Creating costumes for ‘Wild Things’

Designer used book's iconic images as starting points

Sometimes a film’s costumes are so effective that they serve not only as indispensable story elements but also as an inspiration to fashion designers. That’s the case with costume designer Casey Storm’s creations for “Where the Wild Things Are.”

The book on which the film is based happens to be the first book that Storm can remember reading as a child. When it came time to help bring Maurice Sendak’s beloved story of rebellion and belonging to the screen, Storm says he didn’t want to modernize the vaguely ’70s-looking ski sweaters and corduroys that Max, the main character, wears in the early part of the film.

As the film progresses, readers of the book will be amazed how familiar helmer Spike Jonze’s adaptation (written with Dave Eggers) feels. There’s the boat in which Max travels to the faraway land, the crown placed upon his head, his wolf suit — and the monsters, only now with names, backstories and personalities as large as their bodies.

Considering that they’re covered in unusual fur, hair, feathers and horns, the Wild Things, designed by artist Sonny Gerasimowicz and built by Jim Henson’s Creature Shop, are surprisingly lifelike. Storm art-directed the creatures during the shoot, making sure that their eyes looked real, their knuckles operated properly and their fur wasn’t “too pristine” (these monsters , after all, like to play with dirt). The only CGI enhancements, he says, were to their facial expressions.

For Storm, the biggest challenge of the project was creating Max’s iconic wolf suit, which the boy wears for most of the movie. It may appear to be a dingy, old suit that’s never been washed, but that’s as much of an illusion as the monster costumes. Every detail was carefully considered, from the mismatched buttons to the crooked whiskers to the fingerless gloves — a look inspired by gloves worn by cinematographer Lance Acord’s young son. “We thought that seemed like a tough-looking, cool thing,” Storm recalls, “and we’d been trying to figure out a way to get more tactile movement out of Max, to get to see his hands, without losing the wolf element of the suit.”

In all, says Storm, 101 wolf suits were made. “We had different suits for different lighting setups, for stunt doubles, sailing doubles, suits for adult stunt doubles, and one for Spike.” He also made one for Catherine Keener, who plays Max’s mom, “a bunch for all the kids,” and he kept one of the original suits for himself.

To extend the project’s reach, Jonze approached Humberto Leon, owner of clothing company Opening Ceremony, about designing a collection to coincide with the film’s release. After attending an early screening of “Wild Things,” Leon decided to start a faux fur collection, “based on every wild thing in the film, including Max.”

The film felt like it had so much substance and honesty and realness,” he says, “that I wanted to give our partnership the same amount of honesty. … I wanted to do something really beautiful and elegant.”

The Opening Ceremony collection includes chic faux fur coats, jackets and skirts named after the film’s characters, plus an adult-sized white faux-lamb wolf suit with ears, fingerless gloves and a removable tail.

An initial run of 50 suits, priced at $610 each, sold out within the first hour at Leon’s store in Manhattan’s Soho district, followed by the sale of several hundred more before they were even shipped. And they’re not just for wearing at home: Leon says he’s met people wearing the suits at parties.

Jonze also approached costume and clothing designer Christian Joy to design a “Wild Things” collection. She agreed, and her one-of-a-kind monster suits were made with parties in mind: “I see ‘Where the Wild Things Are’ as a glam rock band,” says the designer, who works exclusively with Karen O of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, the film’s co-composer who is also a fashion icon.

The suits were on display last month at the Urban Outfitters pop-up shop in Hollywood, with proceeds going to Eggers’ 826LA charity. Joy’s “Max” suit was shiny silver and Mylar, and the other pieces were covered in wild Day-Glo patterns.

People know what the monsters look like,” says Joy, “so it seemed sort of redundant to do anything that looked the same. I decided to put my own twist on it.”

Storm wholly approves of these interpretations. “Spike wanted to make sure the marketing and any apparel that had something to do with the film was done in the way we made the movie: with respect. “

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