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How 'Elvis' Costume Designer Catherine Martin Transformed Austin Butler Into Elvis

Costume designer Catherine Martin and her husband Baz Luhrmann have created incredible cinematic magic together. For their latest film 'Elvis,' Catherine was tasked with recreating iconic moments that took the world by storm in the 1950s. From Elvis' black leather suit to the infamous pink and black hues that highlighted the King of Rock and Roll's sexuality and rebellion, Catherine breaks down the ins and outs of transforming Austin Butler into Elvis.

Baz Luhrmann's ELVIS is in theaters June 24, 2022.

Released on 06/24/2022


Sometimes imperfections work brilliantly,

and sometimes when you're recreating iconic moment,

the imperfections just look like

you didn't know how to do your job.

So you kind of have to lean into making it more perfect

than maybe it was in reality.

♪ Well, you may go to college ♪

Hi, I'm Catherine Martin,

and this is how we created

and designed the costumes for Elvis.

I'm a costume designer

and I co-costumed Moulin Rouge! with Angus Strathie,

Australia I designed the costumes for,

Gatsby I designed the costumes for,

and now I've designed the costumes for Elvis.

With Elvis we created an enormous chart

of all of Elvis's jumpsuits that we pasted up on the wall.

It was a very long chart,

and those kind of things allows you

to conceptualize a little bit

how you're gonna deal with that part

of Elvis's costuming history.

Because we only have two and a half hours to tell the story

and it takes place from late '40s

through 'til the late '70s,

you've gotta find a way of compressing

a whole lot of story points.

You can basically draw from the legacy of Elvis's costumes

and sort of synthesize a look out of what he actually wore

and imagine what he would've worn in this particular scene.

♪ The warden through a party in the county jail ♪

♪ The prison band was there and they began to wail ♪

There are moments

when you're recreating historical costumes.

We had an aha moment when we started working

on the black leather costume and appears in the '68 special.

If you just imitated it slavishly

without taking into consideration what Austin was bringing,

you know, he was never gonna become Elvis per se,

so we needed to find a way of making the historical costumes

really work with him.

And Baz was always talking about it's not imitation,

it's interpretation.

So the fabulous archivists at Graceland

measured the suit for us.

We knew the width of the cuffs.

We knew how long the jacket was.

But through the process of fittings and experimentation

we came to see that we needed to adjust

all of these details subtly

to make sure they were fitting Austin.

His movement and his characterization was supported

rather than swamped by the pressure

of having to make something exactly like Elvis wore.

Things like the collar height.

If you look at Elvis, his collar hit him at a certain point

and hit an exact angle,

and so we needed to get that feeling on Austin.

But obviously everybody's neck length is different,

so it was really about thinking, okay, Austin is Elvis.

This is the suit we wanna put on him.

How do we make that feel germane to him?

And also there were practical considerations.

So we needed different pants

for each particular movement style.

So when he was throwing himself on the ground,

the pants needed to be altered

because we needed to fit knee pads under the pants.

When he was sitting down,

I hate it when you can see people's socks

in the top of the boots,

so we made the pants longer for sitting down.

Butt-hugging pants for when we see him from the back

walking down the corridor.

We also wanted pristine pants for when he's standing up.

Similarly with the jackets.

The jacket ended up having all these pieces of elastic

that rigged it to the pants.

In reality, Elvis's jacket did ride up with wear.

You did see the top of his boots.

But I suppose we wanted ideal perfection to the moment

'cause that's how people remember it.

♪ To the Jailhouse Rock ♪

[audience cheering]

♪ Dancing to the Jailhouse Rock ♪

And I think we worked on three leather versions

in different weights of leather,

because originally his suit was made out of horse leather

and it was a very heavy leather.

The first suit we made Baz was concerned

the leather wasn't heavy enough,

so we went up a level in thickness and heaviness.

And then we weren't sure.

Maybe that was too heavy and was too constrictive

in terms of the movement.

