Elton John biopic 'Rocketman' takes off with whole new wardrobe
One of costume designer Julian Day's favorite looks in "Rocketman" arrives at a moment of carefully choreographed disorder: a suicide attempt by the biopic's subject, Elton John.
John, played by British actor Taron Egerton, has plunged into a swimming pool mid-party, his gut full of pills and booze, only to be pulled from the water, resurrected on a hospital gurney and pushed out in front of a stadium of hysterical fans. With a shimmy and a shake, the singer is ready to go once more.
In the dream-like sequence, Egerton is changed out of a pink leopard print robe and into the LA Dodgers jumpsuit that John famously wore at his Dodger Stadium gigs in October 1975. Except the outfit in the film isn't quite as history remembers it.
"Bob Mackie (John's frequent costume collaborator in the '70s) has done most of the work," Day said. "But I embellished it."
For his iteration, Day swapped Mackie's lightweight beads for thousands of Swarovski crystals (one million were used in the movie) to lend extra sparkle to proceedings. Sure, the costume was "as heavy as a suit of armor," and a last-minute decision to dress Egerton in shot didn't make life easier for those involved. But the scene is a triumph, conveying the intersection between artist and persona, and the clothes that make the man.
"Recently, (John) said that 20 minutes before a performance he puts his clothes on and he becomes 'Sir Elton John,'" Day explained. "I really wanted to get that across within the film."
Day is a veteran of the biopic. He dressed Rami Malek as Freddie Mercury in "Bohemian Rhapsody," Naomi Watts as Princess Diana in "Diana" and Chris Hemsworth as F1 driver James Hunt in "Rush." But this time around, the designer had creative license over his subject, in a movie that has little deference for historical details or genre tropes.
"When I sat down with Dexter (Fletcher, 'Rocketman's' director) to talk about the film, we discussed what we were going to do, and it was always going to be this fantasy musical," he explained. "I didn't want to replicate what we'd seen before. Not that it wasn't fantastic -- we just wanted to create our own film."
Accordingly, the designer's reinvention of Mackie's Dodgers uniform is the closest "Rocketman" gets to John's real-life outfits. The rest are original works.
Day and his approximately 30-strong team produced 88 outfits for Egerton to wear across the movie's 121 minutes, looking to the singer's archive of original pieces for inspiration. Audiences will see some of John's most memorable motifs, from his predilection for feathers in a costume Day calls "the cockerel" to the singer's dalliances with royal drag as a bawdy Queen Elizabeth I.
One of Day's favorite looks -- which saw Egerton wearing ruby red slippers, a fur coat, a metallic shirt and straw hat in an homage to Dorothy, the Cowardly Lion, Tin Woodman and Scarecrow, respectively -- alludes to John's search for self-fulfillment and self-acceptance, and is underscored by 1973 hit "Goodbye Yellow Brick Road."
The designer spoke of "using (John's) clothes to express how he feels," a notion that reaches its kitsch peak in a shot where sequins shed themselves like tears, falling to the ground in slow motion.
Day refers to the costume in question as the "devil," a resplendent confection of orange Lycra, red feather wings and horns. It features heavily in the movie, and is worn as John enters a rehab confessional that frames the biopic.
"The devil was the very first costume I designed," said Day. "He's come from a concert and he's had enough of what was going on in his life ... (He's) mad, bad and thoroughly dangerous to know.
"The idea is that, as he starts to strip down who he is, the costume has to do the same thing. The horns pop off, the wings come off, the jacket comes off. All these things add to what's happening to him as a person."
For the accessories, Day built, bought and embellished more than 50 pairs of sunglasses, and borrowed jewelry from Chopard.
"On some days the security guards would bring down £5-10 million ($6.3-12.7 million) of jewelry," he recalled, suggesting that it helped Egerton slip into character. "It is quite interesting when you've got £500,000 ($634,000) on your wrist. It makes you feel different."
So far, the movie has been well received, from its world premiere at the Cannes Film Festival to its release in the UK. ("Rocketman" debuts in US theaters on May 31.) But for the designer, there's only one opinion that matters: John's.
"If he wasn't going to be happy with (the costumes), then it didn't really matter," Day said. "He had to be happy with them."
Luckily, the singer took to Instagram to hail the designer's "amazing" work earlier this month.
"I can't say fairer than that," Day said.
"Rocketman" is out now in UK cinemas.