Chat transcript: Costume designer talks about creating 'Austin Powers'
July 6, 1999
(CNN) -- The following is an edited transcript of a chat the took place on Tuesday, July 6 at 1 pm EDT with Deena Appel, designer of the costumes for both "Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery" and "Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me."
Chat Moderator: Where do you start when you design for a movie like Austin Powers?
Deena Appel: Designing really starts first with the script, and with Austin Powers you never know where that's going to be. Researching really starts with what is going on in the time. For me that was really researching the difference between 1967, when the first movie began, and 1969. Changes in the community in London which were about freer speech.... (And) we were traveling to the moon, we were exploring our more spiritual side, so there was a more serious atmosphere than in the early '60s.
Chat Participant: Deena... thanks for joining us today... do you make new costumes for movies such as this, or do you go to consignment shops and the like?
Deena Appel: All the costumes worn on the lead actors were designed and made for them. We do shop consignment shops and thrift stores and flea markets for atmosphere in the bigger crowd scenes.
Chat Participant: I've heard that Mike Myers improvises quite a lot when making movies. Does this influence your designs in any way?
Deena Appel: It absolutely does. The script is a constantly changing, living, breathing thing. For example, the synchronized swimming sequence (which opens the movie) was Mike's brainchild only two weeks before we shot it.
Chat Participant: Deena, where did the inspiration for Austin's blue velvet suit come from?
Deena Appel: Mike is, for starters, a big fan of blue as a color, and I had found a lot of inspiration from the British music scene -- primarily George Harrison, Mick Jagger, Jimi Hendrix -- and I knew that I wanted Austin's clothes to be very tactile; to be sexy, but have that touchy-feely quality.
Chat Participant: How does one learn to be a clothes designer for movies?
Deena Appel: Costume design is very different from fashion design. You learn mostly by doing, in reality. You have to have an inherent sense of fashion, but also of the body, and of storytelling, and so much of what we do is about trying to help tell the story through clothes.
Chat Participant: Where did the ideas behind Scott Evil's wardrobe come from -- especially that number with the boa in the 2nd Jerry Springer scene?
Deena Appel: Scott was always meant to be the touchstone to the '90s, so Scott needed to be the most current and the expression of the '90s in terms of his clothes. Since Jerry Springer takes place several months later, I wanted to see where Scott would go next, so I was inching towards Marilyn Manson territory, though not that far. Scott was mostly purchased -- his costumes were mostly purchased. There was a combination of thrift store pajama tops, and some pieces from a company called "Extra Large."
Chat Participant: Which costume did you find to be the most difficult to create?
Deena Appel: There were two costumes that were extremely complicated: The fat man's scotsguard kilt costume, because it had an enormous amount of parts, and was extremely expensive, and was virtually like building a costume for a beachball. The second most complicated costume was actually the Apollo suit of Austin's that Mini-Me has to climb into. We had to take an original NASA suit used in the beginning of the scene and rebuild it to accommodate Mini-Me climbing in.
CNN Style Editor: Deena, when we spoke, you told me that your favorite costume got cut from the movie. Could you tell our users about that?
Deena Appel: My favorite costume was a pair of flannel pajamas that were made for Austin that were covered with male symbols, and they were used in a scene we hope will someday be on DVD, but were unfortunately cut from the feature release.
Chat Participant: Are you going to market any of the 'Austin Powers' styles for consumers?
Deena Appel: My understanding is that New Line (Productions) has some plans to create some kind of consumer clothing. I am not at this point involved with that. There are certain items available on the New Line Web site (www.austinpowers.com) however, one of them being the silver Hushpuppies I had made for Dr. Evil and Mini Me.
Chat Participant: Deena what other movies have you designed costumes for?
Deena Appel: "Now and Then," "8 Seconds," "He Said, She Said," and "Mystery Alaska" (which is) due out this fall (directed by 'Austin Powers' director Jay Roach).
Chat Participant: how many costumes were constructed for the film?
Deena Appel: I actually never counted. I think that at the beginning of the film you stay a little naive, and if you stop and actually try to count you'd probably pass out.
Chat Participant: WHERE can I get that crocheted dress?
Deena Appel: For now, the crocheted dress is one of a kind. It was made in New York City to my sketch, and we'll see what the future brings.
Chat Participant: Which aspect of your job do you love the most?
Deena Appel: I think I love exploring new territory every time; getting to learn about the rodeo one day, the '60s the next day, all about hockey the day after that. So it's sort of the school of costume design -- (it) allows you to meet people you would never come in contact with.
Chat Participant: Was designing the costumes for "The Spy Who Shagged Me" more difficult than designing the costumes for the first Austin Powers?
