From the first time the offspring of some of Disney’s most villainous characters bound on to the screen in “Rotten to the Core,” you know you’re in for a visually stunning ride in Descendants. That’s partly due to the costumes of Mal, Evie, Carlos and Jay, along with their famous parents and their Auradon comrades. They make Descendants stand out from anything Disney Channel’s done before. So, how do you go about creating costumes for Disney Villains and their teenagers? We had to chance to talk with costume designer, Kara Saun, who was a competitor on the first season of Project Runway, about her inventive vision for Descendants and how the classic Disney films we know and love inspired her design.
Where did you look to for inspiration for the costumes of Descendants?
Talking with Disney and Kenny Ortega, the director, it was really important that we forge a new kind of fashion legacy. We all grew up on Disney, and it was really fun to recreate this kind of new vision for Disney. For me, it’s all about research. I went to the Disney vault. I looked at all of the original artwork and sketches. I watched all the Disney movies countless times to really look at the details, the colors, and the symbols of each story.
The Isle of the Lost has such a distinct feel from Auradon. What was the thought process in creating the looks for these two worlds?
We really wanted to make it a very striking contrast between the two, that way when the Isle of the Lost kids showed up in Auradon, everyone would be like, “What? Where am I? What is going on?” For the Isle of the Lost, we really based the color palette off of all the villains colors. So, that’s why when you’re in the Isle of the Lost, it’s all really beautiful, vibrant jewel tone colors, really dark and gritty. Mark Hofeling, who is the production designer, coined the phrase, “dirty candy colored.” The Isle of the Lost is all purples, and blues, and magentas and greens. If you notice in the Isle of the Lost that’s all anyone is wearing are those jewel tone colors.
During one of my first meetings with Kenny Ortega and Mark Hofeling, I was like, “you know what? These villains are stuck on the island, wouldn’t they be stuck in a mindset? Wouldn’t it be funny if they were stuck in the ‘70s?” Kenny laughed hysterically for like five minutes. So, if you notice the villain parents have a ‘70s feel to them… Maleficent is in a caftan and even Cruella is in her bellbottom pants.
And Evie’s cape has a poncho ‘70s feel to it!
Yes! Since I based all the villains on that kind of ‘70s feel, I then took the kids of the villains and gave them a 1970’s punk rock feel. So that’s why you have all the painted leathers and the 1970’s kind-of English punk rock. It was really all about individuality, personality, and creating your own looks, which was just perfect for these characters. You could see that maybe Evie painted her own jacket or Mal painted the dragon on the back of her’s.
And then you get to Auradon, which is a whole other world in terms of style.
Once they get to Auradon, the kids of the villains transition into preppy punk, because it’s like a mix-up of punk from Isle of the Lost and prep from Auradon. Then for the Auradon kids, it’s full prep, which was a really fun ivy league prep look. I call them cotton candy colors. You have all the pastel colors, and those, of course, were all pulled from the fairy tale colors of good. It was all the pinks and pale blues and pale greens, and the national colors which are based off of Beast and Belle are royal blue and yellow, which you see in the school, as well as the cheerleaders and the band.
There’s so much variation in the costuming for this film. How do you think fans can incorporate some of the costumes of Descendants into their every day look?
I think you can take a lot of the silhouettes and the colors, which would be fun. You could go to a vintage store and get a leather jacket and paint it yourself. There are so many different ways to be creative and have fun with it and DIY-it yourself. Mal’s denim pants were actually hand painted. You can paint denim and you can paint leather.
Another way to incorporate it is all of the accessories. Evie had some great crown accessories and she had a really cute bag. I was watching [Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs] and I kept on looking at the Evil Queen’s chest and I thought that would make a great purse. And so we custom made it and painted it for Evie. For Carlos, it’s all the faux fur and the doggie emblems, and of course, Jay has the cobra with faux snake skin. Mal’s was dragons, so her earrings are these claw drop earrings.
Do you have a favorite costume from the movie?
It’s kind of a three way tie. I loved creating the costumes for the kids of the villains. It’s the first time you’re seeing them in this way and creating that new legacy for them, deciding what that look was going to be, and making sure that every time you see them, you know who their parents are. It was really fun creating their signature wardrobes. Next, it would be Mal’s coronation gown. You really want people to have that fairy tale ending and I wanted her to get out of the carriage and have everyone’s mouths drop open. I wanted her to just cascade up the stairs like Kate [Middleton] at the royal wedding. The third one would have to be Maleficent, because I got to design for Maleficent! Especially her look at the end, that was all leather and lace, and it was embroidered with a floral lace on top of the other lace, so it was a combination of textures and fabrics. It was so much fun to create.
Evie is a bit of a fashion designer herself, and you talked before about how much DIY went into the clothing of the descendants. What advice would you give a young designer?
I started designing and sewing when I was in middle school. It started out with just one sewing course. There’s so many places now where you can take a sewing course if you don’t have it in school. I would say, just study and practice what you love to do. One of my first big jobs was designing the cheerleading uniforms for my high school and I was still in high school when I did that. Every season, you could envision a line that you would do. If you can’t make the clothing, go ahead and sketch it out, put together your theme, and an inspiration board of things that you would create and design. You can also come up with your own photo shoots, your own inspiration and your own themes and every week, every day, every month, be working on your craft and your talent.
Be sure to watch for all of Kara Saun’s amazing costumes when Descendants premieres this Friday at 8 pm on Disney Channel!