Julian Day Interview, Costume Designer “Bohemian Rhapsody”

“Bohemian Rhapsody” Costume Designer Julian Day Replicates Freddy Mercury’s Iconic Style

Julian Day/Courtesy of 20th Century Fox Mercury had an interest in ballet and wore jumpsuits, leotards and ballet shoes onstage as to have total control of movement.

Julian Day’s designs appear in Ron Howard’s “Rush” (2013), Oliver Hirschbiegel’s “Diana” (2013), (Princess Diana, biographical drama), and the soon to be released Elton John biopic “Rocket Man” opening May 2019. Making quite a name for himself, the English designer recalled a sweet story of how as a youngster he became interested in fashion. “I grew up outside a town in the Midlands called Birmingham, although, to be exact, the real place in my early years was in a little village in the countryside near Malvern, at the time I was very interested in Action Men, which I believe are called G.I. Joe’s in the States. I remember having all the outfits, and wanted different ones, so I got my mum to sew for me, next I started designing my own outfits for them. That process got me interested in clothes and uniforms.

He attended art college, and earned a degree in theater design in Birmingham, although his goal was to design for opera, he ended up designing for film. Working by day for a costume house in London, and at night working at the opera he developed a sense for theater costumes in the daytime and ‘high end’ costumes by night. 

During our interview he discusses working with Rami Malek and his intense attention to the details of the wardrobe, as Malek felt the only way to truly become Freddie and please all of the die-hard fans was to get the costuming right. Day also elaborates on the ideology behind the term androgynous, Freddie’s love of ballet shoes, explains his respect for Freddie Mercury as a fashion icon, while merging Jagger and Bowie in the same realm.

L-R: Joe Mazzello (John Deacon), Rami Malek (Freddie Mercury), Ben Hardy (Roger Taylor), and Gwilym Lee (Brian May) star in Twentieth Century Fox’s BOHEMIAN RHAPSODY. Photo Credit: Alex Bailey.

How does Freddie Mercury inspire you?

Freddie Mercury broke boundaries, and he broke the rules, and again, when I was young, I was very Goth, and I had long black hair, and I used to wear long skirts. When you look at him and what he wore he dressed in a very androgynous way, and he didn’t conform to the norm, and, he didn’t even conform to the normal rock star look. He was very interested in vintage clothing from the 30’s, which was very popular in the 70’s. And I think he just, as I say he didn’t follow fashion and such. I believe in some ways he created fashion. 

It’s interesting that you brought up the term androgynous, because that was my next question. Could you please explain androgynous glam? I first came across the term when I was reading an article about Mick Jagger. And we know he’s a different type of performer, but could you explain a little bit what that term might mean to a performer.

L-R: Gwilym Lee (Brian May), Rami Malek (Freddie Mercury), and Joe Mazzello (John Deacon) star in Twentieth Century Fox’s BOHEMIAN RHAPSODY. Photo Credit: Courtesy Twentieth Century Fox.

 I think, it’s just not the idea men were meant to wear, wool suits and pinstripe suits or a shirt and tie. At that time, men were expected to conform to a certain style. I think people like David Bowie, Mick Jagger, and Freddie Mercury, came from the idea of a more liberal look, and they didn’t see clothing as male or female gender orientated. Freddy would wear ladies blouses from the 30’s or from the 40’s. They both didn’t see clothing in the way they were told to see it. What was also great about Freddy was that he came from Indian heritage, the idea of seeing all the colors. He didn’t see color, clothing and fabrics necessarily the way someone from England might. So I think that he had an advantage there. And I think the androgynous style is pretty much about the idea of men wearing makeup—at that time it was a big deal—nowadays you see it all the time. He was on the forefront in breaking the rules in that way.

The white, pleated cape outfit that was the top of a ladies wedding dress I did see a replica at a movie theater when I was in Scottsdale, Arizona in a display case for “Bohemian Rhapsody.” Wow, absolutely stunning in person! What an amazing outfit.

Julian Day/Courtesy of 20th Century Fox

It does appear in the movie in a big scene. Freddie was very fond of Zandra Rhodes, and he used to go into her studios and look at her clothes. One day he went there, and she was making a wedding dress, and the outfit is based on the top half of a wedding dress, it was a full wedding dress, and Freddie said, “I really love that outfit. It’s amazing.” And apparently, she cut the top off and gave it to him.

Costume display “Bohemian Rhapsody” Scottsdale, AZ. Photo Credit: Sarah Knight Adamson 2018

I went to Zandra Rhodes, and I talked to them about the film, and they were really happy to accommodate. And it is in the film, slightly cut down. There’s a lot less of it than there was. It was part of the concert scene, and he gave a big concert in it. So the reproduction you saw was one that we painstakingly put together for movie theaters all over the place.

I am a huge fan of the TV series, “Mr. Robot,” and of course, Rami Malek. What was his input into the clothing and design with you?

Julian Day/Courtesy of 20th Century Fox

Rami made the whole process so incredible. He’s such a tireless hard worker. I think the thing about Rami is that he took on quite a big role—to represent one of the most iconic rock stars ever to have performed. I think Rami felt obliged to be as truthful and honest as he could. When came in, and he gave himself totally to the film. His first fitting, we spent 3, 4, 5 hours, fitting these plans on him. That was just the first fitting, and then he went back to the states to finish “Mr. Robot.” Then he came back, and all in all, we had 40 or 50 fittings for all his costumes; he was amazing. I think without him the movie wouldn’t have been the same. I can give you a pretty good example of how dedicated he was to the process. You know, the tank that appears in “Live Aid” concert.

Yes, I have a copy of the four-disc set at my home. I’m a big fan of  the “Live Aid concert.”

Julian Day/Courtesy of 20th Century Fox exact replica of the outfit Freddie Mercury wore for the Live Aid concert.

We made about 20 of those white tanks, the day before we were shooting Rami rang me and said, “Look, I’ve been watching “Live Aid” and I think we need to shave off about a half of a centimeter from the front of that tank. And for me, it was a big thing because I would have had to redo all 20 of them before we started shooting. But you know what, he was right. I looked at them, I thought, you are absolutely right, and we did that. There were countless other times where he had us change something.

L-R: Gwilym Lee (Brian May), Ben Hardy (Roger Taylor), Rami Malek (Freddie Mercury), and Joe Mazzello (John Deacon) star in Twentieth Century Fox’s BOHEMIAN RHAPSODY. Photo Credit: Courtesy Twentieth Century Fox.

I find it fascinating that Freddie had an interest in ballet and that he actually wore ballet shoes. Could you please speak to this? 

He did have an interest in ballet, and he took ballet classes, in the film when he came up as a folk star, he did wear ballet shoes. I wanted to make sure we got that idea, the freedom of movement, he was very much into that. We absolutely used ballet shoes.

Sarah Knight Adamson© November 21, 2018