“To have somebody make a movie about you must be even for Elton, quite weird. It’s like you’re putting your childhood on sale, all your misdemeanors, your success, and all of that. Given all of that, he was incredible, and a real generous spirit. I showed him the [costume] concepts, and he gave his seal of approval, which was the most important thing for me, because there’s no point in doing a film about Elton John, if Elton John doesn’t like what he’s going to wear. He has been very particular, all throughout his life, about what he wears, so to have his validation was and is very important. So, all in all, I think it was a success, from that point of view.” — Julian Day
First working with Dexter Fletcher on Freddie Mercury biopic Bohemian Rhapsody, costume designer Julian Day subsequently reteamed with the director on Rocketman. Another musically-oriented feature, the film starring Taron Egerton examines the meteoric rise of English singer-songwriter Elton John, as well as the personal and professional challenges he confronted during his ascent.
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Conceived as a musical fantasy, rather than a straight-up biopic, Rocketman gave Day license to take some liberties with where certain costumes appeared in the arc of John’s life. The Paramount Pictures title ultimately became one of the designer’s favorite projects, given the “totally outrageous and fantastical” approach he could lean into with his work.
In preparation for the shoot, Day was given access to John’s personal archive of ’70s and ’80s costumes, also engaging in “a lot of referencing from the internet” that informed his designs.
What the costume designer sought to capture with Rocketman was both the sheer exuberance and excess of John’s world, and the alienation he often felt from those closest to him.
An homage to The Wizard of Oz, the “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road” costume seen above speaks to one of the darker periods in John’s life. “I think it was almost the idea of looking for Oz,” Day reflects, “looking for this thing that didn’t exist, really.”
Touches inspired by the world of Oz include John’s “Dorothy-blue” suit, silver shirt (a nod to The Tin Man), and fake fur coat (a representation of The Lion), as well as the ruby red crystals on his shoes and lapels.
Placing Swarovski crystals in this costume, and many others, Day was able to perfectly match the ruby red of Dorothy’s slippers, given that those, too, had Swarovski stones stitched in.
The “Queen Elizabeth” ensemble illustrated above is seen on screen during John’s Australian tour.
While in reality, John wore a Louis XIV outfit for the concert in question, Day decided to reference Queen Elizabeth I with his design for the scene, to get at “the idea of this hardened character” that John had become during “this ball-busting period in his life.”
Taking Egerton through at least a dozen fittings for this costume, the designer compares the process of constructing it to that of erecting a building. “You start with the panniers underneath the underskirt—with the foundation, the structure underneath. So, we got these panniers, and almost a corset, and then you started adding on,” he shares. “It almost came by osmosis. “
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