So then we went somewhere between the two

and then we had to make multiples.

You always have to take into consideration

the practicalities of a costume

that's gonna be used over and over and over again.

There's a saying in costuming which is, One is none.

So you're not supposed to only be able

to make one of anything.

Multiples are incredibly important.

♪ Well, listen and I'll tell you, baby ♪

♪ What I'm talking about ♪

Along with making reproductions of costumes or outfits

that Elvis wore, Baz was also focused

on how his costumes reflected his sexuality,

his rebelliousness, and created a kind of wildfire

amongst his fans.

Like for instance, the lace shirts.

Elvis in the mid '50s wore a lot of lace shirts

in different colors,

and that kind of connected to what we know

as kind of rockstar today.

And also that interesting juxtaposition

of the feminine and the masculine.

Similarly, Elvis's favorite color combination

was black and pink.

So finding a way of incorporating that

and to be true to the boxy nature of the '50s look,

but at the same time, respect the body underneath.

We started experimenting with all of these jackets

that were kind of cardigan-like,

hung off shoulder pads, very soft.

Elvis, very interestingly, always did up the second button,

and what it meant was there's more room

to move your shoulders.

And so through the process of moving

and putting the jackets on,

we discovered by studying photos

how to integrate the jacket and the movement together.

It was like an aha moment for Austin and I.

We went, Hang on a minute.

We can't get the shapes

to feel what the clothes would be like.

Just button the second button and it changed everything,

and he could move, the jackets looked different.

What are they hollerin' at?

The wiggle!

The what?

Them girls wanna see you wiggle.

Elvis was known as Elvis the Pelvis.

Obviously his pants were important,

and it was a lot about the drap, how the fabric worked.

In these pants that we coined the squirrel pants,

because that's one of the insults that was leveled at Elvis,

it's really about the balance of the back and the front.

More fullness in the front, how much pleat you have,

where the pleats fall at the front,

whether you move them more in towards the fly

or you bring them more out towards the pocket.

Our pants were quite bun-hugging at the back.

That's one of the specialties of our tailor Gloria Bava.

She likes a nice bottom.

And then it's allowing enough fullness in the front

so that you could get all that shake.

And then we pegged the legs, as it's called.

So they narrowed towards the shoe.

There's more air in the top of the leg

than there is at the bottom.

And basically the pegging allows the top to move,

but there's a kind of anchor at the bottom.

And it's just a process of experimenting

to make sure you're getting exactly the right balance.

You have to buy the right fabric.

So it was a combination of all those things put together.

You spend a lot of time trying to emulate fabrics

that existed in the time.

One of the interesting things about '50s suiting

is there was a lot of texture,

a lot more texture than we have today.

And that was really hard

because you just spend your time

looking through tailoring fabric books

just hoping that you're gonna find something

that's gonna match or fit what you want.

I go online a lot desperately searching.

So we were in the middle of COVID

and supply chains were disrupted.

There were lots of restrictions

and things weren't that available.

So going and having natural fabrics digitally printed

to replicate the texture or the print on a jacket,

this is one of the tricks we use.

We get a base cloth that has some kind of texture

and then digitally we reproduce the texture

and then we print it on the fabric.

So photographically it looks like it matches,

but the texture is actually printed on to some extent.

♪ Come on back, won't you come on back ♪

♪ So we can do what we did before ♪

♪ Now baby, come back, baby ♪

And if you look at the illustrations,

Elvis, who was blonde,

and you look at Captain Marvel Jr.,

Who has dark hair and has a big pompadour,

you can really see the influence of his hairdo,

and also the lightning bolt and the cape and these motifs.

I think that he aspired all his life

to overcome his humble beginnings.

He was someone always searching for the Rock of Eternity.

It is incredible that he was able

to overcome his background, find his own style,

and synthesize all these influences

and create something that hadn't been done before.

It's like a flash of lightning, literally,

'cause you just go like, How did he do that?

It still boggles my mind.