Goldmember (2002, directed by Jay Roach), the final film (so far) in the Austin Powers series again shifts its timeline. However, rather than a negligible, though comparatively significant, jump from late to very late 1960s, here we dive into that most raucous of decades – the 1970s. And then back to 2002 (do keep up). For costume designer Deena Appel (pictured above, bottom left with Jay Roach) it was a wildly ambitious undertaking. Not to mention the film also features a well-known music and movie star, just about to launch into the stratosphere: Beyoncé.
Speaking exclusively to Clothes on Film and closing out our epic in-depth look at the Austin Powers trilogy, Deena Appel explains her inspiration and research for Goldmember, complete with never seen before sketches of all the pivotal characters.
Clothes on Film: So, let’s start at the beginning. Tell us about the Austin Powers flight suit worn for the free-fall opening.
Deena Appel: I don’t recall how it came to be, but it was our collective sense of humour that he would wear a blue flight suit that he would strip off and have virtually the same thing underneath. We had to use a real skydiving suit, so we had it made in a close colour match to Austin’s peacock velvet by a company called Firefly, trimmed in a sturdier eyelet to give the effect of the lace jabot, aka cravat. This lead to the enormous opening sequence that included Tom Cruise, so once again it was an easy choice to go for the most iconic look.
I do recall that making up the helmets was a very big deal; both Austin’s Union Jack and the Evil Henchmen’s helmets are, complete with logos, as well.
CoF: Tom Cruise wears the blue velvet suit for the opening scene. We’re assuming he had a special one made?
DA: Yes. Tommy Velasco made Tom’s suit to the same specs as Mike’s, but neither of us met Tom in advance. We were sent measurements and only had one suit made. I think we had a tailor on stand-by that day just in case, but it fit perfectly. He was totally game and into it, and very sweet to everyone on our crew, however his personal costumer watched over him on set and he was in and out in less than half a day.
CoF: The leather jumpsuit worn by Gwyneth Paltrow was a fun callback to Elizabeth Hurley’s costume in the first film. Presumably this was an intentional nod?
DA: Since it was the film within the film, we didn’t really want you to know who it was on the motorcycle, but you could assume it was Felicity from the previous film. I did have a couple of fittings with Gwyneth to get the fit perfect. Same for Kevin Spacey and Danny DeVito as Dr. Evil and Mini Me. We arranged fittings with both, since they need the barrel chested under-suit as well as the classic Dr. Evil grey suit.
CoF: Austin has an all new suit for this film, which is worn by him in the contemporary (2002) setting – royal blue and red with alternating width stripes. It’s another one that has become iconic, a more edgy, rockstar look for Austin.
DA: Again, I was always on the hunt for Austin appropriate fabrics. Since Tom’s Austin was wearing the frilly cravat and velvet, I wanted to put Austin in his other iconic look, which was stripes with polka dots and a kerchief. This stripe was a call back Carnaby Street, but did somehow feel a bit more “sophisticated.” The fabric came from Mood in New York, with cherry red lining and silver crest buttons.
CoF: Tell us about the Singing in the Rain segment with the coloured slickers. It functions like a mini musical in itself on screen.
DA: That was great fun. I loved those slickers and the umbrellas. We had it all made to match of course. Joanne Torngren made up the slickers and they were later auctioned off to a company called Publicolor in New York who develop programs to engage high-risk students in underserved communities in New York. They go in and paint the schools with the kids to brighten up their environment using colour to change their lives.
CoF: Scott is interesting in Goldmember, because he has lost almost all semblance of the grunge look. Is this because the film is setting him up to morph into Dr. Evil as the story progresses?
DA: Scott had a great transformation in the third film. He was slowly starting to lose his hair, to eventually morph into the next generation of Dr. Evil. So I played him up as an old man in cardigan sweaters until he ends up in a sleek black Dr. Evil suit.
CoF: There is another new suit for Austin worn when he is singing with his band. This one is even more rock star, with orange herringbone stripes. Is the fabric velvet?
DA: This was an another amazing upholstery fabric from ISW, with a fabulous vintage print lining also from ISW. In anyone else’s hands but Tommy Velasco, this overgrown herringbone would have been a mess. He tailored it like it was the finest merino wool. I loved the colour and the pattern was again, graphic but clean at the same time.
CoF: Tell us about the Asian twins who are dressed in Harajuku fashion. Where did this idea come about?
DA: I did a great deal of research for the Japanese portion; it was another film within the film. There were many more scenes that took place in Japan that never made it into the script in addition to the street scenes and Sumo, yet another world within this world.