Deena Appel: Yes, it absolutely was. The first film really only touches on the '60s, and the sequel is predominantly in the '60s. Added to that a beginning of synchronized swimming, and an ending on the moon -- with Dr. Evil having two armies to boot -- and it added up to an enormous challenge.
Chat Participant: Were there any costumes that you came up with that ended up being too wild even for Mike Myers?
Deena Appel: Yes, actually. Good question. Mike, from the first film, asked me to go out as far as I could, and that he would pull me back if I went too far. Too far for Austin was paisley, something I kept trying to introduce, but Mike was not interested in paisley.
Chat Participant: I loved Austin's black leather jacket for the "Beautiful Stranger" sequence.
Deena Appel: Actually, in reality it's dark green. And it's a good example of what we try to do in telling a story, because Austin is in a very bright orange velvet shirt with Felicity in his apartment, but then has to have a more emotional scene driving to see his frozen self, so I needed a way to take the cheeriness out of his costume, and I did that by adding the dark green leather jacket.
Chat Participant: What about the costumes in "Zandalee"? They were great! I wonder if it was a different mindset to design for a drama as opposed to a comedy?
Deena Appel: Yes. "Zandalee" was the first feature that I ever designed with Nicholas Cage and Judge Reinhold, and it's equally challenging to create a mood for a dramatic, contemporary story.
Chat Participant: Did you design the outfits for the go-go dancers as well? They were far-out, baby!
Deena Appel: If we're referring to Felicity's dancers, the answer would be yes, and that was another last-minute decision for Felicity to have four co-dancers when she is introduced, and that was decided a week before we shot that scene.
Chat Participant: I was amazed to note that there are obviously suppliers that still carry the wild colors popular in the '60s. How difficult is it to find '60ish fabrics -- or any unusual fabric -- for your creations?
Deena Appel: Fabric is the key for everything when you're doing a period film. We had to travel to New York to swatch fabrics, and did our best to use vintage fabrics wherever possible. We had to resort to dying a lot of fabrics to get the kind of vibrant quality that we had, and for Austin, a lot of fabric comes from the upholstery department, where the fabrics are more textured and elaborate.
Chat Participant: Kudos on Felicity's and Vanessa's outfits! Just curious as to how big the fat guy suit actually was -- like what size waist and jacket size would you have to make for him?
Deena Appel: The fat man's waist was 80 inches around, and I don't know if there would be an equivalent jacket size. If I had to guess, I don't think I could.
Chat Participant: I have to ask -- did you pattern the FemBot's costumes after Jane Fonda and "Barbarella" fame?
Deena Appel: Barbarella was a huge influence for both the first and the second film. The FemBots were an enormous challenge in the first round because there were a lot of different opinions between the producers, the director, Mike and myself. We had to find common ground for what is sexy combined with what costume could reveal gun barrels, and the practical nature of that.
Chat Participant: How did you come up with the costume for Frau's bed scene with Dr. Evil?
Deena Appel: I love Frau's negligee, I wanted to see a softer side of Frau, and used a lot of feathers throughout the film. It was a big debate between the director and myself, because I wanted to design the costume in baby blue, and Jay Roach felt strongly in keeping it of Dr. Evil's world, and I'm happy with the end results.
Chat Participant: Where did you find Austin's Male Symbol necklace?
Deena Appel: Austin's necklace was a fluke that I found on the street a week before shooting the first film, and I redrilled the hole to set the symbol in the same silhouette as what became Austin's logo. (I drilled it) in order to aim to, say, 2 o'clock.
CNN Style Editor: Is there some symbolism in that?
Deena Appel: I think there's a little "symbolism" in everything related to Austin Powers.
Chat Participant: So, the filming is completed, the movie is released, and its Miller time. What happens to the costumes? Is there some sort of giant costume repository somewhere? Do they get converted into car polishing rags?
Deena Appel: Well, good news for you, but I'm sorry to say some of the costumes are actually available for auction on the Austin Powers Web site (auction.newline.com). Some we hope to hold on to for future exhibits.
Chat Moderator: Which ones?
Deena Appel: I don't know. I think currently, Dr. Evil's uniform is on the Web site, as well as Vanessa's slip from the opening of the sequel, and I believe one of Mini Me's costumes.
Chat Moderator: Do you reuse the costumes from one film to another?
Deena Appel: I was able to mix and match some of Austin's pieces from the first film, but I was also happy to have another chance to use some great dresses I'd made for the extras in the party scene in the first film that you never actually saw on film. So I was able to resurrect them for the sequel.
Chat Participant: Other than the female symbol necklace, is there any part of Felicity's costumes that connects Felicity and Austin?
