Catherine Martin is a four-time Oscar winner with two wins for her Production Design work and another two wins for her Costume Design work. She has a pair of wins for her work on Moulin Rouge! (2001) and another pair of wins for her work on The Great Gatsby (2013), both films she worked on with her husband, writer-director Baz Luhrmann. When Elvis was announced, fans of Martin’s work were so thrilled to see what she would cook up with the well-known costumes of Elvis Presley as well as the trend-setting fashion of Priscilla Presley. Per an interview with Variety, Martin says she built more than 90 costumes for Austin Butler’s Elvis, a mix of re-creations and fictionalized outfits, and over 9000 costumes for the film overall.
Elvis is, in its own way, a cradle-to-grave biopic spanning multiple decades. Bringing Presley’s story to the screen required an impeccable amount of attention to detail not only in recreating the iconic looks from Presley himself but everyone around him throughout the various eras showcased in the film. Anyone can access footage online of the real events portrayed in the film and examine each outfit someone is wearing in the audience, which creates an intense amount of pressure for the costume designer. What makes the costumes stand out in Elvis is not the exact recreation but manner in which Martin tells a story with each look. The costumes specifically used on Butler’s Elvis in the film are not exactly showcased in chronological order but utilized to show the mental state of the musician. As Presley’s life unravels, his sense of fashion evolves into something a bit more chaotic.
Not only were the costumes replicated to match various captured performances and appearances from the real-life Presley, but Martin was tasked with making these costumes move in a way that could be captured on screen. Martin and her team had to assure that Butler could bring Presley’s famous moves to the screen without worrying about being restricted by the costumes. The costume design team created multiple variations of the same costumes to allow Butler to stand, dance, kneel, sit, and whatever other position or movement he found necessary to portray the ‘King of Rock ’n’ Roll.’ At the same time as ensuring Butler was able to thrust his hips as needed, Martin needed to make sure the costumes felt lived-in and real.
Something crucial about Presley’s real-life fashion was that while he pulled inspiration from all over, he didn’t have a stylist as many celebrities do today. While he had designers create pieces for him, Presley was able to elevate anything on his own. Martin, Luhrmann, and Butler were able to bring this sensation to life in Elvis. Seeing a suit on a rack and then later on Butler in character shows how all three worked together to enhance costumes from hanger to being worn just as Presley did.
In Elvis, Martin does more than just copy anything existing from Presley’s life. She brings new life to a legend immortalized on screen. Collaborating with Luhrmann, Graceland archives, Prada, and Miu Miu, Martin honors Presley’s legacy and brings freshness to the screen.
You can read our review of Elvis here.