“Totally Killer” costumer on Molly Ringwald vibes and making ’80s ensembles worthy of being stabbed

The hook in Prime Video’s newest horror film “Totally Killer” is time travel. The Kiernan Shipka-led film centers on angsty teenager Jamie traveling back in time — think in the vein of “Back to the Future” — to stop the gruesome and unsolved suburban murders of three teenage high school girls called the Sweet 16 Murders. But since it is 2023, the distant past is 1987.

It’s in the ’80s that Jamie discovers her teen mom Pam (Olivia Holt) is a mean girl with a clan called The Mollys, taking inspiration from ’80s eternal teenager and megastar, Molly Ringwald. The film transports Jamie into a John Hughes-tinged world filled with pastels, puffy sleeves, acid-washed jeans and most importantly an iconic fringe white leather jacket that veteran costume designer Patti Henderson said was based on a look from a prominent character in Ferris Bullers Day Off.” 

In the film, Jamie is a longtime owner of her present-day mom’s (Julie Bowen) ’80s fringe leather jacket. When she time travels to the teenage years of her mom’s life — she takes it with her. Throughout the film, the jacket literally never leaves her back even during intense fighting scenes. Henderson told Salon that she designed the era-defying jacket, ultimately creating multiple leather jackets for the task.

“We had the opportunity to sit down and talk about how [Molly Ringwald] changed the late ’80s and brought vintage into everything that she did.”

But most importantly, in order for Henderson to capture the aesthetic, vibe and aura of such a memorable time in fashion history for many people and even herself, she and her buyer intensely focused on curating authentic vintage items for the cast that spent the majority of the storyline in the past. As the audience ventures through the present day and 1987, Henderson’s extensive work curating vintage or designing specific ’80s looks for each character is easily recognizable from dresses that emulate Ringwald’s iconic “Pretty in Pink” dress or signature hats or big ’80s jock bomber jackets. All the ’80s staple pieces people love or many even despise are heavily present — a showcase of how extensive and eternally trendy ’80s fashion will always be.

The following conversation has been lightly edited for clarity and length.

As a seasoned costume designer, who has worked in the action-thriller genre for years, how was “Totally Killer” different?

Reliving my youth! It was my first time doing 1987. I had done earlier ’80s before but because there was such a fashion shift between ’86 and ’87 I got to really work with some of the over-the-top kind of, you know, the big shoulder pads and lace and things like that, that weren’t so prevalent earlier. The ’80s were a lot of fun.

What images or mood board inspirations first popped into your head when the film came into your lap?

Well, definitely the leather jacket. For me the leather jacket was always Sloane Peterson [played by Mia Sara from “Ferris Bullers Day Off”]. I know it was scripted a little differently. But that was just a moment where we had to nail that jacket, and we did. Molly Ringwald. I don’t know if I’ve mentioned this to anybody before, but I did get the opportunity to work with Molly a couple of years ago. And we had the opportunity to sit down and talk about how she changed the late ’80s and brought vintage into everything that she did. And she really inspired a lot of us from that generation to follow what she was doing fashion trend-wise.

Can you speak to the importance of Jamie’s white leather fringe jacket throughout the film? Were you able to find this or did you have to make it?

We made it. A fellow named Greg— Greg Soldier is a friend of mine. He’s got a company called the Nines and he does leather work. And I designed the jacket. I had an illustrator work with me to get the right look. We wanted to make it a little bit different. We cropped it. We made the fringe a little bit different. So because I knew that there was going to be a lot of action and it was going to get a lot of play in the film and had to be functional where it wasn’t getting tangled, we made six of them.

Jamie’s wearing it almost throughout the entire film. Was it important to have multiple different versions of the same jacket?

Yeah. For stunt purposes. Well, Julie is wearing it at the end too. So I wanted the lead to have her own jacket. So very, very important. Because you never know what’s going to happen in any given moment when you’re working with stunts and action.

