifers would be in black and white," An said, adding a little wrinkle for fans to catch among the background dancers and extras of who was alive and who were actually ghosts." And last but certainly not least, Ortega wanted An to come up with a cool but classic '90s style for the boys -- singer and lead guitarist Luke (Charlie Gillespie), bassist Reggie (Jeremy Shada) and drummer Alex (Owen Patrick Joyner) -- that could cross decades and be timeless. "They're from the '90s and [it was important to] keep them period and true to that time. I took that and incorporated how to keep still relevant to today, 2020, but relevant to the '90s -- timeless pieces of the '90s that would be forever, that would never go out of style."
Over a recent Zoom chat wit ET, An -- whose other credits include So You Think You Can Dance, Step Up All In and Jem and the Holograms -- shares eight secrets behind Julie and the Phantoms' most memorable outfits, including an exclusive first look at early costume sketches by illustrator Gloria Kim; the personal touches the actors worked into their characters' personas (That blue rabbit's foot on Luke's chain? AGillespie special); and why Netflix got nervous (for a brief moment) over Luke's cutoff muscle tanks.
Plus, shop ET Style's fashion picks to recreate looks from the show.
1. How Julie's "I Got the Music" Dream Outfit Came Together
"In episode 4's 'I Got the Music' number, for Julie's look with the band leader's cape and hat, I wanted to create what her fantasy of being the leader of the drumline would look like. It's a dream sequence, so I wanted to put the Virgin Mary saint on the front of the cape as a nod to her character's heritage and religion because that is a huge part of the Latinx community. I'm sure you all notice, she's always wearing the Virgin Mary necklace and she probably had a communion at some point, so I wanted to keep that as part of her dream but make it more extravagant. It also symbolizes that her mother is watching over her, so that was super important to incorporate. For her top, I wanted to bring in a bit of a ‘80s/‘90s vibe to tie in with the boys' style, so that it could smoothly transition from scene-to-scene. I brought in that hyper-color blue, which emphasized the youthful and playfulness of the number. The whole theme of this scene is school spirit, which this school has a lot of! You can see that in every single student and especially Julie.
"I also wanted to show how even though she could be a little tomboyish and she walks to the beat of her own drum, she loves sparkle. And so her pants have Swarovski crystals all over it. When I read this script, I looked to Kenny and said 'this daydream is totally a music video!' Kenny and I discussed costume changes and collaborated on how to make many in the two minutes for this number. I thought about having Julie wear layers that she would be able to take off. Paul Becker, the choreographer, Kenny, and I then came up with ideas on how to remove and add these layers, plus have the costume changes sync up with the choreography, so she could seamlessly move from look-to-look within the song. It was such a fun challenge to tackle with Paul and Kenny."
"I work with a lot of musicians and the way that my process is with boy bands or girl bands is, unless the goal is for the look to be like Backstreet Boys or 'NSync where every person is exactly the same, you look at the group as a whole and ask, 'What is the brand?' And then it's pulling individual styles and putting them into something that makes them cohesive as a whole. With the boys, I created mood boards to accomplish that Sunset Curve aesthetic.
"Luke was always supposed to be my heavy metal, die-hard rock 'n' roll guy. Reggie is kind of the funny character, but he, for me, extracted this classic rock, from James Dean to 1995 with the shirt tied around his waist. He's this timeless white T-shirt and leather jacket rock 'n' roll guy with skinny jeans and boots. You even see guys like that dressed today! And then with Owen, I wanted to make him have street style that was effortlessly chic. He knew what was in and what was cool, so I put him in Air Max from the ‘90s and crop sweaters, plus he had his big logo band T-shirts as well, which in the ‘90s were very in."
3.How the Phantoms' "Nothing to Lose" Tuxes Came to Be
"The best [looks] were probably the Phantoms in tuxedos, when Caleb dresses them up in the Hollywood Ghost Club. The shirt that Owen is wearing is actually a woman's Versace's shirt; it's a silk blouse. The sleeves were a little too short on him, so I had to take the sleeves off and rebuild them so it would fit him perfectly while also allowing him to play the drums. And then Reggie, Jeremy's character, I was on a mission to find a pussy bow shirt so bad, but it's close to impossible to find that in menswear. I found a Gucci shirt that had ladybug buttons on them at a vintage store. It fit him so perfectly, when he tried it on I was just like, 'Oh my God. This is the look.' I couldn't believe it worked!"
"The other one was Charlie's suit. We were actually going to go with a baby blue tux, but seeing him next to the other two boys, we knew the color had to be more royal. So I had that suit cut for me and custom tailored for Charlie. I was so happy with the final tuxedo look, they all fit so perfectly together. And the cast is just so beautiful, so it was a blast dressing all of them and designing for them."