The “Fook Mi” and “Fook Yu” twins were scripted characters, but I had complete freedom to create their look based on the extremely outrageous fashions known in the Harajuku district. There are many books that capture their unusually devoted, creative, imaginative style. No two are alike and anything goes. I always tried to slant towards something a little sexy and cheeky in Austin’s circle so what could be better than the classic, sexy school-girl image. The Fook’s had more parts than any other costume in the series and included a set of custom backpacks that I had made with the help of Paul Frank of Julius fame. Paul Frank had a graphic, bold and colourful sensibility that I thought worked really well in our modern day world. They sent me a goody-box of clothing and accessories to use in the film and that’s when it occurred to me that their characters could be translated into an Austin caricature for Austin’s number one, and two, super-fans the Fook twins. We worked with their designers to come up with an Austin Powers image and then transformed that into Austin printed and appliquéd vinyl back packs, one for each twin. The character was spot on and showed how Austin had become a celebrity with a huge following. Jo Torngren was the dressmaker behind the Fook’s costumes.
I had become so immersed in the expressive quality of the Harajuku kids and all that I gleaned from that research, that it became the launching point for the party in AP 3 . It was the first “contemporary” party in Austin’s pad since the others were both in the late 60’s. I wanted to capture all the same graphic colour and whimsy we’d enjoyed at his previous house parties but with a much more modern slant. 60s prints evolved into bright bullseye targets, plaids, stripes, faux fur and lots of layers.
CoF: Loved seeing young Austin at the British Intelligence Academy in the maroon and yellow trim blazer. Who designed the International Man of Mystery crest?
DA: If memory serves me, I rented those blazers from Angels Costumes and then had them trimmed out. I don’t recall if that crest was designed for the school and I used it on the blazer or more likely that I designed it for the blazer and the production designer used it too. That sort of thing can often go either way – I just don’t recall.
The boarding school with all the younger boys was great fun but I personally loved the baby Austin and Dr. Evil in their little rompers.
CoF: Can you breakdown Austin’s hilarious 1975 outfit? Those insanely high platform shoes, that white stripe fur coat…
DA: Austin’s 1975 persona was affectionately known as “Pimp Austin.” I drew great inspiration for this incarnation of Austin from a fabulous and somewhat obscure film, “Willie Dynamite” and its incredibly flamboyant star. Austin’s was a blending and reimagining of several fabulous pieces from Willie’s closet, designed by Bernard Johnson, mixed with a bit of modern day rappers bling with his giant oversized, diamond encrusted male symbol necklace and extreme platforms of the 70s. After I found the film, Jay also fell in love with Willie’s car which became the inspiration for Pimp Austin’s wheels too. Of course, this costume had to be in Austin’s signature colour, trimmed in faux white rabbit. The crazy platform boots I designed as part of a gag that never made it into the final cut where Austin would push a button and the platform would break open to reveal roller skates encased inside. We had always planned to do that as a special effect but the platform had to be big enough to make that gag plausible. Mary Ellen Fields at Hargate Costumes built the ensemble, Deborah Ambrosino made his hat and Clint Bryant made the boots and the corresponding roller skates.
Incidentally, the stripe that I designed for the platforms – royal blue, magenta, turquoise repeat – became the packaging for all the Austin merchandising from AP3. Foxxy Cleopatra’s product packaging all bore the logo I created, with my brother, of a fox head and tail in a circle.
CoF: Beyoncé is a megastar now but was also a big deal back in 2002. Were you able to design all her costumes yourself or did she bring her own stylist on board?
DA: Beyoncé was a big deal at that time and it was widely known that her mother, Tina Knowles, designed all her costumes. We fully expected that her mother would, at most, want to design all of Foxxy’s costumes or at the very least, want to give her input every step of the way. We were pleasantly surprised that no such request came from Beyoncé or her mother. Beyoncé came alone to every fitting, was lovely, gracious, respectful and completely trusting throughout the entire process. She was an absolute pleasure to work with.
CoF: Virtually everything that Beyoncé wears as Foxxy Cleopatra is a midriff-baring two-piece. Was this her established look you wanted to keep consistent throughout?
DA: Austin Powers is really a comic book character meets superhero. If you think of any comic character, they generally wear a uniform that becomes iconographic. Mike was so smart to instil that intent from the start. Since Austin was an undercover spy who worked as a fashion photographer, I felt that he should change clothes and not live in one costume throughout. That lead to many versions of the same silhouette as I’ve described previously, to create something distinctive and memorable. Keep in mind that while bringing a Marvel or DC comic book character to life is a major design challenge, those characters all started with some kind of signature look that was translated to the screen. Austin’s look started on a script page with a very minimal visual beginning. Blue velvet suit and frilly cravat. We had to create that short hand and interpret each look along the way as if he came from the pages of a comic book too.
