It’s been 29 years since someone lit the Black Flame Candle and resurrected the 17th-century sisters, and they are looking for revenge. Now it is up to three high-school students to stop the ravenous witches from wreaking a new kind of havoc on Salem before dawn on All Hallow’s Eve in HOCUS POCUS 2.
For the release of HOCUS POCUS 2, Nightmarish Conjurings’ Sarah Musnicky got to e-chat with the renowned costume designer, Salvador Perez Jr. You may know of his work from films such as the Pitch Perfect franchise, Liz & Dick, and TV shows like “Veronica Mars.” During the course of the interview, they discussed updating the Sanderson Sisters’ costumes for today, what nods to the original film can be found in the costumes and Swiffer’s influence in the new film.
Much like life, the path to our respective careers isn’t always set in stone. What was the path like for you to become a costume designer? Was this a career you’ve always envisioned for yourself?
Salvador Perez Jr: I went to FIDM to study fashion design and thought I would design a fashion line and become a brand like Calvin Klein. As I was trying to make a mark in the fashion business, I was always making a living as a sewer and a costume maker. I met some costume designers and they hired me to build costumes for their movies. I then went on the run costume workrooms on films like Stargate and Titanic. I worked my way up from the workrooms to become an assistant costume designer.
One day one of my fashion clients said, “I am producing a movie. Would you like to costume design it?” It was the film Soulfood. Once I got to design a movie, it became my focus. Now 30 years later, I am a 3-term president of the Costume Designers Guild and I got to design HOCUS POCUS 2, so costume design found me, and I can’t imagine my life any other way.
While watching HOCUS POCUS 2, I smackdab realized that the quality of film now is way different than what it was like in the early 90s. In selecting things like fabrics, and textiles, and thinking of the more intricate details, how did filming on Digital/in higher quality influence the process of building the Sanderson Sisters’ costumes?
Salvador Perez Jr: The first film was shot on film, and this film was shot digitally, so the fabrics and details had to be more lavish as you would see them more clearly in a digital format. Also, we had to adjust the colors as they could read differently on camera. One of the notes was to not make the costumes too dark. The movie takes place at night and if the costumes were too dark, they would disappear in the darkness. The details of the costumes had to be richer as people are watching this film on high-definition TVs, so we couldn’t hide anything. We used to make a joke about details being hidden on film, but with digital technology, you can see everything.
This is a multi-part question. Not only did you have to recreate the Sanderson Sisters’ costumes from the original film, but you also had to make fan costumes we saw on film. AND you had to create a Puritan version of the Sanderson Sisters’ costumes as well (more pared back, but you can see the signature colors as well). Can you talk me through the process of tackling each of these challenges? Because it’s an awful lot on your plate.
Salvador Perez Jr: There were a lot of costumes in this film: the Sanderson Sisters, the 1650s flashback, the contemporary part of the film, and all the Halloween costumes. I had a great team, and we tackled it in sections. My first priority was to design and manufacture the 3 witches. The edict from the studio was to stick to their colors and their silhouettes but update the details.
I wanted the symbols on the costumes to have a meaning, so we researched Wiccan symbolism and incorporated that into the symbols on Winnifred’s coat. They were inspired by the 3 moons, the 3 goddesses and covens. I also used the symbols on the Mother Witch as if Winnifred took them from her. Sarah’s costume was hand embroidered with thorny vines and spiders; her sleeves were crocheted spiderwebs with cashmere yarn. Mary’s original bodice had filigree rings. For her updated costume,
I had a jeweler make hammered brass rings with the words “Fire, Water, Earth and Wind” carved in the alphabet of the Magi, a Wiccan language. For the pilgrim village, we had to make 200 costumes, including the younger version of the 3 sisters. I used their signature colors and designed costumes that were appropriate for children in 17th Century Salem. For the Halloween festival, we had about 800 Halloween costumes for the costumed extras and the Sanderson Sisters costume contest.
You also had to recreate Billy Butcherson’s costume, which is a lot less colorful, more gritty, grimy, lived in. Given time constraints and such, for dying, weathering, and distressing, and possibly multiple copies of the costume, what challenges did you have in the process of recreating his costume?
