Designing Elton John’s Dazzling Wardrobe for Rocketman Was No Easy Feat


Unlike Bohemian Rhapsody, the other musical biopic released in the past year whose detractors pointed to the breeze-by of Freddie Mercury’s homosexuality, Rocketman makes no attempts to couch Elton John’s sexuality in any ambiguity. In fact, in a recent op-ed, John penned that didn’t want to shy away from any of the sex, drugged-up hedonism, and struggles with depression of his wilder days in order to secure a PG-13 rating for the film. As a result, it took nearly two decades to find a studio and filmmakers who agreed with the singer’s specific vision.

The film jumps straight into John’s early life in 1950s Britain. As the singer, played by Taron Egerton, evolves from withdrawn schoolboy to a bonafide international superstar, his costumes were integral both to the character’s on-stage showmanship and his journey throughout the film. In all, there were nearly 70 costumes for John, most of them handmade, as well as 50 pairs of shoes, 30 of which were specifically created for the film.

Not only was it a daunting task to replicate John’s real-life wardrobe, but costume designer Julian Day also wanted to put his own unique spin on the clothing. „It’s very much about Elton’s life,“ Julian Day tells CR. „It’s seeing through his eyes and the larger-than-life characters and larger-than-life-ness of his life. He was drinking a lot of alcohol and taking a lot of drugs, and so everything was slightly exaggerated and that’s how I approached the whole process of designing the costumes.“

Here, CR catches up with Day about his favorite costume from the film, how John’s sexuality informed the clothes, and how the singer let Egerton borrow his diamond earring.

How did you approach the costuming for the film?
„[Elton John] looks pretty outrageous in stuff in itself, so we had to try and compete with that. When I met up with the director [Dexter Fletcher], he said, ‚I want you to push it as far as you can.‘ I was invited to Elton’s archives, had a look through, and we spent days referencing it all. One thing that I really wanted to do was rather than re-create all of his outfits, we wanted to look at the basis and make it our own film. Bob Mackie was one of the designers that [John] worked with a lot, so we looked at what Mackie had done and where he got his inspiration from. We went backwards and redesigned it all to make it as fantastical and crazy as possible.“

Were any of the pieces originals?
„Yes, we looked at lots of original pieces and there’s a big archive of his own clothes, stage-wear, shoes, sunglasses, hats, everything. They’re all catalogued really beautifully and a lot of it he’s sold for his charities.“

Was John able to weigh on the pieces himself?
„Elton came down to the film studio. We did a presentation, and spent the whole day looking at costumes, hair, makeup, production design, stages, all of those things. Unfortunately, he was on three-year world tour, so he couldn’t come down much because he was doing the American leg of the tour. David Furnish was very much involved and we got lots of feedback from Elton. He loved it all. He’s seen the film and he really loved it.“

How did you use the clothing to tell his story?
„I think with any film, you tell a story. You almost watch the film with the sound down so that you can tell a story through the clothing. It starts in the 1950s, ’60s, ’70s, and then ’80s, so every year had its own color palette and fabric choices. It starts in Britain, where it rains a lot, and then it ends up in LA, where it’s always sunny. The juxtaposition adds to the beauty of it all. Also, the drug phase that he inhabits and the addictions that he has to go through informed the clothes. Every year had a color palette, so hopefully we tell the story through each of his costumes.“

How do we see his style change?
„We start in 1950, when he’s like a five-year-old boy in his school uniform, which is very heavy grey wool, and there’s a fantasy dance sequence at the beginning. He developed into a slightly older 13-year-old, when he starts to become interested in rock ’n‘ roll. He’s a bit of a teddy boy. We use more color, but more muted. Then, we hit the ‘60s, when it’s definitely muted. We get into the ‘70s, when it’s certainly more colorful, but very saturated and primary colors. In the ‘80s, we’re doing more neons, fuchsia pinks, and golds. Obviously his world changes and so do his costumes. We changed the idea of the size of prints; we used dogtooth and houndstooth. Everything is saturated and enlarged. All of the costumes become bigger, bolder, and brasher, especially as we get into the ‘70s and ‘80s with the excessive drugs and alcohol. They all develop through his wealth and his lifestyle.“

We see John grappling with his sexuality throughout the film. How did you want to portray this through costume?
„When we first see Elton, he’s more of a sort of straight boy, but then there’s some American R&B singers who come over and they’re quite flamboyant. They’ve got the brash American style and it’s exaggerated. He sees what he likes and he has a relationship with one of them. He starts to take from their look and his conscience is opened up to fashion in a way. I think as he becomes more sexually aware, his clothes become more defined. I don’t think that you can say that certain clothes belong to certain sexual orientations, but that he becomes more flamboyant and comfortable with his sexuality and his clothes reflect that in some way.“

Did the clothes help Egerton get into character?
„Absolutely. Taron loves dressing up. They’re quite daunting sometimes, some of the costumes. They’re big and heavy and they’re not your everyday wear. He said it really helped him get into character. We put a special tint in all of the glasses and had 20 to 30 pairs for the film. Elton gave Taron the first diamond that he ever bought and actually gave it to him to wear in the film. It was really nice. It was a diamond earring and he wears it until the end of the film.“

Favorite costume?
„There were a few favorites. The devil costume, which is the orange suit with the wings, is fantastic. Then, there’s what we referred to as ‚The Chicken,‘ which appears in the trailer. It’s a multi-colored, sequined, feathered outfit with a big plume and it’s very exaggerated. It works perfectly for the scene in which Elton is being very over-the-top. I loved dressing Bryce Dallas Howard as his mother. She was a larger-than-life character and we kept her very much in that ’50s shape, because it really suited her. It was brash, with colorful jewelry, and there was this idea that he was partly inspired by her as well.“

What’s something most people wouldn’t know about the clothes?
„We used a lot of Swarovski crystals in the film. [Swarovski] was really generous and we used one million crystals. We also used Chopard for the jewelry. They’re so integral to the look of the film and add that sense of glitz, glamour, fame, and wealth. They would turn up every day with to million worth of jewelry. Taron really loved wearing the watches, rings, and necklaces. There were around 20,000 crystals on the devil outfit. Another one had upwards of 30,000 to 40,000 crystals on it. The original was made of sequins, but we changed it, and that was the only costume that we couldn’t change much.“


prev link:
createdAt:Tue, 28 May 2019 17:21:51 +0000
displayType:Long Form Article
section:CR MEN