Costuming Alien: The Perfect Nightmare

The day is April 26th, the day of one of my absolute favorite holidays, Alien Day! Why is today Alien Day, you might ask? The film Alien is a 1979 science fiction horror film directed by Ridley Scott and written by Dan O’Bannon. The story starts as the crew of The Nostromo touched down on LV-426 to investigate a mysterious transmission. Once on LV-426, a downed alien ship is discovered, filled with thousands of unidentified eggs. When one of these eggs hatch and ends up onboard The Nostromo with the crew, things go horribly wrong. This tragic sequence of events leads to one of the greatest horror movies of all time. In celebration of Alien Day, come along with me as we explore this twisted horror and the groundbreaking costumes of Alien, with crew costume design by the legendary John Mollo and the monstrous Xenomorph costume by H.R. Giger.

The Cast of Alien. Images Courtesy of 20th Century Fox

Throughout his career, John Mollo was fascinated by military uniforms and was known as quite the professional on this subject. Mollo’s passion for military uniform led to his experience serving as a realism advisor on the sets of films such as Charge of the Light Brigade (1966), Nicholas and Alexandra (1971), and on Stanley Kubrick’s Barry Lyndon (1975). What Mollo did not know was that one day, his passion was going to change the world. One day, Mollo was contacted by George Lucas, who later went on to make John Mollo costume designer on a little film called Star Wars: A New Hope. This film led to Mollo’s first of two Academy Awards.

After the surprising success of the first Star Wars film, John Mollo moved onto the Alien movie, where once again a science-fiction film would need his eye for structured, utility garments. Seven crew members served aboard the Weyland-Yutani star freighter, the USCSS Nostromo. The crew consisted of Captain Dallas, Executive Officer Kane, Navigator Lambert, engineers Parker and Brett, and the deceptive android Ash played by Ian Holm. Finally, let’s not forget our legendary leading actress, Warrant Officer Ripley, played by Sigourney Weaver.

Mollo gave each crew member his signature touch by incorporating Weyland-Yutani Corporation patches into everyone’s costumes and using military-utility silhouettes. The costumes for each of the crew members were representative of each of their personalities. 

The costumes were also aged to give a lived-in look to all of the garments. While the crew might be working on a futuristic spaceship, it’s clear that it is hard work keeping the Nostromo in top shape. For example, engineers Parker and Brett’s costumes are unique and also very casual. The costumes also look worn, like they have been sweated in a lot while performing maintenance on the ship. For a bit of comedic relief, Brett is even wearing a Hawaiian shirt.

The Cast of Alien. Images Courtesy of 20th Century Fox

Ash, being an android, is wearing a more sophisticated outfit compared to the rest of the crew, almost signaling Ash’s deception. Interestingly enough, Ash’s costume feel’s as though it was in the best shape of all the costumes compared to every other crew member. Ash was even wearing a clean, white undershirt with seemingly no dirt.

While Dallas and Lambert wear similar costumes, Lambert’s is unique. Lambert, being the navigator of the ship, is wearing cowboy boots. This speaks to Lambert’s sense of adventure and her sense of direction.

Sigourney Weaver played Ellen Ripley, one of the most iconic female leads of all time. Ripley wears a standard crew jumpsuit, a jumpsuit I consider a costume design classic. The film is structured to direct the audience into believing the protagonist of this film is Captain Dallas. As the horrific story moves forward and Dallas falls, Ripley emerges as the hero. Her gender-neutral jumpsuit is excellent because it was not sexualizing in nature, proving that a female lead can be decisive without relying on revealing clothing like other films. 

Sigourney Weaver as Ellen Ripley and Veronica Cartwright as
Joan Lambert

In my opinion, the jumpsuit is also a symbol of the oppressive, abusive power of the greedy corporation that helped mastermind this attack. After the ship was destroyed, Ripley strips off her jumpsuit and into her pure-white undergarments. This moment has led to an argument among Alien fans for many years. Some argue this outfit was sexualizing in nature. I believe that this moment was symbolic of Ripley stripping away the controlling nature of the corporation that put Ripley in this situation in the first place. Plus, Ripley just spent days fighting off a terrifying alien species. Why wouldn’t she want to change?

In a 1984 interview with Films and Filming magazine by Danny Peary, Sigourney Weaver talked of the underwear scene. “As for my strip… people have said, ‘Aw, how could you demean yourself by doing a striptease?’ And I say, ‘Are you kidding? After five days of blood and guts, and fear, and sweat and urine, do you think Ripley wouldn’t take off her clothes?”