Totally KillerTotally Killer (Prime Video)Another jacket that really kind of stuck out to me was Amelia’s blue, red and yellow jacket. It looked like it belonged in the ’80s even though she was in 2023.

That was a brand-new jacket that I happened to find in Oceanside, California. When we were picking. I don’t recall the name of the company. But yeah, it was a brand new re-redux if you will, it was actually probably taken from the late ’70s and early ’80s. We saw a lot of those satin jackets in the disco era and things like that, but it was really important for me to distinguish the colors for each period. So we had the contemporary, more Gen Z — which we went with more cool tones and jewel tones. And then with the ’80s, we stayed with the pastels and the lighter pinks and lighter blues. So it was very important in that the jacket helped tell the story of Amelia that she was current day.

You’ve talked about Molly Ringwald a little bit. The Mollys in the film all dress as Molly Ringwald’s character in the ’80s. Let’s break down the Mollys. Let’s start with Heather’s hats.

When Heather was wearing all the hats, it was very important that it was going to resemble what Molly wore for some of her fashion trends but didn’t hide the face. So we kind of found things that perched on the back. The one scene where we’re in the gym when they’re playing dodgeball, and they’re in their little dodgeball outfits and she’s wearing that little hat. That hat was from the ’30s but it had everything – the color and the tone – but it also perched really nicely on top of her head. It was also important for us to do the brooches and the high collars and the lace and of course, the pearls are very, very important.

What would you say was your favorite Molly love to curate or find vintage for?

Olivia [Holt, who plays young Pam]. Olivia was absolutely wonderful. My process was — I went on a buying trip and I started in Vancouver and I went all the way down the coast to San Diego and I stopped at every vintage shop along the way. As my buyer and I were working on this we’d find pieces and go oh that Molly piece of Molly piece. So when Olivia came into the fitting room I had three or four racks of Molly things that I had sorted that I really liked, but it wasn’t until I got her in the room that I was able to pull things together and see how they looked. That brocade floral jacket with the giant, giant shoulder pads and the high collar and the brooch. But definitely that white lace with the little plaid pink skirt. I managed to find authentic ’80s Granny boots in white and the tights that went with them. You pulled the whole look together.

Totally KillerTotally Killer (Prime Video)When we transition to adult Pam she also dresses as Molly. Why was that “Breakfast Club” look the one that you selected for adult Pam?

I think it was the one that Molly was most known for. But it was one that people of my generation will look at and go, “Oh, she’s just like Molly Ringwald from ‘The Breakfast Club.'” But maybe you know Kiernan’s age group or the younger age group wouldn’t understand it. And that’s why it works so well. When she said, “Why aren’t you dressing up for Halloween?” “Oh, I am. I’m Molly Ringwald.” It also worked really, really well with the stunt work that Julie had to do. Everything was made, and we made it in multiples. The skirt was a wrap skirt so that she could move and her legs weren’t bound together so to speak. Flat boots — really, really important. But it also the way we cut the blouse, and the Dolman sleeves were able to hide padding and things like that underneath so that Julie could do a lot of her own stunt work.

When we think ’80s we think John Hughes, puffy sleeves, and acid-washed jeans. Was it fun to play around in this in this decade? And how do you utilize the best and maybe the worst parts of the fashion it in this film?

“[The outfits] have to work with falling down the stairs, getting stabbed, ending up in a carport or garage, all mangled.”

I wasn’t a big fan of acid wash or shoulder pads when I was that age, wearing these things back in the ’80s. But it was about powerful moments. It was about women becoming empowered and showing that in their dress and they were dressing more masculine with the big shoulder pads. Acid wash — I don’t know where that came from. It lasted. I think it kind of was a blend from some of the country things that we were seeing in the ’80s but those are really important staple pieces. And of course, the colors to really sell the period and the pencil skirts, the granny boots, the jewelry, the big earrings, you know that went with the hair. I can remember holding a hairdryer and hairspray to get that big swoop. And we did that on Olivia. It was a lot of fun.