That mindset was also in play when it came to all the women in the series. In order to maintain something instantly recognisable and also change clothes frequently, I chose to stay consistent in one way or another.
CoF: How about dressing the Studio 69 club?
DA: Goldmember’s club needed to set the stage for his world so it was another major hurdle to stay true to the period in a colour palette that wasn’t really true to roller disco. There were a lot of primary colours, rainbow sox and of course the bicentennial themed red, white and blue at the time. I wanted to flood the club with gold metallics and kept it to a very narrow palette of anything gold, yellow, brown or burnt orange with denim, something I hadn’t really used in the previous two films. We ended up building a great deal of the costumes because the palette was paramount.
DA: I started with Foxxy and her backup singers in gold metal chain mail. The club was Beyonce’s first day on the film and the whole sequence was such an amazing spectacle. Beyoncé was decked out from head to toe in a two piece chain mail and leather trimmed ensemble, made by the incomparable Mary Ellen Fields from Bill Hargate Costumes, and a hand beaded chocker necklace and her Foxxy logo appliquéd into her custom gold platform shoes.
Also, Beyoncé’s sister, Solange, was scheduled to be one of her back up singers but when her mum, Tina, heard the Goldmember song Beyoncé would be singing, she pulled Solange out because she felt it was inappropriate for her youngest daughter.
CoF: Tell us about Goldmember himself. He always seems to be wearing some kind of leisure suit.
DA: Goldmember was the fourth character that Mike would be portraying in the film. He’d had a great deal of time to workshop Austin and Dr. Evil, and Fat Bastard was greatly influenced by his Scottish heritage and his sheer heft, but with Goldmember, there wasn’t a direct source for Mike. It was very stressful as we got closer to filming because so much was riding on Mike’s shoulders, writing the film while playing four wildly different characters all in prosthetic makeup. We were running out of time and Mike had not yet settled on exactly what Goldmember would physically look like. We were all experimenting with his transformation, including hair & makeup. The one thing that was scripted were his golden Dutch clogs.
Since Goldmember ran a roller disco as a front, it seemed to me he was a bit of a player, so I keyed into a completely gold palette for him which was a great contrast to both Austin and Dr. Evil. For style, I found great inspiration in 1970s Elton John, who was the epitome of a flamboyant showman.
CoF: What fabrics did you use for the Goldmember costumes?
Leisure was key as you pointed out, so he goes from his roller disco short-shorts to a glamorous lurex threaded silk velvet robe, to a velour tracksuit. He also shows up in my favourite, metallic gold leather overalls, and lastly a one-piece playsuit with matching cape with a logo’d crystal encrusted belt buckle, also made in the end for John Travolta.
CoF: How about costuming Michael Caine as Austin’s dad, Nigel Powers?
DA: Well, Nigel Powers was actually a contemporary figure, the late 90s that is, he travelled back to the 70’s to bring Austin back to the future, so to speak. Austin’s world was stuck in another time because he was cryogenically frozen and didn’t live through the decades he lost. Nigel was meant to be modern but have a dandy’s sensibility, one that Austin might have adopted himself had he aged traditionally. Nigel’s hair and glasses were a throwback to the 70s, as a way to connect the two men. Nigel’s suits were made to my specifications by Isaia, who had been working with us to build Robert Wagner’s, aka Number Two’s, suits for AP 2 and 3.
CoF: One of Dr. Evil’s most all time enjoyable costumes is his Cholo attire in prison. Tell us why you went for this look.
DA: This entire sequence, which was really a music video, was a last minute epiphany, like many, that come with the territory in comedy. Mike had this idea to have Dr. Evil and Mini Me perform a rap version of Hard Knock Life from “Annie” and it blossomed over one weekend into a very large scene break. His wife at the time, Robin Ruzan, wrote the lyrics. We had just a few days to prep the whole thing, including multiple matching changes for Mike and Verne and a group of fly girls. I knew I needed to somehow style Dr. Evil and Mini Me using only their prison uniforms so the one button “Cholo” look seemed a great fit. I added the bandanas as well, but it was Mike who decided to wear the knot in the front, ala Tupac. That was Mike’s genius, he would interpret an idea from the current zeitgeist and fold it into the script seamlessly.
CoF: We must just say our favourite Foxxy look is her yellow leather dagger collar jacket and short skirt. Did you have a favourite look? Seeing this costume on-screen again now, sixteen years on, it just stands up so well and is clearly beautifully made.