Salvador Perez Jr: Unlike the sisters who disintegrated at the end of the last film, Billy went back into the grave in his costume, so I wanted his costume to look identical to the original film. I went to meet producer David Kirshner and he has an original Billy costume on display at his house. I painstakingly found matching fabrics and we first made the costume with the same details, then we spent many days aging it to look as if it were buried for 329 years. Working with Doug Jones was such a pleasure. Not only did we have to make Billy’s costumes, but we also had to make costumes for Billy’s headless stunt double.
There are two new characters we don’t want to miss out on. Sam Richardson’s character wears these lovely, structured suits, with jewel tones. Bright colors seem to be the distinguishing factor that sets the witches and warlocks apart from the everyday folk. How did his costume options evolve from conception to screen?
Salvador Perez Jr: Gilbert fancies himself a kindred spirit with the witches. In the flashback, we see Gilbert as a child dressed as a warlock. We aged the costume to look as if it was his favorite costume and had outgrown it because he had been wearing it for years. So now that he was a successful business owner obsessed with the Sanderson Sisters, and fancied himself as a magical being, he would have had a deluxe version of his favorite childhood costume remade. We specialty-dyed the fabric in-house and covered the costume in sparkly stars and eyeballs.
There’s Hannah Waddington’s witch. Dressed in bright reds, yellows, with plumage, and an ever-watchful evil eye symbol, it almost seems like an homage to what Dani wore in the original Hocus Pocus. Since she’s also a shapeshifting bird in this, I could only associate the feathers with that. But what was the thought process in designing the costume?
Salvador Perez Jr: We wanted The Mother Witch to stand out from our 3 main witches so I decided to go with a bright red dress. Anne Fletcher, the director, told me she would first be seen as a red-winged raven, and the bird had red and orange markings on its feathers, so we incorporated that into her cape. The plumage isn’t feathers – it’s shredded silk made to look like feathers. Once we put it all together, we noticed it resembled the colors and details of Dani’s costume in the first film. We decided to go with it as the fans would love it, as even the eye on her dress looked like the sun on Dani’s sweater. It was costume design kismet.
What other homages to the previous film can viewers keep an eye out for in the costumes while watching Hocus Pocus 2?
Salvador Perez Jr: We added many “easter eggs.” Cassie’s final outfit was a combo of Max’s tie-dye t-shirt and Allison’s cardigan. For the extras in the crowd scenes, I made new versions of the costumes we saw in the original film. There was a lady dressed in the cone Madonna top, and a trio of dancers dressed like the Supremes. Lucas the announcer at the costume contest was an homage to the skeleton announcer in the first film.
Since this interview is being brought to us by Swiffer, what was Swiffer’s unique role in the film?
Salvador Perez Jr: Hocus Pocus 2 is fun and modern. We wanted the 17th-century witches to be intrigued with modern elements. Even their flying broomsticks are modern upgrades, as Sarah Sanderson flies on a Swiffer WetJet, which many people have in their homes as it has replaced the broom or mop. The cosplayers are going to love this accessory as it’s fun to fly on and you can use it to clean up later.
For anyone interested in making their own Sanderson Sisters costumes (which will likely be all the rage this Halloween season), what advice would you have to create the base of the costumes? Can’t do anything without establishing that base.
Salvador Perez Jr: Start with their colors and build on the silhouette. What do you have at home that you can use as a base? Dye an old skirt, shred some old curtains, use fabric paint to add the symbols, make sure your cape is light and floaty, and go to your kitchen closet and pull out your Swiffer WetJet – you probably have one at home.
And, to wrap things up, what advice would you give to anyone who wants to go into costume design? What should they invest their time in to get from point A to point B?
Salvador Perez Jr: Immerse yourself in film. To be a costume designer, you should watch old films to see how costumes tell a story. Take a basic sewing class. You may not sew as a costume designer, but you should understand the art form, as knowing how clothes are made will be a huge help when you are designing costumes. And be creative. Try making costumes at home – the best way to learn about costume design is to actually do it. Try making costumes for your friends and family, it’s a great way to practice your craft.
All photos courtesy Matt Kennedy. © 2022 Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
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