Making the clothes that made the man
Between now and the Oscar nominations on Jan. 13, EW will speak to numerous contenders in below-the-line categories about their work and craft. This week: Rocketman costume designer Julian Day.
It takes guts to rewrite the history of a legend — especially when it involves crafting a fresh wardrobe for a musician as well-known for his musical prowess as he is for the boundary-pushing fashions that defined an era. But that’s exactly what Rocketman costume designer Julian Day did for Dexter Fletcher’s Taron Egerton-starring, fantastical biopic about the pop superstar’s life. Ahead, Day shares some exclusive artwork from the conception process, which saw him taking real-life inspiration from John’s career and fusing it with his contemporary intuition to create a new look for a familiar icon.
As Dexter Fletcher’s biopic is an eccentric, fantasy-tinged musical rooted in Elton John‘s memories of his early life, Julian Day didn’t want to lead a simple retread into outfits his fans were already familiar with.
“I got all of these ideas and put them in a melting pot, and then I took out a silhouette or a fabric [inspired by Elton] and built new concepts for the film,” Day tells EW of the roughly 80 designs he crafted for Egerton to wear, most of which are aesthetically similar to what John would’ve worn, but aren’t exact copies. “Rather than just reproducing, we amped them up, changed them…. I went into Elton’s archive and looked at all the originals [and] used it as a basis.”
While Day admits putting his personal stamp on John’s well-known history was intimidating — especially with John overseeing the film as an executive producer — he says the pop superstar was fully on board with his creations.
“Dexter went to meet Elton at his house…. He took [concept] photos and sat with Elton, and showed him the outfits. Elton was like, ‘Have I worn this?'” Day recalls. “It had so much resonance, and he’s never worn anything like that at all, but it had a resonance with him. He understood it all and loved it all.”
Day claims John loved a pair of winged boots Egerton wears in the film so much that he had a pair custom-made for the singer, complete with an “E” and a “J” on each foot. Egerton also gifted John a pair of glasses he wore during a scene about the composition of the icon’s signature hit “Your Song.”
“‘Your Song’ meant a lot to Elton and it meant a lot to Taron, and there’s a bit where he’s composing ‘Your Song’ in his mom’s house, and those glasses [he wears in the scene], Taron wanted to give those as a gift to Elton, so he got his prescription and put the lenses into them and gave them to him as a birthday gift,” Day remembers.
Day says that none of John’s real clothing appears in the film, though the jacket Egerton wears on the film’s poster is an Elton original.
“It’s in the archives…. They’re museum pieces, worth hundreds of thousands of dollars, so you can’t use them for filming, but for the photoshoot we got it out,” he explains. “That jacket is absolutely tiny…. I didn’t think it would fit on him, but Taron managed!”
“A lot of people have said to me that they feel Elton’s costumes are an extra character, and that’s one thing that’s important to me: that they don’t overshadow Elton, but because he’s so excessive, they become their own character,” Day explains of the story he tried to tell through clothing. “There’s an evolution of the artist. One of the things I wanted to get across was that his mother and grandmother used to make their own clothes and dress-up outfits for Elton, so he’s vey much involed in clothing from an early age. That idea that you can become a different person…. He understood that costumes can become a character!”