Pin It
transpotting film clothing fashion costume designer
Still from Trainspotting

Trainspotting’s costume designer on dressing the iconic film

As T2 Trainspotting gets its home release, costumer Rachael Fleming discusses the inspirations behind the original, as well as revisiting the characters 20 years later

From the moment the frenetic, driving drums of Iggy Pop’s “Lust for Life” kicked in and Mark Renton (Ewan McGregor) began his iconic ‘choose life’ monologue, Trainspotting’s status as one the best depictions of what it means to be young, bored and disillusioned at the hands of an out-of-touch government (feel familiar?) was cemented. The film has come to define a generation that came of age in the mid-90s and remains just as culturally relevant as it was in 1996, even if heroin-chic is no longer the fashion fad du jour.

Trainspotting wouldn’t have been what it was without its style – and the woman responsible for this was costume designer Rachael Fleming. Though she may not have actually invented the skinny jean, as was stated by Ewan Bremner (who plays Spud) recently, her work on the film has been widely referenced – subconsciously or otherwise – almost continually in the 21 years since its release. For proof, just look to recent collections from Vetements and Gosha Rubchinskiy, whose oversized bomber jacket-wearing boys with buzzcuts bear more than a passing resemblance to Renton, or to Alessandro Michele’s ‘new’ Gucci, where Spud wouldn’t look out of place were he to march down the catwalk among the models in his 70s-inspired track tops, lurid polyester shirts and slim-fitting suits.

So well-loved is Trainspotting that when a sequel, T2 Trainspotting, was announced in 2015, the news was met with some apprehension – and not just by those that only watched the film. “I didn’t want to do it, you know – how could it have lived up to what we’d created previously?” Fleming admits. “But then I read the script and realised we had nothing to worry about. When I knew everyone was back on board, I couldn’t not.” She reprised her role as costume designer alongside the original cast members and director Danny Boyle

As the film that reunites Renton, Begbie, Sick Boy and Spud is released on DVD this month, we sat down with Fleming to discuss the influences behind the clothes, the film’s enduring legacy and the challenges she faced when revisiting the characters 20 years on.

How did working on the costumes for Trainspotting come about? 

Rachael Fleming: I’d been working on music videos with Britpop bands like Blur and Oasis for a long time, but as this point, I was working on the costumes for a film called Go Now with Michael Winterbottom, which Bobby (Robert Carlyle) was starring in. I remember Bobby went off to meet Danny about his new project and I think he mentioned my name to him there and then. Danny had actually seen a film I’d worked on with Michael previously, Butterfly Kiss, and got in touch about Trainspotting. Really it went from there. I’ve actually worked quite a few times with both Danny and Bobby – on 28 Days Later and 28 Weeks Later, as well as The Beach, which Bobby made a brief appearance in.

What were your points of reference when you were creating the costumes for Trainspotting?

Rachael Fleming: There were lots of different punk bands – I looked at the Buzzcocks, The Clash, some underground Scottish bands that I can’t remember, and Iggy Pop of course. I also had a lot of photographs of young boys in various estates in different periods of time that I looked at – just listless groups of kids doing nothing, or doing mundane things throughout the 60s, 70s and 80s.

Why do you think the film and its fashion resonated with a generation?

Rachael Fleming: In terms of fashion, I think there had been so much emphasis on the rave scene for so many years and everyone was wearing these loose clothes that were really for dancing in – big baggy shorts, big baggy jeans, you know, everybody out raving – that when Trainspotting came along, people were ready for something new, a new silhouette. I think it was just completely different to what we’d been seeing for the past five or so years and people were ready to embrace it. With regards to the film itself, yeah, it’s quite surprising given that it’s about a bunch of heroin addicts, but I think it resonated because the characters are so likable. People see something of themselves in each them and so they’re rooting for them.

How did you go about creating the costumes for T2?