If there was like anything specific that you really wanted to include in this ’80s aesthetic, what was it?

I think you said it about John Hughes and all of the movies that he made. Definitely the dress that we did for Liana [Liberato, who plays Tiffany]. We had to make sure that we weren’t copying Molly 100%. But we had to make sure that the audience was going to grab it: “Oh yeah ‘16 Candles,’ ‘Pretty in Pink,'” whatever it may be. And it was really really important that we got that dress right for her, especially for that murder scene on the waterbed. Yeah, I think that was very, very important.

This is a horror film, and many teenage girls are massacred throughout it by a mass killer. What goes into picking specific outfits for murder scenes, especially when you know actresses are going to be covered in fake blood?

Multiples. We either had to make them or we found them. The ’80s is back. The ’90s is back again. You can find it in the in the retail store. So we really chose carefully things that were going to be functional for stunt scenes, things that we could get eight to10 of, or we knew that there was going to be massive blood. The “Pretty in Pink” dress we made. I think we made about eight of those, and we only used one. They got it the first time around. So those things are very important. But you know you’ve got stunt people wearing them, you’ve got stand-ins wearing them, and then you’ve got the actual actors wearing them. And they have to work with falling down the stairs, getting stabbed, ending up in a carport or garage, all mangled. It all has to work. Also for me, it’s very important for stunt performers that I protect them. So I have to make sure that the cuts work well, and that we can hide some little low-profile time stunt padding so that they’re safe.

Totally KillerTotally Killer (Prime Video)Who would was the most challenging character to style or maybe most intriguing to style as the film switches from past and present and then younger actors to older actors?

The killer for sure. Because Tony Gardner and his team built a beautiful mask. We all talked about that mask and we all had some concepts on that. And in the end, we pulled from a lot of ’80s iconic actors or moments. But it was very important that it was sellable in the current time but also believable for the ’80s. So finding that right jacket, finding the right jeans, that would be the same cut, but also we kept it darker so that he could blend into the background and then pop out in those moments. And we did a T-shirt with the guys sitting on the car which was a nod to Don Johnson in “Miami Vice” for sure. And we made sure that we popped it with some pastel colors and things so that when there was blood flying, you could actually see it happen. 

How do you make you know an all-black outfit even more menacing than it already is? 

The T-shirt for sure. And there was the jacket that I chose was actually navy and it had some shine to it, which was very important so that he wasn’t just a flat black killer to have a little bit of pop. So that you know we could see it properly and it played well.

How would you compare and contrast Jamie’s style in 2023 versus 1987?

Well, you know, there was a lot of ripped jeans in the ’80s and currently of course. So we went with a pair of jeans that could fit both periods so that she could fit in the jacket. The jacket will play forever, you know in the ’80s and now I’d see them in the stores. Now they’re hard to find in the thrift stores or the vintage shops. But we you know, we kind of questioned when she was traveling — where did she get these clothes from? And she got them from young Pam’s closet. So that’s why we went with a little more somber look and some subtle tones in the pinks and blues, things like that. We made the band t-shirts too.

Tell me how going back in time in this film affects the overall aesthetics in fashions for each character – especially Jamie and Pam?

Yeah, it was important definitely to give each member their own look. There was that preppy look that we had to play on. There was the rocker look. There was the jock look. We gave each one of them moments that I remembered from growing up — rugby pads, rugby shirts or the polo shirts or that one look with the button down collar and the vest. Then you know Lurch when he’s in the back of his van. Kids still dressed like that today. You know, that was a look that I thought was really important. One of the T-shirts that he’s wearing was Harlequin, which is a friend of mine. Their band was big in the ’80s and I reached out to them and asked them if I could get some T-shirts from to use on my character. 

“Totally Killer” is streaming on Prime Video.

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