"It was the beginning of glitter rock!" An interview with costume designer Sue Blane, who created the original "The Rocky Horror Picture Show" stage ensembles in London and also designed the costumes for the film. This story first appeared in print on Oct. 4, 1990.
Soon there will be two versions of "The Rocky Horror Picture Show": the original film that plays at midnight in more than 178 theaters every weekend, and its new competition, the videocassette tape that will be released Nov. 8 by CBS/Fox video.
If your first experience with "Rocky Horror Picture Show" is watching the video at home, you will have missed most of the fun. The film is only half of the "Rocky Horror" show; the costume antics of the audience and the props they have brought along account for the rest. But you're still in time to be part of what is sure to be a new phenomenon: the "Rocky Horror Video Party." All you need to know is how to dress and what props to bring.
Dori Hartley of New York is credited with the first look-alike effort. She chose to imitate Dr. Frank-N-Furter as a cross-dressing alien. Since her pioneer outing there have been countless audience interpretations of the film's super-characters--Dr. Frank, Magenta, Riff Raff and Columbia--who have the best and most costume changes. In supporting costume roles are Brad, Janet, Rocky, Dr. Scott, Eddie, and assorted Transylvanian dancers.
Every Saturday night at the Nuart theater in Santa Monica, where "Rocky Horror" plays at midnight, a fully costumed live cast gathers to cheerlead the audience through their paces. This is the preshow entertainment, and the film does not begin without them.
Sue Blane designed the "Rocky Horror" costumes. She did both the original stage version in London and two years later designed the costumes for the film.
"At the time they were quite anarchic from a costume point of view," Blane said from London, where she recently mounted yet another stage production of "The Rocky Horror Picture Show." "To see the body so close and so rough was a terrific shock unless you were used to seeing strip shows. . . . Now they don't seem so shocking. You see people in the tube (subway) station that look far more bizarre and with less clothing."
The fashion trends have caught up with Blane's vision. The costumes the live cast wears at the Nuart bear a marked resemblance to clothing you see in the clubs around town--black corsets and bras worn without blouses, rhinestone encrusted bustiers, long frock coats and minuscule skirts. Blane was in her early twenties when she created the look that would eventually spread to music videos and Melrose Avenue.
"It was the beginning of glitter rock," she said. "The look was showing up in Chelsea and Kings Road. The reason the costumes were a hit is we had picked up on something that had just begun."
Blane modestly declines the credit for launching the underwear-as-outerwear trend. She insists on sharing her prescient design sense with street savvy-London designer Vivienne Westwood. But more than 15 years later, she will take the blame. "As I grow up I am a bit alarmed at what I spawned," she said ruefully.
Blane estimated she had 90% of the costumes for "Rocky Horror" custom-made. Only the clothing in the wedding scene and various undergarments were bought. Rabid fans have had to do likewise, sewing their own with occasional trips to the secondhand shops to assemble the look. The main ingredients in dressing as the flamboyant Dr. Frank are a long cape, corset, bikini underwear, fishnet hose, platform shoes, large millimeter pearls (choker length), elbow-length gloves without the fingers and scads of eye shadow. Jim Dockery, who plays Dr. Frank in the Nuart's cast advises men to have their corsets custom-made. The ones available in the lingerie shops all have built-in cups that look deflated on a man. Dockery is a "Rocky Horror" costume specialist, he has been playing the part of Dr. Frank for 12 years.
The hardest elements to locate, said Dockery, are the large pearls and the platform shoes, but he's always had good luck finding shoes at local thrift shops for about $2. To create his heavy-duty makeup, Dockery said he uses Ultra Fair base. For the eye shadow, he mixes the base with Maybelline liquid and waterproof eyeliner, "because it won't smear or drip."
All of the stars with major billing wear fishnet hose and high, high heels at some point in the film. Another across-the-cast effect is heavy eye makeup. You can't go light on the eyeliner.
Columbia and Magenta's costumes combine great fantasy dressing. Magenta gets the upstairs French maid regalia--a short black uniform and frilly white apron. Her massive 'do' of dark wavy locks with gray streaks at the temples is straight out of "Bride of Frankenstein."
Let's do the "Time Warp" again: