On the teen witch movie’s 20th anniversary, costume designer Deborah Everton reflects on creating the alt-girl wardrobe that defined a decade
If you didn’t grow up wanting to be the fifth member of The Craft’s formidable girl gang, then we can’t be friends. Released 20 years ago today, the film follows protagonist Sarah (Robin Tunney), a troubled teen recently transferred to a new high school in LA, who befriends a trio of outcasts rumoured to be witches – Bonnie (Neve Campbell), Nancy (Fairuza Balk) and Rochelle (Rachel True). Exploring themes of suicide, self-acceptance, depression and (of course) witchcraft, the film resonated with misfit teen girls worldwide.
Still as relevant as it was in 1996, much of The Craft’s lasting appeal can be credited to its timeless cult wardrobe. From Nancy’s PVC coat, dog collar, crucifix and rosary combination to Rochelle’s tartan skirt, white polo shirt and braces look, there’s one woman to thank – costume designer Deborah Everton. Starting out as an assistant to a designer before getting offers to do her own thing, Everton got her break on James Cameron’s 1989 sci-fi blockbuster The Abyss. Having met and befriended a young director called Andrew Fleming on set (“It’s a typical Hollywood story, all about connections, it’s one big web and you’re just a little spider”), Everton was the obvious choice when Fleming came to film his sorcery-themed new project. “He really trusted me to really take that role and run with it,” recalls Everton. “He really is fun to work with because he gives you your rein, that’s a lot of fun for a creative person.”
To mark the The Craft’s 20th anniversary, Everton talks us through her time spent creating the film’s much-lauded looks.
PUSHING THE BOUNDARIES OF ‘UNIFORM’
“The idea of delving into the personalities of these four girls was very exciting. I was a little daunted at first, as a lot of it is very ‘Catholic school uniform’, but after thinking about it for a while I realised that I could make even the uniforms character-driven, and since they are actually in those uniforms most of the time, that was an important aspect of the film. I went to an all-girls boarding school, and the idea of a uniform was just a soul-crusher. It was fine so long as you wore a skirt, tights or knee socks, a blazer or a sweater, and it had to be grey or blue. I think that took the pain out of it a little. It made girls realise they could work within the rules and still create an identity. At the fittings I roughly figured out in my head who each girl was, and I very loosely gave each of them an element for when I got stuck, so I could always go back to this elemental thing.”
THE FIRST DAY OF SHOOTING WAS A DISASTER
“That first scene where the girls come together and Sarah starts school is actually a funny story. I put her in a very nondescript beige t-shirt dress and a big, sloppy sweatshirt – none of the girls were really formed yet, their outfits were hinting at who they were but not really. That was our first day of shooting, and the studio saw it and flipped out. They thought I had lost my mind! They thought the visual was terrible. This whole posse showed up at my office (which was terrifying) and I had to calm them down. I was like, ‘No, no, no, this is where we are, Sarah’s suicidal, she’s really a non-person, she doesn’t know who she is and she’s floundering – that’s what her costume is showing!’ Then I showed them how the girls would progress through the script and luckily enough they didn’t fire me. That was a scary moment. I learned that you never want to start your first day of shooting like that, you always want to start with a strong image that will relax them, because you know, their jobs are on the line too!”
NANCY’S CLOTHES WERE HER ARMOUR
“Nancy (Fairuza Balk) was possibly the most damaged character in the film, her clothes were like armour to her – she would scare people off. She was like, ‘Let me do the rejecting, before I’m rejected!’ Her character lived in a trailer park and her mom was an alcoholic, they didn’t have a lot of money, so a lot of her stuff had to come from pretty low-end sources – if I couldn’t find what I wanted I would just make it. Her PVC coat said a lot about her character... I may have made that, but I can’t be 100 per cent sure. Normally her character would have thrifted clothes, but you can’t get the multiples you need when you’re buying vintage clothing, and she wore that coat several times. So I would say I made it, but you know, this was 20 years ago and I’ve made a lot of clothes since then!”
“Nancy was possibly the most damaged character in the film, her clothes were like armour to her – she would scare people off” – Deborah Everton
THE COSTUMES HAD TO BE ACCESSIBLE FOR A TEENAGE GIRL
“I get inspired by what’s around me, and if I can’t find it I just make it. Even if it’s jewellery, I’ll grab a pair of pliers and make the damn thing myself, or find an artisan that can do it. But in the case of The Craft, everything had to be what was accessible to a teenage girl at that time, so I tended to go to those places. I always try to do that fashion-y thing and try to make it so that the looks can be replicated by kids to some extent, although I had no idea how successful it would be, or how much it would resonate with kids at the time. I also tried not to be too ‘out-there’ – you know, this wasn’t a sci-fi movie where I was creating my own universe, these were people in the real world. I thought there would be girls who would want to dress like that, I just didn’t know how much they actually would! I tagged along to some press junkets in Paris and I found out that kids, girls, were going to the theatre dressed as the characters! That was the first idea I had about how much this film resonated with kids. I just thought they would look at it and go, ‘Oh, cool,’ then forget about it. But no, 20 years later we’re still seeing the same look.”
EVERTON HOPES THE RUMOURED REMAKE DOESN’T OVER-SEXUALISE THE CHARACTERS
“The film still looks good today, I watched it not too long ago and do you know what, it doesn’t look like a 20-year-old film. The clothes are clothes people today still wear. So how you add something to that, I’m not sure. They need a talented designer who can think of something fresh. Today characters tend to be really over-sexualised which I think puts you in tricky water when you’re appealing to that age group, and I just don’t think that’s necessarily a good message to send to girls. You see it a lot on television and I think it’s a dangerous message when that’s the one tool they have in their toolbox – there are other messages of empowerment you can give. Those are my feelings – I know that sex sells, but I’ve personally always tried to avoid films where the female characters were demeaned and over-sexualised unnecessarily.”