These days, everyone could use some color and positivity in their life. Luckily for us, the hit Netflix series Julie and the Phantoms delivered just that! I felt so inspired by the vibrancy of the costumes in this show, I just had to talk with the Emmy Award-Winning costume designer behind the show, Soyon An. Soyon’s previous work includes Jem and the Holograms, So You Think You Can Dance, and Step Up All In. Excitingly, Soyon was just awarded her third Emmy win due to her brilliant work on Julie and the Phantoms! I am so grateful for the opportunity to have interviewed Soyon, and I hope you will enjoy.
Spencer: Soyon! I am so excited to talk to you finally. You are famous over here at The Art of Costume! We are big fans.
Soyon: Thank you so much! Happy to be here!
Spencer: Before we get started, congratulations are in order! Because of your brilliant work on Julie and the Phantoms, you just celebrated your third Emmy win! I am so happy for you as it is so well deserved! What does this award mean to you?
Soyon: Thank you! This award means a lot to me, especially coming out of this past year of COVID, which has put many things into perspective. Specifically for Julie and the Phantoms to result in an Emmy win is so special and meaningful knowing that I intentionally left reality and variety shows because I wanted to focus on more script-driven and narrative projects. Julie was my first scripted episodic and for it to result in an Emmy really solidifies the whole reason I took this job and made this move. It’s so exciting to know that I can try new things even at this stage of my career and continue to grow. I’m so grateful.
Spencer: I am excited to talk more about Julie and the Phantoms, but first, I find your journey to be quite fascinating. I would love to hear a little about how you got your start in costume design?
Soyon: Since high school, I have loved fashion and art. I always creatively expressed myself through clothing, but at the time, I didn’t know that this could be a career choice. During my senior year of high school, I had to decide what college to attend. I decided to pursue my passion for art and apply for the Otis College of Art and Design. I focused my portfolio on design for fashion, and I got a scholarship. And this is where I discovered my love for fashion design.
Jumping to when I was 24 years old and working in the industry, I was the costume designer for the SYTYCD Tour and then, at 26, the show, which was my first big network show plus my first department head credit. My work on this resulted in my first Emmy at 27. Thinking about it now, my first ever TV show and department head credit and I won! It’s such a full-circle moment when thinking of Julie and the Phantoms as my first episodic project and now having my third Emmy win. It’s wild to think of this.
And it all stems from my love for art. I’ve always considered myself an artist, and I love to bring art into fashion; now, I get to bring art into costume design.
Spencer: I absolutely loved this show. I have had the soundtrack on repeat in preparation for this interview. I loved it all, the music, the characters, and above all the costumes! It felt like you just had so much fun with it. Because of that, the audience had so much fun. Each character had their unique style, and I loved watching those styles move throughout the series. Let’s start by diving into what inspired Julie, the main character’s, style?
Soyon: The main thing that inspired Julie’s style was her journey and her character growth throughout the show.
The whole premise of her character was that she was a student in an art school, and she lived in Los Feliz, so I had to really embrace what a teenager would dress like in this environment. Julie already expressed herself through art, so figuring out how that would translate into her everyday style choices was a fun, creative part of my work. She truly marches to the beat of her own drum, and you can see that in everything she wears, all the way down to the doodles on her sneakers and jeans. She is an artist and creative.
I also made sure to embrace her character having a Latinx heritage. I threw in nuances of her roots, so you see this in her jewelry and more prominently in her daydream during ‘I Got the Music’ with the marching band cape that features a custom embroidered, hand-crystaled Virgin Mary.
Another large part of Julie and her journey is the intimate feelings she has in the remembrance of her mom, so this was also a big part of creating her character. This is seen when she incorporates a lot of her mom’s hand-me-downs and the Dahlia flowers, a symbol for her mom.
Spencer: By the end of the series, Julie has gone through quite the metamorphosis (literally, she was wearing a dress covered in butterflies at one point). What was your thought process in creating Julie’s final looks compared to when we first meet her?
Soyon: Julie’s costumes at the end of the series — with her free-flowing hair, her bouncy skirt, and the vibrant colors of her dress — reflect her embrace of her mom’s passing, as well as the passing of her new friends Luke, Alex, and Reggie. I love this scene because we see Julie growing up by accepting all the transitions of her life. She is more confident in who she is and has this newfound confidence in her creative expression, singing, and songwriting. It was really a full-circle moment in costume storytelling by the time we get to the final episode.
I wanted her to exude this confidence for the final look, so she is wearing a dress her mom made her and her mom’s vintage jacket. I had actually already established Sunset Curve’s colors with Alex primarily having pink, Reggie in a rock ‘n’ roll red, and Luke in this classic blue; so the color choice for Julie naturally had to also represent rock ‘n’ roll since they are playing this awesome music venue as a band. That deep purple was the perfect color to connect them all beautifully.
