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The music industry is cutthroat and for every band that makes it, countless artists are haunted by broken dreams. Possessing a unique hook is one way to launch a successful career, but talent and tenacity are also valuable. Teenager Julie Molina (Madison Reyes) did have lofty musical ambitions, but her mom's death has left her disconnected from her passion. When the ghosts of three cute musicians who died in 1995 appear in her mother's piano teaching space, her creativity is set alight and Julie and the Phantoms are born.
Bringing this spooky and charming concept to life is an industry veteran with plenty of experience in both departments. Five episodes (including the pilot and finale) of the new Netflix series Julie and the Phantoms are directed by Hocus Pocus and High School Musical maestro Kenny Ortega. Based on the original Brazilian series Julie e os Fantasmas, this adaptation is a vibrant affair bursting with catchy songs, bold choreography, and eye-catching costumes. Elevating the action and emotion through clothing is designer Soyon An, who has previously worked on Jem and the Holograms, American Idol, So You Think You Can Dance, and the Hocus Pocus 25th Anniversary Halloween Bash. SYFY FANGRRLS jumped on the phone with two-time Emmy winner An to discuss crafting youthful looks, marrying '90s trends with the present day, and the challenges of designing big performance numbers.
Spoilers for Julie and the Phantoms ahead.
A decade-long working relationship with Ortega — including the forthcoming revamped Lake of Dreams stage spectacular at the Wynn in Las Vegas — is what led to An coming on board the tween-friendly series. Ortega told her the premise, which was very much in the designer's wheelhouse. "It's performance, it's music, it's scripted, it's fashion-heavy." An's approach was informed by previous collaborations with established pop star icons such as Katy Perry and Pink, and the unknown stars of American Idol. Creating the image of who Julie is as a person is reflected in the evolution of Julie and the Phantoms as a band. This is the girl who walks into the American Idol audition room before she gets a pop star makeover. "I dove into what she would look like as an everyday girl, like on American Idol," said An. "Who she would be before she found fame and then the journey she takes in her wardrobe when she finally finds herself and her voice."
Cute ghosts are not the only brush with death the adolescent has experienced. It has been a year since Julie's mom died, which is still shaping her daily mood. At the start of the series, she can't bring herself to sing because her grief is still too raw. The arrival of Luke (Charlie Gillespie), Alex (Owen Patrick Joyner), and Reggie (Jeremy Shada) — aka the mid-'90s band Sunset Curve — marks a huge turning point. Referring to Julie as "a stylish girl on a budget," An noted her everyday look is "effortlessly chic" and incorporates street style and tomboy elements. She is hurting from this huge maternal loss, but her best friend Flynn (Jadah Marie) is a support system and a sartorial inspiration.
"These kids are coming into their own, and they're still young, they're not women yet. They're teenagers," An recalled about how she responded to the script and how she envisioned Julie and Flynn's costumes early on. She added, "You can be really cool and stylish without having to wear heels or show too much skin." They are sneakerheads and Julie's Fila Destructors are a blank canvas. "I designed her character to doodle on her shoes. She has nowhere to express her feelings, so she puts it all out on her clothes. She doodles on her shoes, she doodles on her pants."
Establishing individual style personalities is important, but Julie and Flynn's BFF bond is cemented in accessories. "They make friendship bracelets for each other, and then they just wear it. It's now a thing they both have that they never take off." To ensure a thread of teen authenticity, An wanted to keep a Claire's Accessories aesthetic emphasized by "all the little bright rainbow plastic jewelry." She also found some pieces shopping for her kids while filming in Vancouver, which doubles for Los Angeles. At the register in a toy shop, a jewelry display stacked with "beads, hair clips, and BFF necklaces with rainbows" was exactly what she was looking for. Much to the bewilderment of the store employee, she bought half the display for all the multiples needed.
Using a mix of vintage, custom builds, and off-the-rack throughout the series, An found garments from L.A. thrift stores like American Vintage, Wasteland, and Jet Rag, as well as consignment emporium The RealReal. It was also important to look at "realistic places these girls would shop, like Forever 21, ASOS, Urban Outfitters, and Dolls Kill." Ultimately, An wanted to "create a style and a way of life that they would be living as high school students, who go to art school. [They] walk to the beat of their own drum."
Julie incorporates garments from her mother's closet during pivotal scenes. The backstory is that these are items she wore to auditions and live shows when she was trying to make it as a singer. That dream never came true — instead, she became a piano teacher — but her trunk is still full of "dope pieces from the '70s, '80s, and the '90s." Clothing is a tether and an effective remembrance to those who are no longer with us.
The connection between the present day and the mid-'90s is visible in the trends worn by Julie and Flynn and Julie's unique bandmates. "I was so amped," An remembered feeling after she first read the script and realized the time period and current resurgence of this period. Luke, Alex, and Reggie died in 1995 on the evening of their big Orpheum gig and have returned to their rehearsal spot — now Julie's house — wearing the clothes they died in. While the rules are a little vague, some of their possessions are still in this loft space, which means they can change outfits. Because this decade is so on-trend, they don't look stuck out of time.
Each guy has a distinct '90s signature taste. Lead singer Luke is a "live-and-breathe heavy metal" person, so his collection of muscle shirts, rock and roll tees, and pants perfect for sliding in are part of his brand. In the fitting room, Gillespie practiced the more physical sides of the performance to make sure the clothes could stand up to it.
Band apparel requires a legal clearance, a process An referred to as her "ongoing nemesis." In a panic-inducing scenario, the Rush shirt Luke wore when he died only got cleared an hour before shooting. Additionally, this garment had been altered to make it a muscle shirt, which caused issues when it was cut an inch too deep, revealing too much bicep and nipple. The designer only had two shirts from the Rush site, so An's solution was "to screen three more to make sure the armhole was correct."
