One of my favorite things about Descendants was the costumes. I am a huge fan of the villains and so I loved seeing all the badass costumes that were inspired by them. Don’t get me wrong, the princess and prince costumes were great too, but I fell in love with the VKs clothes. While in LA a few months ago, I not only got to chat with the cast and see some of Descendants 2, I was able to talk with costume designer, Kara Saun. I loved hearing about her inspirations and the process that she goes through. Descendants 2 airs on July 21st, don’t miss it!
Designing for Kids
Kara started right off by explaining to us how early her process starts. We learned she has a huge say in the products that are released because she is also the fashion consultant for them. “I start really, really early in the process. It is my job to build the fashion for the whole ‘Descendants’ world. I started out as a fashion designer and just transitioned into costume designing. Even though I’m creating costumes for kids, [I’m not 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 fashion for ‘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.”
Kara told us her inspiration and process for all of the VKs’ costumes. She started with Mal. “In ‘Descendants 1,’ she was just getting to Auradon and now she has 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 no 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.”
We then moved on to 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.”
“So it can be a jacket or it can be a vest or it can be a skirt. That happens for all of the characters, so when you’re watching the movie and [clothes are used in different ways,] do not get nervous. It’s not a continuity issue. It’s done on purpose because when they’re in certain scenes and they’re dancing and they’re fighting I just wanted them to have that freedom. I thought it would be fun if everything was detachable for Evie and for the guys and for Uma as well.”
We then moved on to the newest VK and who I think will be the breakout star of Descendants 2, Uma. “I loved all the new characters – 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 – the ridiculous eye shadow. 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.”
“I met with Kenny Ortega one day and he said, ‘I want Uma to look like you dragged her on the bottom of the sea.’ I said, ‘Okay, we can do that.’ Kenny said, ‘I want some oil slips’ so I added that to the mix. I love her shoes. She has fishnet and seashells and just literally everything on her shoes so you can hear them when she’s walking.”
“Her outfit detaches as well. The sleeves come off and 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. It can literally be a game to go through it and find all the icons for everybody.”
“And then of course you have Carlos. 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. As I said, one of my favorite things in ‘Descendants 2’ was all the new characters and there were quite a few. You already met Uma. There’s also Dizzy, the daughter of Drizella and there was Harry. Everybody, you will be hooked!”
“[Thomas Doherty] 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 sun 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.”
One of the characters I am most looking forward to in Descendants 2 is Dizzy, Drizella’s daughter. We saw a little bit of her in the footage we watched and she is amazing. Kara let us know about how she created her look. “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.‘”
The Actor’s Inputs
We asked Kara if she took any input in from the actors while designing the costumes. “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.’ 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. 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.’”
The Cotillion Gowns
“I had so much fun with the Cotillion. Everyone’s fashion-forward and more sophisticated. 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.”
We asked Kara where she draws her inspiration from. “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.”
“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.”
Advice for Young Designers
We asked Kara what advice she has for young fashion designers that would like to do a job like hers one day. “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.”
“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 Synopsis
The story deepens in the music-driven sequel to the global smash hit “Descendants,” as the teenage sons and daughters of Disney’s most infamous villains – Mal, Evie, Carlos and Jay (also known as Villain Kids or VKs) – try to find their place in idyllic Auradon. When the pressure to be royally perfect becomes too much for Mal, she returns to her rotten roots on the Isle of the Lost where her archenemy Uma, the daughter of Ursula, has taken her spot as self-proclaimed queen of the run-down town. Uma, still resentful over not being selected by Ben to go to Auradon Prep with the other Villain Kids, stirs her pirate gang including Captain Hook’s son Harry and Gaston’s son Gil, to break the barrier between the Isle of the Lost and Auradon, and unleash all the villains imprisoned on the Isle, once and for all.
Stay tuned for more Descendants 2 interviews coming to Mama’s Geeky all week!
Descendants 2 Premieres July 21st!
Descendants 2 will premiere Friday, July 21 at 8 PM simultaneously on Disney Channel, ABC, Disney XD, Freeform and Lifetime.