Welcome to FrockTalk, the web’s only costume-based movie review site. The goal of Frocktalk is to shed light on the magnificent artistry of costume design in motion pictures. Reviews on this site are written by working costume designers in the entertainment industry – people who know, better than anyone, what it takes to make it all happen. The focus of FrockTalk is not to comment on the big flashy costume dramas, but to call attention to the seemingly ordinary costume design work in film that silently and persuasively moves the audience toward understanding the characters. Costume design for motion pictures is an art form that deserves more recognition than it usually gets. Fancy, pretty costumes do not always equal effective, appropriate costumes. The art of the costume is in letting the audience know who the character is, before the actor even has a chance to open his mouth. Read on, and enjoy. ** CAUTION: ALL REVIEWS CONTAIN SPOILERS! **

Michael Jackson: Costume Icon, Part 2

I spoke with Mary Vogt, costume designer of Men In Black II, about her experience working with the King of Pop.  He had a cameo appearance in the film, and this is Mary’s story:

KB: Did you guys know, when you started the movie, that he was going to be in the movie?

MV:  No, Not at all.  I think it was his idea actually; I don’t know for sure.  You’d have to ask Barry Sonnenfeld, but I’m pretty sure that he had asked to be in it because he was a fan of the first movie, and this was the sequel.  It was Sony Pictures, and he had his music deal at Sony, so he has a lot of Sony contacts and when they contacted Barry, he was like “Oh yeah!  That would be great!”  They were all excited that he wanted to be involved in this movie.

KB: When they told you he was going to be in it, what was your reaction?

MV:    I just thought it was great; I was sorry that it was just a cameo!  I was hoping that he would have, like, a part!  But it was just strictly a one-day cameo.  But I was so excited about it.

KB: When you got the word, did you call him for his sizes?  How did you get his sizes so you could create the garment?

MV:  Well, you know, I am sure you’ve dealt with actors who are super, super busy and I knew there was no way I was ever going to get a fitting with him.   So, we contacted his agent, and of course they give you these sizes that are not really sizes, they’re more like clues instead of sizes… When you know what people’s measurements should be, and you get this stuff like, a human being could never possibly have these measurements…   So I knew that those were completely wrong.  I knew that he had a designer that he’d been working with for like thirty years (Michael Bush), and I thought, “Well, if anyone’s gonna know, he’s gonna know…”  At the time I think he was out of the country; I had trouble getting in touch with him.  I knew that Rick Baker had body casts of him; it turned out to be a little bit of a hunt to find his sizes.  Another designer had just done something with him where he made suits, and I found out where those suits were made.  And, yeah.  So it was a little bit of detective work! Michael’s designer contacted me, a couple weeks later, and then we pieced together sizes.  I was able to hire a body double that we did the fittings on.

KB:  So tell me about when you met him – was it the day he was supposed to work?  And then you had to fit him that day?

MV:  Yeah, exactly, it was like the day he was going to work, and I had the suit and the shirt and the shoes and the whole thing.  And it was on the Sony lot, and he had a trailer, just like a normal Starwaggon, nothing special.  He had one security guard, and he knew I was coming – it was just me, because we didn’t want to crowd his trailer with a whole lot of people – so it was just me, and his outfit, and the security guard let me in.  And like, he was there, in like sweatpants and a robe, and you know how they have these like little small kitchens in those motor homes?  He was at the table, making sandwiches!  And there were these two kids, like little kids, his kids, and they were coloring.  It was like the most perfectly normal family scene you could ever imagine.    I never thought that his kids would be there, for one thing, because he was working. And I never expected for him to be making them sandwiches!  I was expecting something, I guess, a little more elaborate!  Or a little more bizarre…?

KB: (laughs)

MV:  And he was just like, “Oh Hi! – Oh, you have my suit?”  And he was like, “Oh, I’ll put it on!”, and so he went to the back of the trailer and put it on.  I had pre-tied the tie, you know, velcroed it in the back so that he, well he’s probably used to stage clothes that are already pre-rigged, and so… everything was fine.  He said that he wanted to keep the clothes, and I just said, “Fine!”  I’m sure everyone expected that.  And then he went out and shot the scene, and it was just him shooting against a green screen.  I think it took a couple of hours.  And then, that was the end of it!

It was really interesting because he was really quiet, more concerned with the kids’ lunch than anything else.  A phone call came in about music, a business call, and he suddenly, completely changed.  He was then a very efficient person, you know, efficient voice and it was just all business, like a Wall Street stock trader or something.  You could really see how he was, a businessman.  It was very interesting.

KB:  Yeah.  I mean, when you think about the superstars you’ve worked with in your lifetime, he’s gotta be up there in the top!

MV:  Oh, definitely.

KB:  We’re very privileged.

MV:  Yes, I had worked with Sting, this was way in the beginning, like a million years ago, I was an assistant to Bob Ringwood on Dune.  I didn’t even know who Sting was, and I was filling out his stuff, and I said, “Sting, what’s your last name?”

KB:  (laughs)

MV:  I needed it for the customs!  He goes, “What?!”  And then he gave me like his real name, Gordon Sumner.  But I have found that working with sort-of the big stars, it’s always a maze to get to them, you have to go through all of these people, and then when you finally get to them, they’re usually, like, very nice.  But accommodating them is tough, because you really feel like time is ticking, is at a premium.  You have to be very efficient.

KB:  This has been great Mary.  But unfortunately here at my house, somebody has decided to turn on their leaf-blower so I am having some trouble recording this conversation!!

MV: (muffled laughing)  That’s basically the story, anyway!  The clothes (suits) were very simple, they were like tailored, and we made a million of them.  But the fact that he was so nice, and so, you know, unaffected, which is interesting… he was just a very nice person!  You know, making sandwiches for his kids.

KB:  Well it’s a great story.  Thank you so much for sharing this, Mary!!

Thank you, Mary, for your time and for sharing your story about costume icon Michael Jackson.  I look forward to talking with you in the future about more of your fabulous work!

— KMB

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