Deena Appel: I think Felicity's whole fashion sense is a mirror of Austin. She is almost the female equivalent because she is as adventurous in her clothes as is Austin, and like Austin, we see the many sides of her from the more mysterious, seductive introduction in blue suede and over-the-knee boots, to the flirtatious, revealing crocheted dress; but always with humor and color.
Chat Participant: Were you ever tempted to wear one of the costumes off the set?
Deena Appel: Absolutely not me. Absolutely not my style.
Chat Participant: I'd like to hear something about the costumes for Frau.
Deena Appel: I think when we see Frau in the sequel, we actually are more familiar with her in the future, which is confusing. So you see a slightly more feminine side of her in the sequel, and see that as she's jilted by Dr. Evil, she takes on a more harsh edge, and dons a more militant look.
Chat Participant: Deena it's an honor to chat with you. I've always wanted to chat with a designer. I have a dream to become the best one day. I'm going in for marketing at the moment is it a good idea?
Deena Appel: Costume design is a field that you can succeed in with a lot of education, and -- in my case -- not a tremendous amount of formal training. I think it's important to be enormously resourceful, and to study a lot of films that tell you the story through costumes to really understand that it's not about glamour and the beautiful people, it's a constantly changing palette.
Chat Participant: Deena, how much time did it take to design the ALL OF the costumes for Austin Powers?
Deena Appel: For the Austin Powers sequel, I had approximately ten weeks of prep, but because the film is so enormous, the design process carried through the actual filming.
Chat Participant: Any word of designing something for Mike and Heather to wear to various award ceremonies?
Deena Appel: I think that both Mike and Heather have simpler styles than Austin and Felicity, and although I would love to design for both of them for their real lives, the subject hasn't come up. I have had the experience of designing for Oscar night; I was fortunate enough to design a dress for Patricia Arquette the year Nicholas Cage was nominated for Best Actor. And it was a great experience.
Chat Participant: Do you design clothes for other celebrities on request?
Deena Appel: I have not done a lot of clothes for celebrities privately. The difficulty for a costume designer to design outside the film industry is that someone has to pay the bill -- unlike a celebrity who goes to a Gianni Versace or an Armani where they are often loaned the clothes at no charge. When I design a dress for, say, Patricia Arquette, it is one-of-a-kind, never to be seen on the runways; however, she had to pay the bill.
Chat Participant: Deena, did you ever do TV shows?
Deena Appel: I have done several television movies of the week (but) I have not worked on any series television, however.
Chat Participant: Have you ever designed costumes for live theater, Deena?
Deena Appel: I have not had any experience in the live theater.
Chat Participant: Which costume did you enjoy creating the most?
Deena Appel: I think Felicity's crocheted dress was the most fun for me, because it's a whole different medium, unlike fabric, you're designing a shape and a stitch and using yarn and really unsure of the end result until it was completed.
Chat Participant: So, where can I get the crochet pattern for that famous dress? If I can't buy it, I'd like to at least know how to sew it...
Deena Appel: I think my suggestion would be to look at the photographs that have been printed and do your best to copy it. There is no real pattern because it was a work in progress until the end, and if you can crochet like that, maybe you should give me your number.
Chat Participant: What is the status of film costume design in your opinion. It seems few projects call for original creations. Do you agree?
Deena Appel: This is the unfortunate current status to costume design -- in the fact that producers are trying to find ways to save money, so the contemporary film is now at risk with regards to costume. We've lost sight of costume design as one of the tools that helps to tell a story. On the flipside, there will always be stories that will require original design.
Chat Participant: Deena, how many people do you work with to design costumes?
Deena Appel: I work with a base crew of eight people helping me to prep the film and approximately 25 to 30 people are sewing and pattern-making. With Austin Powers I also worked with a boot maker and a jewelry maker.
Chat Moderator: Do you do any of the sewing of the costumes yourself?
Deena Appel: I don't sew any of the costumes myself, in the design process you have to have an understanding of where every seam will go, but there are not enough hours in the day as it is for me to even think about sewing. I sew about as well as the average homemaker -- a skirt here, a pillow there.
Chat Participant: What is it really like creating something with Mike Myers?
Deena Appel: Mike is really a genius, and he gives you such an amazing innovative, creative field to play in, and to be able to work on a project that allows you to laugh at your past, look to the future, and challenge yourself to the extreme is tremendously rewarding.
Chat Moderator: Thanks Deena for joining us today.
Deena Appel: I would just say that I'm thrilled that people have responded so well to the sequel. When we started the first film three years ago, we had no idea we would be here today. And we're so happy that people seem to really love it, and have embraced Austin just like we have.
Chat Moderator: Thank you for coming today!
Deena Appel: Thank you so much for having me.
Chat Moderator: If anyone wants to contact Deena they can reach her through New Line Cinema (www.newline.com).
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