Through the Wardrobe: Casey Storm

This fashion addict, ‘obsessive perfectionist,’ and one-time aspiring actor fell into the chance to play dress-up for a living. Now, as a celebrated costume designer and member of Spike Jonze’s wolf pack, his work speaks volumes.

Growing up in Los Angeles, Casey Storm naturally wanted to be an actor. Having a sitcom-director father (Howard Storm’s credits include episodes of Mork & Mindy, Mr. Belvedere, and Head of the Class, among many others) surely played a part in his early career aspirations. Yet it was at a party that he met his fate: When a friend said he was looking for someone to pull clothes for a music video, longtime pal Spike Jonze suggested that Storm could do it and thus his accidental path to becoming a costume designer was paved. Storm’s preoccupation with clothing and fashion made him an acute observer of the ways in which clothing makes the man (or woman); Jonze simply helped tip the scales toward his eventual career behind the scenes.

Storm and Jonze have been co-conspirators in developing quirky character style since their first gig, creating the Beastie Boys’ “Sabotage” video. A string of classic music videos followed, including Fatboy Slim’s “Weapon of Choice,” featuring a highly athletic performance by Christopher Walken; the flawless retro styling of Weezer’s “Buddy Holly”; and an extravagant, candy-colored dance number for Bjork’s big-band explosion “It’s Oh So Quiet.” In 1999, the film Being John Malkovich raised Storm’s profile from stylist to genius of disguise when he transformed Cameron Diaz from stunning beauty into an unrecognizable and dowdy wallflower.

As a costume designer, Storm helps create the character through the clothing and manages an entire department to oversee every detail, while as a wardrobe stylist he selects clothes to suit the image or simply the lyrics. Storm navigates both worlds with a sharp eye, humor, and intense perfectionism, an ideal combination for his most recent film, the visual masterpiece Where the Wild Things Are.

Get In Media: With your early interest in clothes and having a parent who was a director, I imagine your world was filled with a cast of interesting characters.
Casey Storm: We always had amazing people around. My parents’ group of friends were hippies, comics, actors, and writers. We went on trips together, had softball leagues, and hung out at each other’s houses. Being on the set of my dad’s shows was always fun. I was 7 years old, hanging out with Robin Williams.

GIM: You evolved from music videos into movie work. What are some of the practices that carried over from videos to film?
CS: I think music videos are to costume design what soap operas are to acting. It’s so fast-paced, with so much to do for not enough money, and you work such long hours. It’s very sink-or-swim. You learn great ways to work quickly and prepare for anything, which serves you as a costume designer.

GIM: How would you describe your approach to character development through costume in a film versus wardrobe styling for a video?
CS: I think the approach is the same, but with film you need to sustain the energy for months. Also, on music videos, a lot of stuff happens at the last minute and requires immediate creative bursts of energy, where a film leaves you time to mull things over and try different combinations and hone in on what you are trying to do.

GIM: How involved are you in the construction of garments? Are you focused more on concept and design, or are you patternmaking and sewing as well?
CS: I don’t sew. I have great sewers who do all of that. I work with a sketch artist and get ideas drawn and then source fabric and materials and work with my seamstresses to get the look that I want.

GIM: I’ve read that you were shopping for the trench coat for Michael Jackson’s “Stranger in Moscow” video, couldn’t find what you wanted—a garment that allowed him to dance unconstrained—and eventually had to create the coat he wore. Did you do the same thing for Christopher Walken in the Fatboy Slim video? He’s got some amazing moves.
CS: [laughs] Christopher Walken’s suit was a cheap suit from Sears. Spike and I were so intimidated by Christopher Walken and we didn’t know how to approach him about the clothes, because we wanted him in a really cheap traveling-salesman suit. At one of his dance rehearsals, Spike and I went out to see him and had him try on the suit. He put it on and there was a long pause as he looked at himself in the mirror. Finally he said to us, “Well … you’ve got a silhouette.” Then there was an even longer pause as Spike and I tried to figure out if that was a good thing or a bad thing. Eventually Spike asked if that was a good thing and Christopher Walken replied, “If you’re going for a silhouette, you’ve got it.” I still have no idea what that meant, but he wore the suit.

GIM: Since MJ was someone you looked up to as a kid, you must have been pretty blown away by the opportunity to work with him. What would you say is the greatest stylistic lesson you learned from him?
CS: No lesson, really. I just soaked up the opportunity to be around him. He possessed the most energy I’ve ever seen in a human being. His presence was out of this world, and I’m so grateful for the few days where I got to be around him.

GIM: Describe your personal style. Could you ever imagine designing your own clothing line?
CS: My personal style is in constant change. I’m very into American and Asian work clothes right now. Almost like an updated railroad uniform. I did have a clothing line for a while and I hated it. That’s not a fun business to me. The pressure of sales changes everything.

GIM: What was the biggest challenge you had to overcome with Where the Wild Things Are?
CS: The biggest challenge was the wolf suit. When you have 1,000 people in costumes, no one scrutinizes the details. When you have one kid in one outfit for almost the entire movie, the scrutiny is intense. That “simple” costume has so many design elements and required so much attention. Fingerless gloves, bendable whiskers, movable ears, paint-scratched snaps, patches, different-colored stitching, aging, dyeing, gluing, etc., and we eventually made over 100 of them for stunt players, stand-ins, different lighting setups, etc.

GIM: What are the aspects of costume design that inspire you the most?
CS: I like making people smile and I like perfection. I can get very obsessed with small details that only I know about, but which make the costume work. I like bringing normal people to life. I’ve always felt like overly costumey stuff is easier than normal everyday stuff because you have so many tricks to rely on, but turning an ordinary everyday person into someone that piques your interest is more of a challenge. Going back to my first film, Being John Malkovich, Cameron Diaz’s character was the most fun and challenging because she wasn’t glamorous … we wanted to make her an ordinary lady in an extraordinary situation.   Get In Media

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