One of my most favorite parts of Descendants, besides the cast and the musical numbers, are the costumes. I love the dark style of each of the characters and how they just come to life when they are on screen. We had the pleasure of speaking with Kara Saun, the costume designer for Descendants, to find out how she creates these amazing costumes.
Kara Saun started out as a fashion designer and the transitioned into costume designing. She is also fashion consultant for Disney Consumer Products, so she has had her finger on the pulse of the characters from the very beginning. She was quick to note that even though she is creating costumes for kids, she isn’t thinking about creating specifically for kids.
Kids are so sophisticated and mature anyways. They know fashion. They know brands. They know what they like and so I never see a kid and think, “I’m going to design for a child.” If I design for a child, the mother is going to want something. The big sister is going to want something. Remember when you were young and you’d watch movies for kids but they had all these little adult things? I do the same thing for fashion.
I just went full couture for “Descendants 2,” from the accessories to the silhouettes. The fashiofor “Descendants 2” is really about the story of the kids and [where they are now]. They’re in Auradon and so it’s really my job to show how they’ve transitioned and how they’ve matured.
So let’s just start with Mal. In “Descendants 1,” she was just getting to Auradon and now she has really become a whole princess. So I really wanted to create something for her that showed that she’s been in Auradon for a while and she’s transitioned so she’s a little more polished. In “Descendants 1,” it went from straight punk to a preppy punk, and now it’s more of a polished punk. The fun thing I love about Mal is I really did create princess looks for her.
She started out with this blonde hair. She’s really trying to be a princess and she has little lavender gels and that’s because even though she’s trying so hard to be a princess, she’s still the girl from the Isle. There’s that whole story about keeping part of who you are not matter where you go and so it was really fun to create these little princesses for her. A lot of Mal’s dresses were very embellished and had lots of sparkle whereas in “Descendants 1” it was more leather and hardware and gold.
This time it’s rhinestones and embellished. Dove is just stunning in all of her wardrobe that was from the Isle. And then there’s Evie. What I loved about Eve was that she’s the designer of the group. Her business has picked up tenfold and she’s designing for all her classmates and honestly it reminded me of when I was in high school and what I did. She’s creating Cotillion gowns for all her classmates but I really wanted Evie to look like a young junior designer and so she has these great purses. Everything from head to toe for all the characters is custom.
The shoes are custom. The handbags are custom and the accessories are custom. One really fun part about all the wardrobe is that all of these [outfits] are detachable. For instance, when you see Evie she’s in the full dress. I can take the sleeves off. The sleeves came off. She has the vest, then it separates at the waist and she wears it as a skirt.
I thought it would be fun if everything was detachable for Evie and for the guys and for Uma as well. I loved all the new characters and Evie and Uma’s braided hairstyles.
Part of the reason I created the braids and the fringe is because people asked, “How did you get this look from Ursula?” Uma doesn’t have that purple but does anyone know where the turquoise came from on Ursula?
When I watched the movie, I just kept on looking at the eye shadow. Every character has to have their own color. Mal already had the purple. The turquoise reminded me of the sea and it’s very aquatic. I tapped into Ursula through the fringe because when Uma moves it’s like her tentacles are flaring up, and her hair and her braids look like tentacles too.
Her outfit detaches as well. The sleeves come off and also she has pants that she wears for certain fight scenes but it’s all detachable, all leather, all hand painted. One of the reasons it was so fun was that I let the kids look for all the icons on the outfit. China’s outfit has hundreds of little icons on it – shells, starfish, crabs and just everything. Mal has the dragons, Evie has hearts so it can literally be a game to go through it and find all the icons for everybody.
And then of course you have Carlos and I love that Carlos is a techie now. He’s grown too. I needed to show that Evie and the guys have all matured in Auradon and that everybody came full circle and each person is doing their own thing.
Jay is the athlete so even his Isle look has that athletic look.
One thing I really loved is that Ben is now on the Isle. It was so much fun doing costumes for someone from Auradon and turning his look into the Isle, like going in reverse. So he was so cute. This just fit him so well and still kept his Auradon look. He’s the king now but it still has that fun kind of Isle twist to it.
He asked, “Do you have more rings?” I joked, “Do I have more rings?!” There are literally rings on every one of his fingers. As soon as he put the jacket on, he was Harry. And then we also have the son of Gaston, Gil. It’s so fun to create these Isle costumes. I call them Scallywag Swag because it’s really a mix of pirate punk, military and bohemian [fashion]. It’s a really fun fashion-forward twist.
