Julian Day Interview: ‘Rocketman’ costume designer
Dexter Fletcher and costume designer Julian Day weren’t even done with “Bohemian Rhapsody” yet when the director brought up another music biopic as their next project.
“We were actually working on ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ together and he was just like, ‘We’re gonna do this film.’ Even when we were shooting that, we were talking about ‘Rocketman,’” Day told Gold Derby at our Meet the Experts: Costume Design panel, moderated by this writer (watch above). “So we finished that off and carried on talking and it was just so natural that were going to do it. It was an exciting project and we had such fun doing it and chatting about it.”
Going from one film about a music icon to another did not faze Day, who received BAFTA and Costume Design Guild nominations for his work on “Bohemian Rhapsody.” As a massive Sir Elton John fan, he couldn’t wait to put his own spin on the legend’s signature extravagant clothes. “Queen is fantastic and I loved [designing for them], but when I got pitched ‘Rocketman,’ it was Sir Elton John. He’s so incredible,” Day gushed. “Most people have a favorite Elton John song or a few songs or 10 songs or 20. He’s iconic and he’s an incredibly flamboyant dresser. I think it’s sort of any costume designer’s dream to reimagine what Elton wore really.”
Unlike “Bohemian Rhapsody” and most biopics, “Rocketman” is a fantasy musical, giving Day the freedom to pay homage to John’s style without having to be a slave to detail and replicating every single outfit to a T. Day had access to John’s costume archives, and the singer and Fletcher gave Day free rein to create whatever he wanted.
“I think that’s one of the reasons I wanted to do it because I had just finished ‘Bohemian Rhapsody,’ which was fantastic, and we slavishly reproduced the exact Freddie [Mercury] and the band’s clothing,” Day explained. “I think, when I chatting with Dexter, it was like we’re going to rip up the idea of what a biopic is and we’re going to make it our film. It’s a fantasy musical, a musical fantasy. I had complete carte blanche to reimagine what Elton wore.”
Day crafted more than 80 costumes for just John in the film. However, he knew there were some iconic costumes he had to recreate — with his own update. The biggest one was John’s Los Angeles Dodgers uniform, which was originally covered in sequins. Day worked with Swarovski, which gave him 1 million crystals, to bedazzle his version.
“I think there were 240,000 on the Dodgers outfit,” Day revealed. “Even though I’d been watching this being made and produced, when Taron [Egerton] walked on set, that actual day was incredibly stressful because [my team] had only just finished making the outfit. It was right at the deadline. … Everybody in the crew and the cast was just aghast when they saw it because the reflection from all those crystals — it was mind-blowing. “
The most important part of the whole process for Day was making sure John himself was pleased with the outfits. And he absolutely was. “It was the idea that when he watched that film for the first time, I wanted him to think, ‘I wish I had that, I wish I had that.’ It’s so important. I really did want him to love the clothing,” Day said. “There’s a pair of shoes that appear in the film that are the winged boots and I got a message from Elton’s people [saying], ‘He really loves these boots.’ So I had a pair made for him. On the left foot, I had an ‘E’ put on; on the right foot, a ‘J.’ So now they’re in his collection.”
Video by Andrew Merrill.