DA: Throughout the series, we never had much money. A little more each time, but the demands were exponentially bigger with each film which meant we were always spreading the dollars a carefully as possible. That meant that, from the start, I had to prioritise my designs. The common fallacy is that comedy costume design is somehow different than period dramas. I approached Austin Powers in the very same way you’d tackle any “serious” film. The research was extensive and thoughtfully respected. The lead characters clothes were all built by the best tailors, dressmakers, cobblers in the business. I used as much vintage fabric as I could find, wool, leather and silk because anything less would show in the final outcome, you can not fake the quality of draping that comes from quality fabrics. The looks were extreme and many were over the top but the success, I feel, came down to the craftsmen and women behind each piece.
I’ve also always had the belief that comedy can also be flattering. You can go for the laugh without having to sacrifice an attractive silhouette. The ability to build an entire closet for any character, Beyoncé included, is that you can serve the character and the story but also showcase the best of an actor’s body while minimising the flaws; even the most seemingly “perfect” bodies have something to hide.
DA: So… back to the yellow leather skirt with olive green suede accents.
I loved the metal touches, studs, embroidery, giant grommets throughout Foxxy’s closet. When you are able to sketch out the costumes you’re also able to work through the pitfalls before you start to build. On AP 3 I worked with two very talented illustrators, Michel Michele, who had worked with me on AP 1 and AP 2, and Felipe Sanchez. Also having the luxury of building the perfect shoe, or in this case the matching olive suede, platform over the knee boots are what can make or break the costume. Can you imagine this costume without the boots?
As for a favourite Foxxy costume? Hard to say – Beyoncé was such a pleasure and a treat, I only wish there were more story days to fill with new designs. I loved creating her Foxxy logo and having the jewellery and belt buckles made to my designs, a first for me. I was most fond of her short kimonos with matching custom boots that she wore in Tokyo (or in reality the Paramount backlot) although I think only one of them ended up in the final cut.
Also, I would interject here that the brief Sumo wrestling sequence was like researching another entire film. The language alone mawashi – the Sumo belts, yobidashi – the announcer, and the Gyoji – the referee, were among the many terms and costumes we delved into. Just learning to properly wrap a kimono takes a virtual degree to accomplish. We hired a local technical consultant to teach us a lifetime of cultural knowledge and to help us attempt reality. Of course all was sacrificed for the comedy version worn by Fat Bastard.
CoF: How did you go about morphing Scott into his own version of Dr. Evil? Seems his colour is more contemporary black than Dr. Evil’s rather more sixties-esque grey.
DA: We tried to key the people and situations that were contemporary with a more modern sensibility. Since Scott was always following one trend or another, I wanted to explore what he would do, if given the mantle of taking over the Evil empire. How would he modernise it? A black Dr. Evil, aka Mao, aka Blofeld, aka Dr. No, suit was even more sleek and cool and felt just the right touch.
CoF: Why did you choose that very deep purple for Austin’s final suit? Did it have gold buttons this time instead of the silver, which are used for most of Austin’s other suits?
DA: I loved the idea of purple for Austin from the start. It took me until the third film to convince Mike to try it. Mike always believed that for the British, purple was a color exclusively for royalty, so it wasn’t appropriate for Austin. True? And yes, gold buttons to coordinate with Foxxy in her gold trimmed suede 2-piece dress.
CoF: Can you tell us honestly how you feel that the blue velvet suit has been constantly remade for fancy dress costumes and you are never once credited?
DA: If you haven’t seen The Costume Designer magazine where I detailed my feelings on the subject, I wrote several articles about just that very subject. It’s unfortunate that the costumes are the only other category, other than music, where they are created for one purpose and are utilised in completely different industries, toys, dolls, Halloween costumes and packaging as I mentioned earlier, and unlike music we are not only NOT compensated, but not even credited. It’s rather mind bending and clearly a sore spot.
CoF: It is one of the most iconic film costumes of all time – unquestionably. You must be very proud?
DA: I used to worry that I’d always be known only as the woman who designed Austin Powers. A trilogy that is a broad comedy with each character larger than life tends to make people worry that you can only put stripe and dots together. At this point in my career, I think I’ve had enough departures and and enough distance as well to appreciate that anything that makes people smile with such fond recognition can only be good thing.
CoF: Would you be keen to return for a fourth Austin Powers film, should it ever happen?
DA: I wouldn’t be able to pass up that opportunity. It’s my baby after all. There has been talk of a Broadway musical over the years. I’d love to take that on as well!
With thanks to Deena Appel.
Costume sketches by Felipe Sanchez, Michele Michel and Deena Appel.
© 2018, Lord Christopher Laverty.