In our latest Inside the Movies feature, Costumer Designer Laura Jean Shannon talks about the wonderfully festive outfits designed for the Hollywood festive blockbuster, Elf.
Laura Jean has an incredibly impressive resume when it comes to costume design. With a whole stack of TV and movie credits to her name, including the likes of Iron Man, she’s no stranger to working on some pretty big projects. And, some pretty big subjects too, for that matter.
One such subject was the near-six foot three inch actor Will Ferrell, cast in the unlikely role of an elf for the 2003 Christmas comedy of the same name. Designing, creating and fitting an elf costume on to a man of that size was not without its difficulties, as you’d expect.
“It was less a challenge dressing Will due to his size and more a challenge to make sure nothing seemed off-putting or in bad taste.” laughs Laura Jean.
“After all, I had to dress a grown man in tights and a cutaway coat. Needless to say, we did have a fair amount of fittings to be sure we struck the right balance between absurd and adorable.”
If you’re not familiar with the movie, it follows Buddy the Elf (Ferrell) who was made available for adoption as a child and somehow ends up living with Santa in the North Pole. Eventually, he learns he is not cut out for the work of an elf and so heads to New York City to track down his natural father. Festive hilarity ensues.
Aside from Ferrel, the movie also had plenty of challenges for Laura Jean and her team to work at. On any motion picture, the Costume Designer is responsible for every last stitch you see on character outfits.
The North Pole elves needed to be dressed from a bygone age, authentic and well-made costumes that would appear as much on camera. In contrast, there was a whole different requirement for the department store elves in New York City that would appear later in the film.
Luckily, Laura Jean had everything covered. With a wealth of experience and an eye for detail that is clear in all of her works to date, the job was pulled off in style and the elves outfits looked fantastic, something I was keen to mention to her.
“Thanks so much for the compliment.” she said.
“I like to keep my work diverse and enjoy facing new creative challenges on every project. I find that by staying in a constant state of learning I grow as a Designer. On Elf I was able to harness a lot of old and new knowledge with the support of an amazing team. I always say- I am only as good as the company I keep.
“I made very strict rules for our North Pole elves and their costumes were an amalgamation of many cultures and times. We wanted them to be a people of the world, so I researched folklore and art from many cultures and many time periods that spoke to the patterns of design for their embellishments.
“We had the costumes constructed with period seam lines and hook and eye closures. There was no velcro at the North Pole! Well, at least none you could see – the belts needed some to stay on straight!” she smiles.
“The fabrics worn there were boiled wool and the embroidery was hand done with gilded thread.
“Juxtaposed to the elves at the department store who were a rag-tag bunch of thrown together pieces in synthetic fabrics with obviously showing elastic and hot glue gunned elements. The trick was to have them be fun and appealing while still having a distinctly commercial and less magical vibe to them.”
Again, the end result was spot on. Even watching on screen, you can almost imagine each of the department store outfits being taken out from the cheap polythene wrap in a back storeroom somewhere.