How this costume designer created looks for a multiverse of wild characters

A woman with looping hair braids wears a white neck ruff and pearls around her eyes in "Everything Everywhere."
“This one took the longest,” says “Everything Everywhere All at Once” costume designer Shirley Kurata. “The only direction was ‘empress.’ She was to look like a celestial goddess,” she adds of actor Stephanie Hsu.
(Allyson Riggs/Allyson Riggs)

What does one wear when the fate of the infinite multiverse is at stake? If you’re “Everything Everywhere All at Once” costume designer Shirley Kurata, you prepare for everything and make a wardrobe that’s a battle-ready homage to cartoony couture, the king of rock ’n’ roll, anime and also the practical, no-nonsense garb favored by Asian grandmas and IRS workers alike.

Kurata earned her first Academy Award nomination for a film that demands character-building realism, sci-fi fantasy and vintage Hong Kong action movie style. The Los Feliz resident can trace her achievement to her substantial experience as a fashion stylist for music videos and brands such as Rodarte and Kenzo, her years in the costume department for feature films and television and her ability “to stretch a dollar.” Kurata ultimately sourced from her stylist’s kit, Elie Saab’s evening gown collection, deadstock in Chinatown shops and manufacturers in China to create the universe- and time-jumping wardrobe.

When she first spoke about the project with writer-directors Dan Kwan and Daniel Scheinert (known as Daniels), she was advised to “make some costumes that people will dress up as for Halloween, because that’s the ultimate compliment.” Kurata says she promised to do her best. “Then the movie came out, and Halloween was coming, and I was blown away by how many people dressed up as them. OK. Good. Mission accomplished.”


Here, Kurata dishes on the details of several of her notable costumes in the film, which has 11 Academy Award nominations:


Making of an empress

“This one took the longest. The only direction was ‘empress.’ She was to look like a celestial goddess. I knew I wanted something a little sci-fi, but I wanted to tie in some historical elements of what queens wore back in the day. I thought an Elizabethan ruff would be really cool. And I had this pleated vinyl skirt I borrowed from designer Claudia Li. I was like, I will start with that and I’ll build up. I had a bodysuit made in the same fabric as the gloves, which I liked because they went above the shoulder and had all the crystals hanging. I got more crystals that I could attach to the pearled bib. I strung pearls and crystals and created the belt myself. I told [makeup department head] Michelle Chung, I think it would be cool if you added pearls to her makeup, so I’ll get you some flat-back pearls. I let her do her work, and that came out amazing.”

A woman with black hair and a googly eye on her forehead strikes a fighting stance
Michelle Yeoh in her mom vest switches gears to action star in “Everything Everywhere All at Once.”
(David Bornfriend / A24)

The red mom vest

Lead actress Oscar nominee Michelle Yeoh as overwhelmed Laundromat owner Evelyn Wang wears a red quilted vest and floral print blouse throughout the movie, even during her fight scenes. A vest is “an Asian mom thing. This is how my mom dresses,” says Kurata, who got the flash of inspiration watching her mother wash dishes and then combed Mom’s closet for more ideas. The vest was a practical choice for Kurata too. “I had to also factor in movability, because she was going to do a lot of stunts.” Kurata headed to Saigon Plaza in Chinatown in Los Angeles, where she purchased many pitch-perfect costumes. “It was important to go to places where her character would shop. Waymon [played by supporting actor nominee Ke Huy Quan] and Gong Gong’s [James Hong] looks were all from there, too,” says Kurata, who also studied Asian-centric fashion blogs, such as Accidental Chinese Hipsters. The vest and blouse combo has already been “honored” as an iconic Halloween and cosplay costume.

A woman wears bright yellow pants and a multicolored top with stuffed animals attached in a scene from the film.
As evil villain Jobu Tupaki, supporting actress Oscar nominee Stephanie Hsu pairs vivid yellow vinyl cargo pants with a neon print cropped jacket with plush teddy bears wrapping the sleeves.
(Allyson Riggs)


The plush toys

As evil villain Jobu Tupaki, supporting actress Oscar nominee Stephanie Hsu pairs vivid yellow vinyl cargo pants with a neon print cropped jacket with plush teddy bears wrapping the sleeves, a piece from the 2012 Jeremy Scott and Adidas collaboration. “It was a jacket I had in my kit of things, and I was trying to just save money. I’d found it secondhand and I was like, one day I’ll use this. The Daniels sent me a reference photo of a Jean Charles de Castelbajac teddy bear coat. Those things are really heavy, and the originals are expensive. We discussed that it would be fun to do some K-pop-inspired look that would be fun and playful.” She saved the production a bundle: An original De Castelbajac teddy bear coat is currently for sale online for $1 million.

A frumpy woman sits at a desk piled with paperwork.
Jamie Lee Curtis as IRS worker Deirdre Beaubeirdre wears a bad haircut, a mustard turtleneck and a knitted vest in Post-it note yellow.
(Allyson Riggs)

Frumpy is comfy

Supporting actress nominee Jamie Lee Curtis is hilariously shocking as frumpy, frazzled IRS worker Deirdre Beaubeirdre, who wears a bad haircut, a mustard turtleneck and a knitted vest in Post-it note yellow. “I wanted her in a color that would kind of pop in that drab, cubicle environment,” Kurata says. “She is at a desk all day. She wants to be comfortable. Jamie was like, this is the time that I can let everything out,” Kurata says, recalling how Curtis affected a slumped posture to create Deirdre and a round belly. Kurata’s costume helped accentuate the belly and emphasize the character’s lack of concern for fashion. “Deirdre would either shop at thrift stores or those little boutiques you see with funny names, like Comfort Zone.”

A woman with pink hair wears a white decorated jumpsuit.
Replicating the iconic beaded Vegas Elvis white jumpsuit for Stephanie Hsu’s villain Jobu Tupaki would have been too costly, says Shirly Kurata. So she scaled down the look but kept the suggestion of Elvis Presley.
(Allyson Riggs)

The Elvis jumpsuit

Long before there was cosplay, there were Elvis impersonators. As Jobu Tupaki, Hsu was to wear the iconic beaded Vegas Elvis white jumpsuit in a fight scene that could have destroyed the costume. “That was one of the few looks that was scripted. I think it stemmed from a photo the Daniels had seen of a girl in a baggy, oversized Elvis costume. I really wanted to make something from scratch, but that would be really expensive, and I knew I would need multiples of them. There are a lot of costume shop ones that are really cheapie. It was tricky to find a substantial one … that was small enough. And there was a lot of tweaking with the one I found. That kind of forced us to change some of the story line. I mentioned to [the directors] that I probably have to make five of those and I don’t think we are able to do it within the time frame. The Daniels totally understood that. They had told me from the get-go, if there are some things you can’t do because the budget or the time frame doesn’t work, don’t feel bad, tell us, and we’ll find a solution. So our solution was to have her change to something else [without so much beadwork] that you could have five made of.”