Spencer: I’ll admit, I became a bit of a fangirl for Sunset Curve, a rock band from the 90s. When it came to the costuming of the guys in the band, it was actually quite hilarious to me because this 90s fashion is now back in style today in 2021! What fashion trends from that decade did you incorporate into their characters and costume design?
Soyon: For Luke, I incorporated the rock ‘n’ roll tees, the black rock ‘n’ roll skinny jeans, the vans, and obviously the muscle tee cut (you’re welcome!!). I wanted to bring in some vintage 70s and 80s style as a nod to the 90s style, so we added a trench to his wardrobe. I made it Luke’s own by making it a denim tie-dye, more rock ‘n’ roll, and LA surfer boy since that is who he is.
For Reggie, I wanted to keep that timeless classic rock style. My inspiration was James Dean and Marlon Brando because even in the 90s, that was your classic rock look. The elements I brought into his wardrobe were the flannel tied around the waist, shredded knee denim, and a pointed-toe leather boot.
For Alex, I wanted to keep him very athleisure, which was very much the 90s street style! I did this with his hoodies, cargo pants, and of course, his Nike Air Max. His socks had to be statements, which is a trend we all saw back in the 90s. And who could forget his fanny pack! For this accessory, I wanted Alex to be more of a trendsetter. He wears it across his body, which is now totally in.
Spencer: Dirty Candi, the girl group, now those were some fun costumes! They were full of color and different textures. I was reminded of your work on Jem and The Holograms when I saw the group perform! How did you approach costuming Dirty Candi?
Soyon: With Dirty Candi, I absolutely played off of Kenny Ortega’s fantastic direction. The way he described Dirty Candi visually was as if ‘a sucker or lollipop that you are enjoying, fell on the ground and picked up all this dirt. What would that look like?’ I loved it so much and ran with it! This is why I incorporated many bright colors with sparkles and crystals to represent the rocks in dirt.
Another significant aspect of my creative conversations with Kenny was that since Carrie is a girl who has a lot of money, she would totally be the person to hire Katy Perry’s stylist. Good thing I have actually worked with Katy before! So I had to think about what would she be wearing? She would have all her performance outfits custom-made and creatively extra. Dirty Candi’s looks were completely designed and built from scratch. Carrie wouldn’t want anything off the rack!
It’s also really fun that you mentioned Jem because I wanted the girls to be bright and colorful for that film. But for Dirty Candi, there were five girls, and I wanted each girl to be a color of the rainbow. My inspiration was K-pop girl groups and Jolly Ranchers, which are literally see-through candy. I thought of this for the types of fabrics I wanted to use. I used vinyl and organza for this inspiration, and all the crystals are the “dirty” of Dirty Candi.
Spencer: Julie and the Phantoms prompted a reunion between you and Kenny Ortega, now having worked on multiple projects together. What is the collaborative process like between the two of you?
Soyon: The collaboration between Kenny and I is always super fun! Kenny is a director that is full of life and vibrancy. He is pure magic. The way he illustrates his vision makes my job so easy; I can see the colors and the costumes immediately in my mind as he speaks. When I work with him, there is always a lot of fun banter and collaboration because we just get each other. For Julie specifically, I loved working with him because the ideas kept evolving and got better and better; I’m so happy with what we created together for the show.
Spencer: Was there a costume that you found more challenging? Which costume are you the proudest of?
Soyon: I don’t have a favorite because I love them all; they are like my children, you can’t pick a favorite!
There were two challenging costumes. The first was Julie’s finale dress because I had to factor in a lot of different parameters, such as Julie’s body type, how to elongate her on the stage while keeping her the sneakerhead that she is, keeping it youthful, finding the right color, not making it too sexy, keeping the skirt a certain length, and making sure she can breathe and perform, plus have duplicates for her body doubles.
I also had Netflix’s restrictions of it being a family show, so I couldn’t make the skirt too short. To problem solve this, I threw in the 90s biker shorts. I ended up coming up with the high-low skirt and kept the back long and the front short to help elongate her legs while also showcasing her teeny waist. I wanted it to have a quinceañera vibe, which traditionally is always a cupcake or ball gown type of silhouette. The jacket was originally a vintage Balmain dress that I took apart to use as fabric to make into a cropped bomber. It was a huge task because we needed to hand-sew all the beading down; it took months, but it was worth it.
The second most challenging costumes were for ‘The Other Side of Hollywood’ Hollywood Ghost Club scene. This was because we ended up moving up the shoot date because of location availability. When I thought I had two months to design and build these costumes, I ended up having only two weeks! It was a lot of hands-on and a ton of sleepless nights.
Spencer: Soyon, thank you so much for taking the time to speak with me! I had so much. Congratulations again on the success of the show and your well-deserved Emmy win! I can’t wait to see what’s next.
Soyon: Thank you again, Spencer! This was fun! I’ll be sure to let you know what I’m working on right now when I can; it is next-level!