Fresh off designing the magic changes and poodle skirts for Fox’s Grease: Live that aired in January, William Ivey Long took a jump to the left and a step to the right and (in record time) created the glam rock, rehabbed look for The Rocky Horror Picture Show reboot. (It was actually shot beginning in April of this year.)
On October 20, Fox brings The Rocky Horror Picture Show to new life, decades after Brad and Janet first stumbled upon mad scientist Dr. Frank-N-Furter’s castle and the Annual Transylvanian Convention. After 40 years of continual theatrical distribution, fans still flock to see (and call out to) the movie musical parody of science fiction and horror films. With a new medium, comes a new look.
“When one is working with a classic, you must always remember that the only reason you’re working on it is because the classic was a hit, a big hit—in fact, a classic,” says six-time Tony-winning costume designer (and 15-time nominee) Long. Still, he wasn’t afraid to experiment, especially with Laverne Cox in the lead role made famous by Tim Curry. “With Grease: Live, we homaged it, but this one, because it is so iconic, and we are paying tribute to 40 years of [it] nonstop being shown … what do you do with that? You re-imagine it.”
Known for Broadway’s sex and glamour, Long latched onto the glam rock of the early ’70s—structured jackets, leather, studs, glitz, hot colors, platform shoes and mesh. The visionary costume designer takes us through his studio at an unprecedented reveal of his designs for the upcoming broadcast:
It is still The Rocky Horror Picture Show, and an “audience” marks the tip of the hat to the cult film and its legacy. “We had to make sure that it [looks like] today, but groupies of the ’70s of the movie.” Still, Rocky Horror fanatics often come to the theatre dressed as their favorite character, and Long couldn’t have a bunch of Riff Raffs and Eddies in the faux audience. “I did costume them as if they were rock ‘n’ roll Deadheads, but they couldn’t be too freaky. It had to feel like somebody at home could be wearing those clothes.”
“Ivy Levan, [the Usherette], was to be a goth, but then we decided more vintage,” Long explains. “Then I actually cut her skirt, so it’s a micro-mini. You get the ’40s and then the edge.”
“My original concept is that humans wear blue,” says Long. “Janet’s in her powder blue suit—victim blue I call it. Brad is wearing a texture blue suit, and he has a blue cummerbund and blue bow tie because they came right from the wedding. ... The wedding is all pastels because they’re all humans, and I wanted it to look like Norman Rockwell ’50s.”
“Right through the wedding, they’re having a funeral. So we have, in all black, our crazy Transylvanians burying somebody with Riff Raff as the minister. Dr. Frank-N-Furter is the grieving widow. It’s the most fabulous funeral you’ve ever seen.”
“This is the big Medusa headdress that Laverne enters [in]. I made that myself,” says Long. “I liked to sew on my shows, so I feel like I’m really involved. It just makes me feel more connected.“
Director Kenny Ortega told both Cox and Long that the inspiration for Dr. Frank-N-Furter should be 60 percent Grace Jones, 30 percent Tina Turner and 10 percent Beyoncé. “She’s totally herself, but it was to help us with our referencing,” says Long. When creating one of Dr. Frank-N-Furter’s classic looks, Long wanted to stay within the Rocky Horror realm, but needed to do something specifically for Cox. “I didn’t want fishnets because they’re classic Tim Curry. So, I designed spider webs [for her arms and legs].”
Long tried knit mesh before settling on laser-cut latex, a technique he had never used before. “It seems Toronto, [where we filmed], is a Mecca for fetish laser-cut latex,” he says. “I did a drawing, then a life-size drawing trying to figure out the spider-web [pattern]. These latex laser-cut people seamed them together and made them mirror image.”
No look is complete without the perfect pair of shoes. “It’s glam rock, which, of course, is platform shoes and high heels. We had all of Laverne’s made to her feet, but then sometimes—with the Transylvanians—I was able to cobble [them] together. I didn’t leave anything unaltered.”
The lip-stained fabric was designed by Long especially for Rocky Horror. The idea was a riff on the fabric Long made for Mick Jagger’s shirt on his Steel Wheels tour; Long replaced the trademark tongues for lips on pajamas for Columbia. “We decided that they were Dr. Frank-N-Furter’s pajamas, so I made them to fit Laverne—they’re puddling on Annaleigh [Ashford, who grabs them to sleep over]. It’s really funny.”
Speaking of Ashford, Long had to make tons of clothes for the actress—who was pregnant during the shoot. As a human, Columbia wore blue, including this mesh ballet skirt. But she also got some of the glam rock treatment in a studded bustier.
“Eddie’s type killed glam rock,” says Long of the grunge look for the character played by Adam Lambert. “In ’73, glam rock is born, and Bowie is glam rock. It lasts supremely from ’73-’75, and that is when the Sex Pistols come in. If you think about it, the Sex Pistols killed glam rock. The idea was that Eddie and his crowd would be the Sex Pistols. This rock ‘n’ roll, torn and ripped, totally smashed the elegant, pulled-together glam rock.”
Nothing captures that more than a hand-painted skull on the back of Eddie’s leather jacket—a piece that Long loves. “I wish I didn’t have a brand, because I would love to put this on the back of one of my blazers.”
“An Alexander McQueen jacket with the white makeup and that plastered hair, I just felt that was Riff Raff,” says Long of the magazine tear sheet he’s been saving for eight years that became the inspiration for Reeve Carney’s Riff Raff. “It’s been on my wall and making that come alive was just great.”
While the five humans in the cast get the cool blue and green tones, Transylvanians hit the opposite of the color wheel. “The hot colors are the Transylvanians: red, pink, orange, magenta—obviously. That was sort of a no-brainer,” he says.
“When you see the ‘Time Warp,’ black and white are very strong because they’re dramatic and very rock ‘n’ roll.”
As for the tailoring of the ensemble costumes, Long kept his designs androgynous. He often designed costumes for men and put them on women and vice versa.
“My most favorite [piece] is definitely the lab coat because it is the least like the film,” says Long of his creation. “We figured out that Dr. Frank-N-Furter, being a style maven, would have taken a regular white lab coat and cinched it in at the waist and given it shoulder pads to make it more like a movie star.”
As for the handprints, that’s Long’s nod to the alien nature of Transylvanians. “I wanted it to look like a Transylvanian’s hand. I knew I wanted something big and graphic, so I made a potato print, and I based it on a primitive hand from the Lascaux caves in France—like the first hand, which was short and stubby. So I tried to make the hand be from that planet,” he says. “And she’s wearing the pink plastic gloves!”
Long needed this look to really glisten with vampire blood. “She wore this lace over black leather for dinner. I made a very chic tunic, and I took gold bugle beads and embroidered blood dripping down.”
“That’s her home robe, quilted out of this beautiful fabric with ostrich trim,” says Long. “She’s tidying up before she’s wearing her final look.”
“While we were working, she would channel her Dr. Frank-N-Furter,” says Long of Cox’s process. “Her choices [in fittings] were cleaner because she was already playing that role. That’s a type of method acting I quite like because it helps you get into the character more.”
The Rocky Horror Picture Show: Let’s Do the Time Warp Again debuts on Fox October 20; click here for our guide to 19 various screenings, sing-alongs and staged productions in the tristate area.