I love Dizzy. I don’t know if you can see Dizzy but she must have hundreds of fabrics sewn to this dress. I went crazy with mixing but it’s so much fun to create all the icons and the colors and the prints for her. It’s hand-painted and splattered. All of the leather costumes are hand-painted and we distress them. We had so many costumes this time. It’s so fun to create this world of “Descendants.”
We wondered if she collaborated with the actors to get a feel of what they like style-wise and she explained –
After “Descendants 1,” I know what everybody loves. Dove is sophisticated in her look so it was easy to do princess for her. She’s my little princess and every day she would come in and say, “Oh my god, I just feel like a princess.” We would have so much at her fittings. As a fashion designer, learning everything from her size and her fit and making sure the fit is right [is important to me].
Thomas, Harry Hook, is from Scotland. He asked, “Can we have a little Scotland fabric?” So you can barely see it but there’s a little bit of plaid underneath in his jeans. I said, “Sure, we can do that!” The actors come to me when there’s something that they like. Sofia wanted to go straight old Hollywood glamour and I said, “We can do that.” Let me show you the Cotillion [dresses]. For Cotillion, I wanted to do some Ava Gardner [influences] and some old Hollywood glamour.
I had so much fun with Cotillion. Everyone’s fashion-forward and more sophisticated, [and you can see that in] Mal’s hair. Then you see Evie’s gown and it’s totally old Hollywood glamour with one shoulder and the train coming down in the back. Everybody’s just more fitted. Everything fits everybody like a glove. I love the story of the Lonnie this time. All the girls are so [strong] in this movie. They’re so powerful in this movie. Every girl in this movie has a story. It’s very powerful and so for Lonnie I created a look that suits the daughter of Mulan.
I call it the Disney vaults but I’ve been there quite a few times and I watch the movies over and over again. Even now I just watch the movies over and over again and then everything else is based on the storylines. I have to tell the fashion narrative for each and every character so that when we see them it makes sense. When you see the movie [“Mulan”], seeing Lonnie in those pants makes sense. I know what looks good on Dove. She has the tiniest waist and so no matter how small I make [her clothes] I always have to take them in. It’s fun knowing the talent too and knowing what they like, because to me when [talent likes their wardrobe] it helps their performances. So I really want the characters and the talent to love what they’re wearing.
“I want to create things that the actors will love.”
I want them to feel that they’re that character not just in wardrobe. Also, the stories are so strong. Kids can relate to the story of Mal and Uma and how they are different. I love the story of Uma because everybody’s off the Isle and she’s still there and she [feels abandoned]. They are stories that people can relate to and so for me, it’s just “How can I use costumes to improve this story?” It really is a combination. My first meeting with the production designer Mark Hofeling was at Blue Jam. We sat there for hours and we talked about color. Once we were done I put together reference books and my reference books are hundreds of pages long. It’s references of colors, of certain things. I do hair. I reference everything and we’re very cohesive so when you see these sets you’ll notice that the sets match the costumes. That’s because we collaborate. We send each other pictures. We send each other fabrics, props.
We have an amazing team and we collaborated on everything because there was so much going on and so much movement and Kenny wanted all the parts to move. The shoes have to be perfect. When they’re dancing at the Cotillion, they had their regular embellished boots and we also made high top tennis shoes, so we did one pair of shoes in five different styles. I created sneakers as well as heels because you never know on that day if an actor is going to say, “I can’t dance in this thing [costume]!”
In the end, Kara feels that kids should look like kids. They can be sophisticated and fashion-forward and fun and fresh without being too overtly anything.
What kind of advice do you have for a budding designer?
I would say put your ego into fashion. I’m a huge ego enthusiast and so I shot vintage like crazy. When you see the background of the movie, know that all that is useable. Know that I have taken it, I have cut it up, I have painted it, I have distressed it and made it new. So starting out when I was in grade school and I would go shopping or window shopping I would just grab something. I would cut it up and do everything I do now. I started sewing in junior high. I was sketching in school and then I started sewing. My parents got me a machine and it was a wrap. I took that one class in junior high back when they had home economics. I made a three piece outfit and then I started sewing.
Well back then I was the black Madonna at my high school. I had the bows and so I started sewing for my classmates. Then my first main job in high school was designing the cheerleading uniforms. I did all the fashion shows and so what I would say to her is each fashion season, have her create her own little collection. Even, you start to learn your aesthetic. You know, “Okay, this is what I like to do.”
Descendants 2 movie premieres simultaneously on 5 Networks on Friday, July 21 (8:00 P.M EDT): Disney Channel, ABC, Disney XD, Freeform and Lifetime, plus on each Network’s branded digital platform.
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