Working closely with the graphics and art departments, she said, "Every other vintage shirt you see or vintage-looking rock and roll shirt was custom-made." Clearance was also required for the high school Bobcats apparel. "In my department, you got to line everything up with all the vendors," said the designer. "And as soon as clearance or legal says yes, that's approved. Then we start printing."
Drummer Alex's street style reflects his coming-out story, as when he died he was still grappling with his sexuality. "He's trying to be cool. I wanted to give him that street style vibe for him," An said. Period-accurate Nike Air Max and a pink Champion hoodie are signature pieces, and the latter is a girl's hoodie that gave the perfect silhouette. "I loved how it was a men's cropped fit for him. It was actually like vibrant pink, and I had to stone-wash it to get it like that vintage powdery pink."
His romantic connection to another ghost, Willie (Booboo Stewart), is shown through their love of socks. Willie is a skater, and his "just rolled out of bed and I woke up like this" look underscores his effortless vibe.
Rounding out the band is Reggie, who is influenced by classic rock and James Dean. "He's the guy from the '90s looking at '50s, '60s, and '70s." He wears a white tee with a leather jacket and another very important garment with a rock style history. "We have to have a guy with the flannel. Duh!"
The audacious suits they wear for the final performance are bespoke Joshua Kane, a daring UK-based designer worn by stars including Tom Holland, Jason Momoa, and Asa Butterfield — who also crafted villainous ghost Caleb's (Cheyenne Jackson) extravagant tails ensemble. When the suits arrived from London, An had to make some alterations because bespoke tailoring does not factor activities like knee slides and playing the drums.
Unfortunately, the schedule had changed, which meant her team only had three days to make the garments "functional and performance-ready." They had to take everything apart so the arms and crotches could move. "Keeping the integrity of the suit and the design that Joshua and I created together" was vital. She added, "It was a true collaboration between what a costume designer does and what a fashion designer does."
In addition to the beautiful custom suits, she chose vintage designer garments for Alex and Reggie with a womenswear twist. "Reggie's black pussy-bow blouse was a Gucci ladybug blouse, and I got it for like $30," she exclaimed. Meanwhile, Alex is wearing a white Versace woman's shirt, and alterations were made to both. "I took apart the sleeve and then created a new sleeve with the same material so that it would fit the arm line," she said. "Then had to open up the back so that he'd [Joyner] be able to play the drums."
The fancy threads are part of their begrudging Hollywood Ghost Club performance, which is run by the malevolent Caleb. He wants to control the boys and obtain their power — because people can see them when they play music. His club attracts "Lifers" (the name given to humans), and this cabaret venue isn't defined by one design period. Featuring around 150 background and 40 performers, An was meant to have two months to prep these choreographed scenes. Instead, due to location availability, this sequence was bumped up and she only had two weeks to create these looks. Her experience working on SYTYCD, the American Music Awards, and Radio Disney Awards helped with the seemingly impossible task.
It wasn't just a case of picking whatever gown or suit from rental shops and vintage stores -- the backstory mattered. "I thought it was really important that everyone would have their own take on what they would want to dress like if they got an invitation like that." For the dancers, An had to make sure they were performance-ready, because any kind of rips or tears on the day of filming would slow things down.
Caleb is a Machiavellian presence with the otherworldly threads to match. As a former magician, he has the performance angle down, which requires a showman ensemble. Requesting the desired tails in purple and the perfect crushed velvet material to underscore his dramatic flair. Caleb needed "glamour and glitz," which is why An decided to make a sequin lining and used 10,000 Swarovski crystals for the back design. "I looked at Art Nouveau paintings and pictures and created that design for the back of his jacket," she said.
At school, Julie faces more obstacles courtesy of antagonist Carrie (Savannah Lee May). Her former friend and now mean girl is the lead singer of a pop group called Dirty Candi. As soon as Ortega told An the name of the band, she decided the theme came in an instant: "translucent, super colorful, Jolly Ranchers." The "i" in Candi is shaped like a lollipop, which emphasizes the band's brand.
For their first performance, An used color-coded vinyl jackets. For the Silverlake dive bar showcase in Episode 6, she stuck to the coordinated sugary aesthetic that is "super fun, catchy and yet still young." The Dolls Kill limited-edition thigh-high sneakers are paired with Adidas socks and coordinated so Carrie stands out. Dirty Candi can't compete with Julie and the Phantoms, who blow the place away with a heartfelt pop-rock track — you will have the songs stuck in your head for days.
Fulfilling the dream that was cut short the night they died, the guys get to play at the Orpheum in the season finale in a deconstructed version of their suits. Meanwhile, Julie is honoring her mother with her choice of dress and jacket. Both garments come from the beloved trunk. "She had gotten Julie a recital dress and made it one-of-a-kind for Julie. Her mom put heart crystals on it and made it really special for her." She had since stuffed away because it hurt too much — until now.
The jacket is a high-low fashion fusion, combining a Balmain dress An found on The RealReal for $500 with a $21 Forever 21 pleather jacket. When Reyes tried the dress on in the fitting it "was eating her alive," but An decided to work some transformation magic because she couldn't let this garment slip through her fingers. She cropped the Forever 21 jacket to Reyes' figure and used that as a lining base before applying the Balmain sequin knit fabric overlay. "I laid my design pattern on top and we created the finale jacket."
Speaking a language that doesn't require words (or even music), this transformative costume moment says, "I've come, I've embraced, and I accept." A true labor of love, this performance ensemble captures the spirit of Julie's past, present, and exciting future.