Rachael Fleming: I still had a lot of the costumes from the first film that I’d kept, so to start with, I looked back at some of those. In Trainspotting, we had Jonny (Lee Miller) in the Sean Connery-style suits and tailored pieces which were all second-hand and from charity shops, but when it came to T2, I tried to imagine how his style had progressed in the time we’d not seen him. A lot of his stuff had become quite high-end; he had the Burberry coat, the Versace shirts, an Armani tracksuit and a pair of Gucci loafers, but he’d probably nicked them or got them in some dodgy deal – despite the fact it was high-end, I didn’t want it to look flashy and I don’t think it did – his seedy character put paid to him ever looking polished or put-together. Ewen Bremner came in and still fit into a lot of the pieces he wore back in ’96, so some of the clothes he’s in in T2 are those original garments, mixed in with a few new items which to me is reflective of the situation he finds himself still stuck in.

How did the way you dressed the characters in T2 differ from the way you dressed them in the original – did you find it difficult to reimagine their style?

Rachael Fleming: Before we began working on the film, Danny and I sat down and he really emphasised how one thing he wanted to change was the characters’ silhouettes – he really wanted to show that they’d gotten older and turned into men, to make it really clear that it had been two decades since we’d been introduced to them. It was actually quite difficult as actors tend to wear pretty well in comparison to the rest of us, don’t they? When they arrived on set when we started shooting, none of them really looked like they’d aged all that much! I tried to make everything much less angular, Renton particularly is a lot softer. To me he’s the one whose style has changed the most – he’s gone from having such a strong image in the first film to looking like an ordinary man in his early 40s in T2. I actually found him the hardest to dress – with the others, you know where they’ve been. Begbie’s been inside, Sick Boy’s been running the pub with the odd scam on the side and Spud’s really just been where we left him – but Renton’s story is much less clear. We know he’s been in Amsterdam, and we know he’s been married – and separated – but we don’t know the finer details, so his evolution was harder to map out. The others still retain a sense of their original style, but in Renton, that style is much less evident these days.

“Everyone was wearing these loose clothes that were really for dancing in... When Trainspotting came along, people were ready for a new silhouette” – Rachael Fleming

How did the luxury brands you chose to use react when they found out the context in which their clothes would be used (to dress a group of heroin addicts)?

Rachael Fleming: I think it’s testament to the first film in that they were great, even the ones you might not have expected to be. Burberry, Armani and Mulberry were all brilliant, and Pringle was particularly amazing; they made me nine of the pink sweaters that Begbie wears in T2 for a scene in which he gets covered in blood. It was actually an exact copy of one that he wears in Trainspotting – although adjusted slightly to reflect his body shape after 20 years inside. Unlike Ewen (Bremner), he had filled out a bit!

You’ve mentioned previously that all the clothes in the first film were bought second-hand or handmade by you. Where would the characters shop now?

Rachael Fleming: Renton wears a lot of athletic wear and particularly a lot of adidas throughout, which I suppose is reflective of the fact he’s replaced heroin with exercise in terms of addiction. Spud – oh God, I’ve no idea where Spud would shop! He’s the kind of guy that isn’t really bothered where something comes from – if he likes it, he’ll wear it. In real life, Ewen Bremner has a lot of style – you can put something on him that’s absolutely shocking but he’ll pull it off because he’s just got this panache about him, which I suppose carries over into the characters he plays. Begbie’s been in prison for 20 years so his style has really remained the same, and Sick Boy’s in mainly designer stuff now, though I wouldn’t say he’s shopped for it necessarily – it’s more likely that it’s come off the back of a lorry.

What was your favourite look in either of the films?

Rachael Fleming: I think it’s probably between the maroon trousers and pink sweater that Begbie wears in T2 and the lilac, sequinned dress, bright pink velvet coat and black heels that Diane wears when she first meets Renton outside the Volcano club in the original. Kelly Macdonald, who played her, has the most beautiful pale skin which contrasts with the bold colours, and that image to me is really memorable. And of course, I love Renton’s faded-out orange t-shirt with the naked woman on the chest – it was brand-new and bought from a store called Free, but I bleached it out and added the print before sanding it down to make it look as if it had been worn to death. I think that was part of the appeal of the clothes in the film; they all looked lived-in and authentic. If they hadn’t it just wouldn’t have worked as well as it did.

T2 Trainspotting is available on DVD and Blu-ray from June 5