Rocketman Costume Designer Julian Day On Reimagining Elton John’s Iconic Wardrobe

Rocketman, the epic musical fantasy based on the incredible human story of Elton John’s breakthrough years, is finally out in cinemas today! The film follows the music legend’s  journey of transformation from shy piano prodigy Reginald Dwight into international superstar Elton John. Aside from his most beloved songs (performed by star Taron Egerton) it also showcases his flamboyant and now-iconic fashion style and its development throughout the years. We caught up with the films costume designer Julian Day to ask him how he went about creating a brand new wardrobe for the superstar, if Elton himself approved and how many crystals were used on the costumes…

Why were you excited to be a part of this movie?

The idea of getting to design outfits for Sir Elton John is a dream job really. Who wouldn’t want to do that! He’s known for his flamboyant and outrageous outfits and it’s a designer’s dream in my opinion.

What was your starting point in terms of research?

I obviously did research on the internet and connected it to the years we were doing. I also got to go to the Elton archives where he’s got lots of his original clothing. I got to go up close to the actual garments and see them in detail. I met Elton once, he came down to the studio and I did a show and tell for him. He signed off on my costumes and that was a great moment. Slightly nerve-racking too.

How much of the clothing was based on reality?

The one that really stands out was that iconic Dodgers outfit that we kept based on reality. But pretty much everything else was made up. There was a few homages to certain outfits but mostly it was made up.

His style develops quite a lot from when he is a teenager to when he moves out and eventually is a big star – how would you describe this journey of his clothing?

The film starts when he was very young – that schoolboy in his plain uniform. You see in the film that he got his love for clothing from his mom too. When he becomes older he is this teddy boy and then Taron takes over and the colourful, flamboyant side starts coming out. The more money he gets the more over-the-top his looks become, until we hit the ’80s when his life became a little more desperate and his clothing started to become more sombre.

How many Swarovski crystals were used to make this movie?

1 million. We had 54 pairs of sunglasses, 45 pairs of shoes and 85 outfits in total…

What came first, the looks or the accessories?

It was all done at the same time. Each outfit was created as a whole concept. The devil’s outfit was the first outfit I designed and that was all created as one with the heart-shaped glasses, the heart-shaped wings.

I noticed that when ‘Yellow Brick Road’ comes on, he wears these ruby shoes – can you tell me something about that?

‘Yellow Brick Road’ of course led me to The Wizard of Oz so the whole outfit was inspired by that: the fur coat for the lion, the silk shirt for the tin man, the straw hat for the scarecrow, the blue suit and ruby red slipper for Dorothy. Swarovski actually did the original ruby red slippers so we used the same colour crystal that was used then.

Was there any other symbolism in the looks?

Especially the devil’s look again. The heart shaped glasses and wings represented him looking for love. The devil outfit was representative of his desperate times and it was kind of comical too – slightly funny, slightly sad, slightly sinister.

How long was the process from the first design to the clothes being ready for their shot?

We had twelve weeks to prep, which wasn’t very long. We started by creating ten or fifteen looks in the beginning and then we made more and more for the whole film.

You also worked on Bohemian Rhapsody – how differently did you approach these two music icons?

I think there’s similarities between the two, but also a big difference. Freddie did have some quite outrageous outfits but he stayed within certain lines and had a theme going through his looks. He brought loads of iconic things to the mainstream, like leather caps. He had his own unique style and not many people could’ve copied what he wore. So the approach was different, but also similar in the era and things like that. Also, Bohemian Rhapsody was more about recreating actual gigs and Rocketman was quite the opposite of that.

Is there another music icon you’d love to dress next?

David Bowie.

How did you get into costume design in the first place?

I studied theatre design in college and started working in a costume hire company and started designing for short films. Then it just snowballed from there and touch wood it’s hopefully going to carry on like that. It was a long process and started by working with no money or resources.

What advice would you give to anyone who’d want to get into costume design?

Never be put off by anything. Persevere and just keep knocking on people’s doors really. And just start designing and put yourself out there. Basically just do it, design. It might never be seen by anybody but the experience you get is what matters.

Rocketman is out in cinemas now