Breaking down the fierce, funky fashion of Birds of Prey
Styles of anarchy
“I really, really, really might have had the most fun I’ve ever had in costume design making this movie,” says Erin Benach, who created the wild wardrobe for Birds of Prey, the DCEU's R-rated new chapter. Keeping in mind what women would actually want to wear — and not just what men would want to see them in — Benach describes her challenge as: “In my dreamiest of dreams, what would I want me and a gang of girlfriends to wear to kick butt?”
“We pulled a lot of inspiration not just from the comic books, but also street style, fashion shows, fashion editorials,” director Cathy Yan tells EW. “I had never seen that before, that level of understanding the fashion zeitgeist in a superhero film.” Check out some of Harley Quinn & Co.’s greatest looks ahead — some of which you can score for yourself — to see how Benach combined comic books and wearable fashion to dress a world both heightened and grounded. Let the sartorial mayhem begin!
Say her name
Birds of Prey opens with Harley Quinn’s (Margot Robbie) breakup with the Joker and chronicles her fantabulous emancipation. “She just got out of a relationship, and I think she dresses very differently when she's with the Joker than when she's not,” says Robbie. At one point, she sports a white T-shirt covered in her name — hers, not Mr. J’s — over the hot pink crop top and suspendered, high-waisted denim shorts she wears as a base layer throughout the film’s main timeline. “Because the movie takes place with such a fast pace and in a short amount of time… it was just a way to have her have changes, really, that made sense,” Benach says of her hero pieces, which also include her chunky jewelry (replacing the J pendant she throws away at the beginning). “So it wasn’t, like, a fashion show!”
This wonderfully chaotic jacket with voluminous sleeves fringed in caution tape spoke to Harley’s “punk-rock anarchy sort of vibe,” Benach says. “It just felt right for her character that it was sort of subtly woven into the costume that she might have taken caution tape away from some sort of crime scene, chopped it up herself and made this.” Great idea — go ahead and try it yourself!
Mary Elizabeth Winstead’s mysterious Huntress presented a challenge, having to lurk into the shadows for much of the movie but then stand out whenever she’s in the spotlight. “That was really hard, actually,” Benach admits. She and her team tested “tons of different blacks with shine to them, and different kinds of iridescent shine,” to determine what could blend into darkness but be dynamic in the light. “Huntress is sporty, but she’s got this subtle iridescence, [and] purples and blues, to all of her blacks.”
A caged Bird sings
Jurnee Smollett-Bell’s Black Canary went through “quite an evolution” from a costuming standpoint, Benach says. At first, “I felt like there was this soulful character that I [envisioned], in the streets of Manhattan from the ’70s, when I read the character.” That vision developed as Benach incorporated more inspiration from the comics (including a color palette of blacks, blues, and yellows) into Smollett-Bell’s wardrobe, like with this showstopping dress she wears to perform in the Black Mask Club. The character wears fishnet stockings in all the comics, “and that’s sort of what you see in that crochet — it’s actually like an enlarged fishnet fabric,” Benach explains. “That dress, I literally designed it on Jurnee. It was one of those organic moments.”
For every outfit that appears in a fight sequence, “we create an action version of it,” Benach says, singing the praises of her cutter and fitter, who got her through the tricky double costuming. “We print the same [pattern] onto a stretch fabric and make a version where they can kick and jump and dance and do everything they need to do. It’s actually very complicated, that part.” For the gold leather jumpsuit Harley wears in the final showdown, “we inserted all of these gussets and all of these stretch pieces [in] the same gold print,” she says. “So you can’t see it in motion, but there’s all these pieces — behind her knees and all those places where you need to be able to bend.”
“Because we were having so much fun with our female superheroes, we needed for our male superhero to be balanced and be having as much fun as well,” says Benach. Enter Ewan McGregor’s Roman Sionis (a.k.a. Black Mask), a sadistic crime lord, flashy nightclub owner, and high-functioning narcissist. In his namesake Black Mask Club, he appears wearing opulent suiting in rich velvets and brocades, to make sure he would pop even in the dimly lit club and to keep him looking “over-the-top but aspirational — in a good way,” Benach says.
Sionis’ extravagant blazers aren’t his only style luxury: Benach and her team designed a logo for him and had all his handkerchiefs and scarves monogrammed to perfection. “Everything is just as personalized as you could be, if you could make anything in the world [reflect] yourself,” she says. She took it to the next level with these pajamas, for which “we took a picture of Ewan’s face and then created a fabric pattern of his face into the pajamas,” she says. “Now do you see why I had so much fun making this movie?”
Jumpsuits are a girl's best friend
For an elaborate dream sequence recalling Marilyn Monroe’s performance of “Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend” from Howard Hawks’ Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, Benach needed to Harley-ify the iconic bright pink sheath dress William Travilla made for the 1953 film. “I couldn’t imagine Harley in some long gown,” the designer says, but she struggled at first with how to both reference the original and reflect the character she was dressing. Then, “I was in the Western Costume Research Library, and I was looking at all these amazing vintage gowns from around the era, and I was looking for ideas, and I was like, ‘This! Is! So! Simple!’” Benach recalls, laughing. “It should be exactly the same, but turn it into pants. So jumpsuit it is!”
High sparkle, like in this “party jacket” and the makeup it inspired, was “part of the ethos and the tone of what we wanted to portray,” Benach says.
“Harley is like a magpie — if it’s shiny, she’s going to like it,” adds Robbie. “So there's a lot of shiny looks and fun things and candy necklaces and sequins and this and that. Harley’s look was like a sensory overload, which I think is appealing.”
Birds of Prey is in theaters now.