Style is an essential element in the creation of an icon—even an indie-slacker hero like Scott Pilgrim, the star of Bryan Lee O’Malley‘s graphic novels, and of the sure-to-be cult classic film. Pilgrim’s T-shirts and parkas are as integral to his world (and appeal) as his befuddled expressions and love for Ramona Flowers, whose seven “evil exes” he must defeat in order to win her heart.
To get the behind-the-scenes scoop on dressing the film, The Style Notebook talked to the film’s costume designer, Laura Jean Shannon, who has also created looks for films as varied as Requiem for a Dream, Elf and Iron Man.
For Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, did you immediately visualize how you wanted the main characters’ costumes to look?
“We were very true to Bryan Lee O’Malley’s vision. Basically what I did as a designer was take his simplified version of real life from the books and re-interpret it to be real again.”
What was your biggest challenge?
“Striking a balance between the books and the film to make sure we gave the fans what they wanted, while also determining how to feel OK going out on my own with ideas. The best compliment I received came from Bryan: I made up a costume for Ramona Flowers, for the climactic scenes, right from my head, since none of those scenes were represented yet in the books. Bryan told me he liked it so much he planned to draw her looking the same way in the book!”
Who did you have the most fun dressing?
“The entire cast was wonderful in every way—I just adored them all. I have to say, though, that Roxy Richter was one fun, wild character! Edgar [Wright, the director] let me have a really great time with her and Mae Whitman was totally game!”
Laura Jean Shannon on-set, dressing Mae Whitman as Roxy Richter.
What were your starting points for the Scott Pilgrim costume design? Do you work with an inspiration board?
“My initial boards spoke to iconic items from each character in the book—Ramona’s boots, Scott’s parka etc. I had color swatches and tear sheets of clothing items that tried to achieve the silhouettes that Bryan drew in the books.
Then, once I broke down the script, I created a massive wall with each character in the film and all the different clothing changes they had. I cross-referenced the action in the script with the actions in the books. Edgar and I painstakingly chose which looks should correspond with which scenes. Then I went shopping. I built all of Scott’s parkas out of fabrics that were OK for sound—we made about 20 of them for stunts and for Michael at various levels of dirt and wear.”
Do you have a favorite T-shirt that Michael Cera wears in the film?
“Astroboy, who, coincidentally, we barely saw! Maybe that’s why. Ha!”
How did the video game aspect relate to the clothes?
“I didn’t design with the game in mind much, but I think they designed the game with the look of the film in mind.”
How closely did you work with the production designer Marcus Rowland?
“Marcus was terrific. He and I would often find each other on Saturdays at the office as we caught up on the week behind and got a jump on the week ahead. We were very involved with the collaboration—that’s so great about what we do—as was our lovely D.P. Bill Pope and the rest of the team.”
I love how Ramona’s look changes throughout the film. What was your collaboration like with the hair & makeup department?
“Jordan [Samuel], Jennifer [Bower O'Halloran] and their team and I also kept in close contact. I always made sure to let them know what to expect with the costumes, and we would often discuss what that meant in terms of their world. We also had lots of camera tests—especially with Mary [Elizabeth Winstead], who plays Ramona—since she has such an arc throughout the film.”
The actors you worked with are so funny—Michael Cera, Jason Schwartzman, Bill Hader. What was it like being on-set?
“They are all very talented and I adore them. We all shared a love of good and healthy food so we bonded over all the good eats Toronto has to offer! I think, Live, the raw food restaurant in town and Fresh, the juice bar, were sad to see us go!”
Who are some costume designers that you admire?
“I admire all of my fellow designers. We work our butts off and if we do it well, nobody can even tell! It’s like being a member of a secret club.”
When did you first become interested in costume design?
“When I was a kid, I suppose, since I always made up costumes and skits and I even had my prom dress built from my original design. But honestly, it sort of found me. I moved to NYC to try out film, not knowing which direction to take. Being a sculptor, I became a model-maker as well, but I’d already had the wonderful fortune to work in the costume department with Aude Bronson-Howard and David Robinson on a few films. It just kept calling me home.”
When you were in Toronto, where did you shop?
“I shopped everywhere! I did miss New York, but Toronto has a lot to offer and I love it. My buyers were the best—they made sure to leave no stone unturned. Kensington Market is a place I wish was in every town I work in! I’m working in L.A. now, and I was just missing that place!”
Kieran Culkin (as Wallace Wells), with Mary Elizabeth Winstead and Michael Cera.
Scott Pilgrim vs. the World is in theatres this Friday, August 13. Read more about the movie—and watch the official trailer—here.