How Julian Day Transformed Rami Malek Into Flamboyant Rocker Freddie Mercury for Bohemian Rhapsody


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Photo Credit: Courtesy Twentieth Century Fox

“It’s not a concert, it’s a fashion show,” Freddie Mercury once famously said. And any superfan of the Queen frontman or rock ‘n roll devotee can attest to the rock god’s larger than life stage presence and unconventional sartorial taste, which has inspired legions of musicians, artists, and fans to this day.

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Including fashion designers.

“I’m inspired by Freddie because he was a full creator—the look to the performance, he’s somebody who gave their all at every moment to the last moment,” designers Zac Posen says, adding, “If you’re born with that kind of talent, you have to cultivate it, protect it and build everything else around it. It’s a really hard thing to continually push yourself and breakthrough new ideas. You have to take people on that journey, that’s how you create a show where you get a stadium on their feet—and I’ve only seen it in my life very few times.”

On November 2, Queen fans get to relive the life of the music icon in all his greatness and flamboyance in the new biopic, Bohemian Rhapsody, starring Rami Malek. Chronicling the meteoric rise of rock legend, Malek’s portrayal of Freddie isn’t just another impersonation. The Mr. Robot star made it a point to fully step into the beloved musicians shoes (and fitted leather pants) to perfectly capture his spirit and splendor and he couldn’t have done it with Julian Day, the costume designer who brought Freddie Mercury’s eclectic, androgynous look to life. Ahead, I nabbed a few minutes with the British-based designer to discuss how he helped Rami Malek transform into a rock legend.

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What was your impression of Freddie Mercury before they approached you for the movie?

I was fully aware of Freddie and Queen and what he represented—he’s very iconic. But obviously, when you take on a project like this you have to go deeper and further into the his life, so obviously I started looking onto the internet and there’s plenty of footage, and photography that I looked to for inspiration. I was also kindly invited to go to the Queen archives in London and looked through countless photographs and magazines and everything over the years.

Brian May [Queen guitarist] kindly invited me to his house to look through his collection of clothes—stuff he kept and a couple of things he has from Freddie—so it was a good amount of research. I knew their style but once I got into the film, I went further with it.

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Photo Credit: Alex Bailey/20th Century Fox

How did you decide what pieces you wanted to use and what to recreate?

The way the film is shot is not necessarily the way it happened in real life—it’s a drama, not a documentary. Some of the concerts were place at different times—The Rio carnival was in 80s and we put it in the 70s. To suit the drama, certain scenes were moved and I think it applied to the clothing as well. For Live Aid, you can’t change that because it’s probably one of the most iconic pieces of rock footage, ever. The concert in Rio where he wears the red leather pants and where he wears the Harley Quinn suit, you can’t really mess with it because it’ll be wrong to do. I designed other costumes for them, especially off-duty because that’s where we can really have fun and play with what they’re wearing.

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I think that’s what’s great about Freddie—he made what was underground acceptable.

How would you describe Freddy’s style and how’d that translate into your design approach?

I think he had a very unique style of his own. The 70s was highly influenced by the 30s—the silhouettes, the fabrics, the shapes, all of those things—and the 30s clothing was very readily available in London at that time so you look at the stuff Freddie wears and it definitely has a 30s feel to it. Whether it’s woman’s blouses, men’s dinner jackets—the velvets, the lace, all of that—he started off quite flamboyant and androgynous. Then, it progressed into this glam rock and then towards the end of the 70s, he sort of got influenced by this New York underground gay scene. At the time, Robert Mapplethorpe was taking photographs back then—and Freddie adopted this new look—the mustache, leather caps, etc.—and he translated that into every day fashion when it was still underground. I think it’s hard for people to understand that look because if you look on the streets now, people look like that everyday. He brought that look to the forefront and made it acceptable. Freddie Mercury made what was once underground acceptable.

Did you use more vintage or make the costumes new?

Well, we made a lot of those clothes—I created 20 or 30 pieces. We had them tailored to Rami and then I went to thrift stores and high-end vintage shops in London and Paris.

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Photo Credit: Courtesy Twentieth Century Fox

What was it like working with Rami Malek?

He had huge input in the process—it’s only right that actors have that voice. I obviously come up with the ideas and fulfill those ideas but filmmaking is a collaborative process. Some actors stand there and say, ‘Dress me!’ and walk about but Rami was very aware from the beginning that he was representing the memory of Freddie Mercury and because he’s so iconic and beloved by people, he wanted to do complete justice to Freddie Mercury’s legacy and the band in general. The band members are still alive and Mary is still alive so Rami had this duty to represent Freddie as much as possible. We had numerous fittings, 30 or 40 fittings, and Rami was vocal through it all.

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The costume for the Live Aid part of the movie was the simplest looking costume but also the most difficult to recreate because you can’t hide behind the lace or the velvet. We had Adidas make the boxing boots he wore and Wrangler recreated the jeans—the belt and the armband were created by someone who actually new the original maker. But the tank and the leather vest was very important because Rami is a different shape from Freddie and that top had to be made right. The day before we started shooting, Rami called me and said, ‘Hey, I’ve been looking at the Live Aid footage and the vest we created isn’t right in the front.’ So I looked at it and scooped out half a centimeter—a small amount to many—but it created the exact shape and made Rami feel much better. We made 20 vests for stunt or movement doubles and repeats just in case it got damaged or anything and we had to change them all the day before the Live Aid shoot.

Was it a challenge to stick to the accuracy of the time period?

Nope. I wanted to make sure that everything looked as accurate as it needs to be, especially for the fans because they’re the ones who supported Queen for years and have kept his memory and songs alive so they have to be represented.



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