DRESSED TO THRILL
An interview with Julian McDonald, Spice Girls costume designer
When Mel G strutted her funky stuff along the catwalk at Julian McDonald's London Fashion Week show, the rest of the Spice Girls were so knocked out by her clothes that they begged Julian to design the costumes for their forthcoming Christmas concerts.
"I didn't need much persuading because the girls are all so lovely that I knew it would be a really fun project," Julian says. "Mel G's been wearing my clothes for ages - that's why I asked her to model for me - but I never thought it would lead to this!"
Julian's friendship with Mel G goes back a long way. She was originally going to model for him in February wearing specially designed pregnancy outfits that would have made a real impact. But two days before the show baby Phoenix made an unexpected early entrance and Julian had to wait seven months for Mel G to make her catwalk debut at London Fashion Week.
Julian reckons you could have knocked him down with a feather when a few days after the show he got a call from the girls asking if he would design their concert outfits. For the first time ever the girls agreed to wear the same look, which made life much easier for Julian because he could use the same fabric for each costume. But all the same, designing three different costumes for each Spice Girl was a challenge - especially as he only had two weeks to do it in. By adapting ideas from his most recent show he was able to come up with three stunning looks that the girls simply adore.
"We all agreed the outfits had to be sparkly, tight, pretty and colourful so that everyone in the audience went Wow! the minute they saw them," he says. "The look I've gone for is very festive and very Rock n' Roll. I've used lots of shimmery crystals and shiny material so that the costumes catch the light as the girls dance."
The concerts open with the girls sashaying on stage in long, black feathered coats which they drop to reveal stunning suede outfits - each in a different, vibrant colour and decorated with Swarovski crystal tattoos. For their next costume change Julian has gone for a Rock Chick look using shiny, waxed denim decorated with hundreds of studs. Then it's time for the finale - a Christmas finale, of course, with plush red velvet and snowy-white fake fur stoles capturing that Spicy festive feel.
As any girl knows a new outfit isn't complete until you find the right shoes, so that was Julian's next job. Mel C's Nike trainers were covered in the same fabric as each outfit, while Emma and Victoria insisted on their trademark high heels. This meant thinking hard about the girls' dance routines and designing shoes that were beautiful and safe. And it wasn't all plain sailing - with just days to go Victoria's mules came off during rehearsals so they were given a back strap to keep them firmly on her feet.
"We had to work really fast and there was only time for a couple of fittings but luckily the girls made hardly any changes to my original designs," Julian says. "Their input went into the detail - with the suede outfits, for instance, Victoria and Emma swapped colours because Victoria preferred lilac and Emma wanted to wear pink."
Once the designs were finished Julian sent them to Academy Costumes to be made up. As Academy specialises in making clothes for stage shows they were able to advise Julian on the little details like the best place to hide a microphone or how to strengthen a skirt so that it survived hi-energy dance routines.
"Academy's alterations were really important," he says, "As I've never designed clothes for a concert before, thinking about where to hide a microphone was all new to me!"
Kept under wraps until the Spice Girls' first concert in Manchester, there's no doubt that once they were revealed they took everyone's breath away. But what about Julian? Will he be designing more costumes for the girls?
"I hope so because the girls are such good fun to work with," he says. "They really love the designs so who knows - maybe I'll be adding a few more Spice Girls to my regular client list!"