The constantly rotating crew and casting changes ultimately didn’t hinder costume designer Julian Day’s creative process because the film’s chronology, which spanned from Mercury’s childhood during the ’50s in Zanzibar and India up until his death in 1991, always remained constant. Malek, too, was easy to dress because he was ‘born to play this person,’ Day says. ‘Rami played it with such amazing integrity and honesty, so he was and is Freddie Mercury. I’d already designed the clothes before there was any directorial changes and that always stayed the same.’
Ahead of the film’s release, CR caught up with Day to talk about Brian May lending his clothes for the biopic, recreating Mercury’s stage costumes, and Malek’s impact on the film’s clothing.
How did you get started on researching a band of this caliber and putting together the designs?
‘The process of research was fairly easy, because I went to visit Brian May and he has an extensive archive of Queen memorabilia, books, personal photographs, and all of their tours. Obviously there’s lots of reference on the internet as well, but mostly we looked at the original Queen photographs. Everything was vintage, and we either sourced [the clothes] from vintage shops or we made it.’
How did you show the band’s evolution through the clothes?
‘I’m used to doing films from that era, but we found a color palette for each decade, and then within those decades, each year had a color palette. We looked at how they developed their clothing style and how much money they earned, this idea that their clothes came from thrift stores to begin with and as they got more successful, they had more money to spend on clothes. The great thing was that Brian May actually lent me some of his original clothes, so we used some of May’s actual clothes for the film.’
Wow, what did May think about the wardrobe?
‘He loved it. He thought they were fantastic. I think it’s very difficult if someone did a film about your life, because how you would see the those clothes and how you would feel about some of the things you remember? Some of the things I’m sure he wouldn’t even remember. [Queen’s drummer] Roger Taylor loved the clothes as well, and they were in the film. We dressed them up. It was great fun.’
Which costumes did you re-create?
‘For the 1974 Sheer Heart Attack Tour in Japan, Freddie and May wore tops made by Zandra Rhodes and we remade them from the original pattern. The story goes that Freddie went into Rhodes’ boutique and she was making a wedding dress and Freddie went ‘I really love that top,’ She apparently cut the bottom of the dress off and gave him the top. We call that ‘the Angel,’ the big, white, winged, pleated outfit. Then we also produced the harlequin outfit that he wore and the leather pants and leather tie. We then approached Adidas and they reproduced the original boxing boots that May and Freddie wore. We had a lot of companies making original things for us: Wrangler, for instance. The jeans that Freddie wore at Live Aid in 1985 were Wrangler jeans and we had those produced. Adidas and Levi also remade clothing for the film.’
Were you able to find anything vintage for the concerts?
‘No, we pretty much made all of the stuff for the concerts, because they’re so specific. Freddie actually worked in a vintage shop called Biba in Kensington when he was young and he sold 1930s women’s clothing. That was when he first started wearing women’s shirts. I went to vintage shops and bought original ’30s clothing for [Malek].
You get the feeling that for Mercury, clothing was just as much of his on-stage persona as the music. At the precipice of his fame, Mercury was battling HIV/AIDS. How did you show that transition?
‘The thing about HIV and AIDS was that it was only in the last part of the film that he develops it. Obviously, I never met Freddie, but you could see in his performances and in his interviews that he had a love of life and a love of clothing. I think it meant a lot to him, so, therefore, I wanted to represent him the best that I could because he’s an enigmatic person. I wouldn’t want the memory of him lessened by not doing him justice with his clothing.’
Did you find any original clothing that Queen wore?
‘One of the interesting things was Freddie wore a particular Fila tracksuit, and I’m not positive, but I’m pretty sure I bought the original tracksuit that appears in the film. I found it in Manchester and it was in a vintage store, but it’s a very, very, very rare tracksuit and it was very expensive. I’m hoping that the spirit of Freddie helps us through with that tracksuit. And Rami was pretty incredible as an actor as well. He really encapsulated the whole Freddie essence, and was an amazing person to dress. He’s an incredible actor, but a real clotheshorse as well.’
How was Malek involved in the clothes?
‘He was involved from beginning to end and came over very early when we did pre-fittings. We looked at all the fabrics together and went through all of the clothes he was going to wear. He likes clothes himself and is a great person to dress. He watched Live Aid 20 or 30 times and then I’d get a telephone call from him saying, ‘Could you make the vest a little bit lower?”
The film is obviously focused on menswear, but could you tell me about the clothing for women, like Mary Austin, Mercury’s former girlfriend?
‘Austin originally worked at Biba and so she was one of the biggest influences on Freddie and his clothing style. With Mary, I’ve spoken to the owner of Biba and she was often very fashionable and a very cool person, so she was put at the front of the store to welcome people in. I think the other female characters are all strong and I wanted to create strong female roles through their clothing for the film.’
Freddie Mercury Inspired Outfits
Freddie’s style might seem daring or even downright shocking to some, but designers and fashion enthusiasts all around the world have been coming up with ideas to incorporate his fashion in their design. Freddie Mercury Jackets and Clothing is available at many fashion stores. His fashion style has inspired generations of artists to explore their boundaries. Even fashion averse people can dress like him once in a while to get in the spirit.
Apart from his rule-breaking sequined leotard or pleated skirt, he also has some cool casual looks that can inspire everyone. Here are some of the iconic Freddie Mercury fashion styles that you can follow-
Freddie Mercury Jackets
Freddie wore some of the iconic leather jackets during his stage performances; such as the famous yellow jacket that he wore in the magic tour of ’86. This military-style jacket has several variations of white and red colour. The yellow leather jacket with six front gold buckles was inspired by a Spanish opera ensemble. It was worn in Freddie’s final tour and was believed to brilliantly portray his newfound authoritative voice.
Freddie’s light blue wrangler jeans were another famous outfit from his Live Aid concert. US brand Wrangler even announced a Freddie inspired collection shortly after the release of his biopic. While his leather pants were more shaped for fitting, his wranglers were made for comfort. If you want to steal his Live Aid performance look, don’t forget to add some monochromic tank top.
Freddie’s studded leather belts are his most renowned accessories worn during the stage show. His custom made leather belts were made to look worn out but still fresh. The star-shaped studs of his belts were designed to be perfectly aligned with prongs in each arm of the stars. You can try your local vintage shop for a Freddie Mercury inspired belt.
Leather Pants and Leotards
Snug leather pants were Freddie mercury’s signature outfit. He preferred bold, bright colours and various patterns for his leather pant. When it comes to colour, subtlety was not in Freddie’s dictionary. From bright yellow to signature black, everything was in his wardrobe.
Thin framed dark glasses were Freddie’s signature eyewear. Paired with his black leather jacket, these sunglasses gave him a more tough look. You can find Freddie style aviator in your local stores as well as in branded shops.
‘80’s Freddie Mercury was seen wearing a matching armband with his studded leather belt. In his Live Aid concert in Wembley, he created his most iconic yet simplistic look with a studded armband and belt which was a stark contrast with his white tank top. The studs were either of spiked or pyramid variation.
Freddie’s footwear choice was the exact opposite of his expression of showmanship with his attire. This might be the one time that he kept utility above his theatrical swank. He preferred functional Adidas that allowed him to roam freely around the stage. A pair of white sneakers can easily give you both a signature Freddie mercury look and some comfort.