We speak to man behind the costumes of the highly-anticipated Queen biopic, which hits cinemas tomorrow
Capturing the sound, spirit and style of Freddie Mercury and Queen, in a film like Bohemian Rhapsody, is a mammoth task, especially when it comes to getting the details right. Queen was legendary, and their scrupulous fans – who will soon be in attendance in cinemas – will never forget it.
Many will pay attention to the music featured in the film, while others will cast a careful eye on the clothing worn by the actors who play Freddie Mercury, Brian May, Roger Taylor and John Deacon. After all, Queen’s outfits went hand in hand with their music and formed a large part of their rock and roll identity. The mighty task of assembling the wardrobe fell to costume designer Julian Day, whose credits include the Joy Division biopic, Control, and the upcoming Elton John film, Rocketman.
Freddie Mercury once said: “The whole point of Queen was to be original.” How much did Day honour that vision and how meticulous was he with specifics and research? Another Man had the opportunity to ask him about his integral role behind the scenes, plus some sartorial insights about Queen and the “dual sides” of Mercury.
What was your immediate reaction when you learned that you would be costuming Bohemian Rhapsody?
Julian Day: I was very excited – they’re a unique band. They’ve all got their own distinctive style. And they’ve had a lot of incarnations over the years. So it was an exciting project to do.
What did you learn about Queen’s style while you were working on the film that you didn’t know before?
Julian Day: I went to see the Queen archives. Brian May had a lot of original Zandra Rhodes clothes. Apparently, Freddie Mercury went to Zandra Rhodes, and she was doing a fitting for a wedding dress. He saw the angel costume, the pleated one, and was like, ‘That’s amazing. I really must have that.’ And she chopped the dress in half and gave it to him. Whether that’s true, I don’t know. But that’s the legend. I did see the original dress. It was incredible though faded. It had gone a cream colour.
If you could choose one Freddie Mercury outfit from the film that characteristically defines Bohemian Rhapsody, what would it be?
Julian Day: I do like the angel because it has so much energy. It’s almost sort of a piece of theatre. This sequinned bodysuit is also quite extraordinary because when the light hits it – from a wow factor – that’s one of the outfits that gets everybody going. And then there’s the crown and the military jacket with the leather trousers.
“We went into [Brian May’s] kitchen and there was a jacket from an album cover and it was just on a chair, and he was like, ‘Oh yeah, I occasionally wear that around the house”
I read that Brian May invited you to his clothing archives. Could you describe that experience?
Julian Day: When we started shooting Live Aid, I met Brian May for the first time, and we went through all his looks. And he was silent the whole time. But he said, ‘Why don’t you come to my house and we’ll go through my entire wardrobe and you can take some of my clothes.’ So we went there. He’s got clothes everywhere. He lent me actual items of his clothes that he still uses. And we went into the kitchen and there was a jacket from an album cover and it was just on a chair, and he was like, ‘Oh yeah, I occasionally wear that around the house.’
1970s Ealing, London, is where the film begins and Freddie Mercury grew up. You’ve said, ‘The colours were more subdued for Britain at the time.’ What was the film’s color palette like?
Julian Day: I worked with the production designer to create a palette for the 50s, 60s, 70s, 80s. From the 60s, you could almost see bright colours through a haze of smoke – a haze of cannabis. And it’s the idea that the colours were still vibrant, but they were more like a curry and you have all those beautiful Indian spices and colours. When we went into the 70s, it became slightly more lurid, bright and more primary. And when we got to the 80s, it became more neon.
Mercury worked in London’s Kensington Market during the 70s, so he knew about style. What do you think his clothing at that time said about him?
Julian Day: The 70s were influenced by the 1930s. He worked with Mary Austin [at Kensington Market] and then she worked at Biba. They put her at the front of the store because she was like the face of Biba. He was quite influenced by her. In our film, she guides him through fashion. He wore blouses from the 1930s and furs. Slightly more risqué, sensual clothes with beautiful fabrics and bit of fur. Everything tactile.
You’ve said that even though he was quite flamboyant, he was quite macho as well. How did you outfit both aspects of him?
Julian Day: The silks, and the big blouses and big sleeves and fur and all of those luxurious fabrics that move delicately: he was very much about dance. He wore ballet shoes a lot. Even in Live Aid, he wore adidas boxing boots because he was into movement. He went to New York and discovered Mineshaft, the gay night club in the Meatpacking District and there was a sign in the front where you weren’t allowed to wear sportswear, this or that or perfume. So it was a dark place where there was lots of leather and studded stuff. That’s what he sort of got into. He brought out wearing a leather cap and fetish wear to the mainstream without it being overt.
What do you think Mercury would wear today?
Julian Day: I think he’d wear the simplest of clothes. He evolved over time. He’d be very chic. And I don’t think he would be completely exaggerated. I think he would be very subtle about it.
Was there a Queen song or other music that inspired you to get into the Bohemian Rhapsody mood?
Julian Day: I did this playlist of rock bands. I love Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin, and Deep Purple. I like Bohemian Rhapsody because it has everything going for it. It’s orchestral, it’s classical, it’s rock and roll. It’s a very cliche thing to say but it’s fantastic.
Bohemian Rhapsody is out on October 24