Sigourney Weaver as Ellen Ripley

Finally, we have to talk about an exceptional costume that you might not have realized was a costume at all. Why, the Xenomorph, aka The Alien, of course! H.R. Giger was a Swiss artist who helped bring this terror to life, leading to Alien winning an Academy Award for Visual Effects. Because this was not the time of CGI, The Xenomorph costume was built to house an actor. Bolaji Badejo was the actor who played The Xenomorph, who measured at a stunning 6’10″ tall. Hero Collector gave an excellent accounting of the process in creating the Xenomorph costume,

“A plaster-cast was made of Badejo’s body to create a statue of him. Using plasticine, Giger then sculpted on all sorts of weird items, including old Rolls-Royce tubes, snake vertebrae, and animal meat to create the shape of the monster. The final one-piece suit was then made from a rubber mold of this statue with accessories. A two-meter tail was added, preventing Badejo from sitting down – so a special swing seat had to be made for him.

A separate alien head was made by Carlo Rambaldi, a celebrated specialist in the mechanization of artificial creatures. The head housed a highly complex apparatus that controlled the extending mouth-within-a-mouth.”

Hero Collector

While at the time, this project might have felt like madness. Little did this team know that they were creating an iconic monster that would inspire sequels for years to come. In 2017, Alien Covenant was released, the 8th film in the Alien series, including both Alien Vs. Predator films to use the original design of the Xenomorph, with a television series heading to FX.

The Cast of Alien. Images Courtesy of 20th Century Fox

I love Alien Day, as we get to look back on one of the histories most influential science-fiction horror films. But this Alien Day, I feel so honored to use this platform in remembering the great work of John Mollo and the monstrous work by H.R. Giger. These two designers took a chance on a project that some would probably say was quite the risk. Their risk paid off by influencing costume design, visual effects, and genre even forty years later. Happy Alien Day, everyone!

Works Cited:

“Behind-the-Scenes Photographs from the Set of ‘Alien’ (1979).” DangerousMinds, 31 July 2016, dangerousminds.net/comments/behind_the_scenes_photographs_from_alien_1979.

“Behind-the-Scenes Photographs from the Set of ‘Alien’ (1979).” DangerousMinds, 31 July 2016, dangerousminds.net/comments/behind_the_scenes_photographs_from_alien_1979.

“Costume Design in the Alien Franchise.” THIRD LOOKS, 22 May 2017, http://www.thirdlooks.com/2017/05/costume-design-in-the-alien-franchise/.

“Dressing The Future.” Strange Shapes, 13 Apr. 2014, alienseries.wordpress.com/2013/02/05/dressing-the-future/.

“A Glimpse Into the Star Wars Universe Through Sketchbooks of Designer John Mollo: Auctions News: THE VALUE: Art News.” TheValue.com, en.thevalue.com/articles/bonhams-star-wars-designer-john-mollo.

“Hero Collector.” HeroCollector, http://www.herocollector.com/en-us/Article/making-the-alien.

“Interview with Sigourney Weaver.” Strange Shapes, 2 Nov. 2014, alienseries.wordpress.com/2014/10/31/interview-with-sigourney-weaver/.

“John Mollo – The Military Fashion of Starwars and Alien – Sci-Fi-O-Rama.” Sci, 22 Mar. 2020, http://www.sci-fi-o-rama.com/2011/05/15/john-mollo-military-fashion-starwars-alien/.

Laverty, Lord Christopher. “Alien Anthology: A Revolution in Sci-Fi Costume Design.” Clothes on Film, clothesonfilm.com/alien-anthology-a-revolution-in-sci-fi-costume-design/.

Schudel, Matt. “H.R. Giger, Artist Who Designed the Creature in the 1979 Film ‘Alien,’ Dies at 74.” The Washington Post, WP Company, 13 May 2014, http://www.washingtonpost.com/entertainment/hr-giger-artist-who-designed-the-creature-in-the-1979-film-alien-dies-at-74/2014/05/13/6818becc-dabb-11e3-8009-71de85b9c527_story.html.

Vinciguerra, Thomas. “A Long Time Ago in Drawings Far Far Away …” The New York Times, The New York Times, 25 Nov. 2018, http://www.nytimes.com/2018/11/25/arts/design/star-wars-john-mollo-sketches-auction.html.

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