4. How Katy Perry Inspired Julie's "Edge of Great" Look
"The white off-the-shoulder top and the I.Am.Gia pants [stand out to me], and this costume is so special because of the symbolism behind it. I got my inspiration for this Julie look from Katy Perry's Met Gala dress that had butterflies all over it, the one Baz Halpin did. And what the butterfly symbolizes made me want to incorporate them into this. Julie in the show starts off much like a caterpillar, in her caccoon, and by the end of the show she is this beautiful butterfly. She goes through a 'character metamorphosis' and I think the Edge of Great song truly embodies that feeling of becoming her true self.
"I found these shoes on Dolls Kill with butterflies that Maddie ends up wearing for this scene. Because I had a lot of pairs of those shoes, I cut the butterflies from the multiples and used them on her shirt and in her hair to tie it all together. "
5. How Julie's Finale Outfit Paid Tribute to Her Mom
"The finale outfit is my favorite because of the jacket. We all brainstormed and came up with the idea that it had to come from her mom's closet and this is how Julie would have something so fabulous like that. With that in mind, I was like, 'Okay, what would Julie's mom wear? What would her mom's closet look like?' When I was shopping in vintage stores, I found this dress at The RealReal that was so rock 'n' roll and totally '80s, and Julie's mom came straight to mind. She would totally wear that.
"In the fitting, it literally ate Madison alive. So we were super bummed, even Madison. I kept staring at her in the dress and I was like, 'Okay, we are not going to let this go. I'm going to turn this dress into a jacket.' Madison thought I was crazy! That night I took the dress apart and since it's all penn-beaded, me and Corey Martin (my tailor), had to finish the edges so that the beads wouldn't unravel. Because it was on a knit and I wanted to use the dress as a fabric, I picked the dress apart and took off the fabric. I went the next day to Forever 21, bought a pleather jacket and cropped it to match Madison's fit. We laid the fabric on top of the pleather as a lining, a base, so it had structure. A month and a half later, we had the whole look. When you love something or you feel so passionate about a project, you bend over backwards. You go that extra mile because you really believe in the story, you love the director you're working with and the cast is so amazing that you want to give them 150,000 percent."
6. Luke's Revealing Muscle Tanks Were Almost Too Risque for Netflix
"The closest [to their character's style] would have to be Charlie. Charlie was in a band before and he's such a music lover. He's all about the rock 'n' roll tees and he's got a really cool fashion sense. He's real laid-back. Since Luke is from California and is part of this music scene, I wanted him to have that rock 'n' roll mixed with a California surfer boy vibe. This, of course, means cutoff sleeves! And for Netflix Family, that can be a little risque because Charlie's got some guns. But I really wanted to make this part of the character's uniform, it's what I pushed for because when Luke wears the cutoff sleeve T-shirts, you feel a different energy and it looks so rock 'n' roll -- it puts him in his 'time to rock' mode. Charlie totally pulls it off, too!"
7. Why Luke Carries Around That Blue Rabbit's Foot Everywhere
"During our fittings, Charlie showed me his grandfather's lucky rabbit's foot. It was a blue lucky rabbit's foot -- his heritage is from Ireland, I think it was passed down from his grandfather to him and it's something he's going to keep forever. It's his lucky charm. He asked me, 'Could I have this as part of my character too?' And I told him, 'Okay!' But of course, as a costume designer, you need to have multiples on hand. I found this vendor that was selling identical faux ones, so it worked out. But that is something Charlie actually carries around every day, that lucky blue rabbit's foot."
8. How Dirty Candy's Rainbow-Colored System Was Born
"Kenny was telling Savannah [Lee May], 'Soyon is your stylist. You're putting on your show. Every performance is like you're going to the Kids' Choice Awards or Radio Disney Music Awards. You're going on the road. It's a concert.' Dirty Candy is always on point and Carrie is always looking out for No. 1. And Savannah is the opposite of that character. That girl is beautiful inside and out, and she's the most giving and caring person. It's just funny to see that character come alive when she puts on the outfits. During fittings, she would pretend she was on the runway and she would strut her stuff and we'd send videos to Kenny because her character, Carrie, would come to life and she'd just have so much sass. We were channeling a little bit of Ariana Grande with the six-inch heels and a little bit of Britney with the denim look.
"But for Dirty Candy, the looks were over the top because it needed to be performance. Literally it says it in the script. She spent her daddy's money to hire a stylist and a choreographer for every performance. I wanted to give each of the Dirty Candy girls a specific color and that's how they dressed everyday, in their color. It was easy to put all the other colors in the three other bandmates, but yeah, Savannah was really, really fun to do."