On the 15th anniversary of Cameron Crowe's celebrated film, EW talks to the costume designer about the memorable on-screen looks.
No matter what age it may say it is, Almost Famous is most definitely 15.
It seems like just yesterday that relative newcomer Kate Hudson first slid into our hearts on crepe paper as Penny Lane and Philip Seymour Hoffman made being uncool oh-so-cool as Lester Bangs. It was 2000 when Cameron Crowe’s celebration of rock and roll and ’70s counterculture premiered, bringing with it not only the phrase “feck you,” but some pretty rad outfits, too.
EW talked to Almost Famous costume designer Besty Heimann – whose credits also include Pulp Fiction and Reservoir Dogs – to get the story behind some of those outfits. Apart from the vintage Levis (which she scoured the coast of California and up to Seattle to find), Heimann created all of the pieces for the film from scratch.
Penny Lane (Kate Hudson)
Undoubtedly the film’s most iconic piece is that coat, a burly and beautiful thing that seems to engulf Penny Lane’s small frame. Using a rug from Urban Outfitters (for the fur collar) and some upholstery fabric (for the coat), Heimann wanted to create a piece that reflected Penny’s dichotomous personality, and it was the product of many conversations with Crowe.
“I felt like Penny Lane was laughing on the outside but crying on the inside,” Heimann says. “When you caught her in the right light, you realize how young and innocent she was and yet there she was in this big coat that she wrapped around [herself] for protection, like a small child has a security blanket… I tried to create a look for her that shielded her vulnerability at times and accentuated it at others.”
Perhaps the most laborious piece for Heimann was the blouse Penny wears when William informs her that the man she loves had traded her to another band for $50 and a case of beer. Despite Penny’s very cool response — what kind of beer? — it’s a really vulnerable moment, and Heimann wanted the top to be just as bare. “This was a very fragile blouse. I think it took us, like, three days to make it,” she says. “You could see through it. She actually didn’t have a bra on under that and I loved it for that moment. You could see through it, and there she was, she was trying to make lemonade out of lemons.”
As for the style-180 Penny makes at the end of the film as she’s catching a flight to Morocco? “She’s playing another part. She’s playing Audrey Hepburn. She’s grown up a lot through the course of the film, and realized that her life is worth something. It’s not defined by what others think of her… Now she’s going to be an exotic American woman visiting a foreign land, just like in an Audrey Hepburn movie. It’s just another way of her expressing herself with an outer persona.”
Sapphire (Fairuza Balk)
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While Penny’s coat is a bit of a scene-stealer, it’s hard to forget fellow Band-Aid Sapphire’s rainbow-colored vest, one of Heimann’s favorite pieces from the film. “That feathered vest was inspired by Janis Joplin,” Heimann says. “It wasn’t anything she ever wore, but I saw pictures where she had a feather boa around her neck, and that really captured my imagination. That vest was very laborious because we made a fabric vest and then I got pieces of marabou in all these different colors and we cut each piece and glued it down, row by row. That took a lot of time.”
Jeff Bebe (Jason Lee)
“The T-shirt is everything.” And if anyone in Almost Famous is going to wear a T-shirt with his own face on it, it’s Jeff Bebe, the arrogant Stillwater frontman played by a long-haired Jason Lee. Heimann tells EW that this look was inspired by an almost identical T-shirt emblazoned with an image of Neil Young’s face.
“Cameron and I were both familiar with this T-shirt. And I said, ‘Let’s make one for Jeff Bebe. He’s so full of himself, he thinks he’s so important, he’d wear his own T-shirt,” she says. “[Jason Lee] was so willing. I would bring Jason shirts that looked like girls’ shirts from the point of view in 2000, the swoop neck and the bellbottom sleeves and he would just put it on and say, “Okay, let’s go!”
Russell Hammond (Billy Crudup)
“Jeff Bebe liked being in the foreground, Russell liked being in the background, and that defines them as characters; their look, what their dialogue is,” Heimann says of Stillwater guitarist Russell, who’s far more guarded and insecure than his bandmate. When designing his wardrobe, Heimann says she wanted him to have that “iconic rock singer as cowboy outlaw look.”
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