After "Pitch Perfect" roared into our consciousness (and wormed into our ears) as a breakout hit in 2012, audiences — at least, those with a taste for fictional a cappella competitions — have been waiting with bated breath for the sure to be aca-mazing sequel, which hits theaters this Friday. This time, the leading ladies from the first installment, a.k.a. the Barden Bellas, are finishing out their senior year at the fictional Atlanta-based college — starting out on top of the world, quickly tumbling back down to underdog status and left to compete, cleverly banter and harmonize their way back to superstar status again.
Like any well-costumed film, the clothes the characters wear in each sequence help tell the story — and, as is often the case in "Pitch Perfect 2," sometimes are the story.
Since the anticipated sequel boasts a much higher profile than the original little-movie-that-could, the film's costume designer, Salvador Pérez (who is also responsible for Mindy Kaling's colorful designer outfits on "The Mindy Project" and the red carpet) was able to pull out all the stops when it came to costuming the a capella competition performance numbers. All the on-stage outfits for the Bellas, including Beca (Anna Kendrick), Amy (Rebel Wilson), Chloe (Brittany Snow) and Aubrey (Anna Camp) were custom-made by Pérez and his team — which came especially in handy for those physical comedy moments, like Amy's now-infamous commando moment, which kicks off the Bellas's fall from grace at the start of the movie (see above).
Pérez says the movie's director, Elizabeth Banks — who also plays the eternally inappropriate a capella competition commentator, Gail, in the film — was very involved when it came to dressing the cast, giving specific instructions and often texting Pérez with last-minute notes.
Banks was often dressed in her character's costume while directing — dressed, that is, like a gloriously tacky former debutante. "Everyone was like, why is that lady with the bouffant hair and the bright green dress telling us what to do?" Pérez recalls, laughing. One of his favorite ensembles for the actress was a creamy white suit with a patchy blue blouse. "I bought that from Dillard’s. It's by Antonio Melani, some random brand." He's quite proud of himself for hunting down a necklace with matching colored stones.
Judging from the all the trailers that we can't stop watching, ripping is a consistent motif throughout "Pitch Perfect 2," like the gold tearaway athletic pants the Bellas wear for another on-stage performance — for which industrial mini-magnets, discreetly sewn into the fabric, are key, says Pérez.
Now, custom designing tearaway pants for Hollywood actresses is one thing, but creating a tuxedo jacket with ripaway sleeves for the hulking Green Bay Packers linebacker Clay Matthews is another. The professional athlete and his teammates make an appearance during an epic singing battle (a.k.a. riff off) scene during the movie. Pérez only had about 36 hours fit the blond demi-god and his teammates and shoot the scene. "Where do I get tuxedos for [six professional football players]?" Pérez says. "Four of them are six foot four, between 310 and 320 pounds. So we decided to make it a little cooler and do tux jackets with black shirts and jeans and Nike tennis shoes." He eventually tracked down the appropriately-sized jackets at Men's Wearhouse. But then Banks had the hilarious (although possibly not so funny at the time) last-minute idea to make Matthews' sleeves tearaways, too. Thankfully, "I'm the king of rip-away and I had thousands of magnets," says the costume designer, who pulled off the necessary adjustments in a few hours.
Professional football players weren't the only new faces to the college a capella scene in the movie. Pérez also had the privilege — or challenge — of dressing red carpet star Hailee Steinfeld as the newbie freshman, Emily Junk. To play up her quirky new-girl status, Pérez looked to labels like J. Crew, C. Wonder, Anthropologie and Tory Burch. Of course, dressing the young Oscar nominee — who's graced her share of best dressed lists — was somewhat of a unique experience.
"She went to the Met Gala when she was 14," he says. "So she’s very aware of fashion and was very experimental." Pérez was thus fully open to Steinfeld's input, gleaned from boutique shopping trips on her days off in Baton Rouge, where the movie filmed. "So I'd get these texts, 'Isn’t this outfit cute?' or, 'Look at this great top!' and I’d incorporate it into her wardrobe," he says. "I really wanted her to feel ownership of the character."
Pérez was just as meticulous in dressing the cast for their day-to-day, non-performance scenes, too. For Beca's more mature, but still moderately-alt look, he dressed the petite Kendrick in lots of All Saints and Topshop, plus a brown leather jacket by Michael Kors. "With Beca, it was really about the shoes," he says of her chunky-heeled ankle booties from Frye and All Saints. "She had 28 changes, so I bought her 10 pairs of boots to mix and match." Lucky girl.
"Rebel likes bold color," says Pérez. "So if I put her in a bright bold color shirt she was always happy." (Wilson is not a fan of prints though, FYI.) But he also opted for more sophisticated touches to temper the girliness of the colorful palette, like a green dress by Eloquii in one of the opening scenes. "Everything from Eloquii was kind of fabulous," he says, also picking out jeans and a sweater from the plus-size label. But the multi-talented actress liked to add her own personal comedic touches to her outfits, too. For one look, "she was like, well, what is an Australian version of what women do in the [American] South?" Pérez says. (The fictional Barden University is in Atlanta.) "She wanted to wear gloves, so we added those cream gloves and we added pearls to her outfit because she was like, that’s what a proper lady from the South would do."
We must also talk about the Barden Bellas's a capella competition nemeses, Das Sound Machine — seen verbally sparring with and gloriously sneering at the Bellas in the trailers — and their signature mesh and pleather outfitted looks. Banks wanted the Teutonic a capella super troopers to look "euro and industrial," so Pérez showed her a bunch of European fashion magazines full of mesh inserts and cut-outs for inspiration. "She was like, 'Oh I love this, give me the fishnet,'" he says. "To see these dancer boys put on fishnets for the first time was the funniest thing in the world." The first time we're introduced to the DSM, they're all wearing fishnet shirts and tights under Dickie's coveralls with the sleeves cut off and legs tapered. Oh and with combat boots.
In addition to dressing the cast of the movie, Pérez was tasked with outfitting 5,000 extras and 165 performers. While he prepared by bringing 100 tuxedos and 200 gowns down to Baton Rouge for the extras, there were some last-minute updates that required extra resourcefulness. For one performance, about 50 "former Bellas" show up and Banks decided — on a time crunch again — that the ladies should wear signature Bella jackets, which Pérez didn't have on hand. Well, luckily — as he discovered on an earlier on a trip to the local mall — New York & Co. made knock off Barden Bella jackets from the first movie in denim.
"God bless the saleslady at New York & Co. in Baton Rouge, who tracked down 75 of the jackets for me," he says. "So I was able to cover all the past Bellas in these knockoff jackets. I was really indignant [about the copying before] and now I was like, thank you." He also went to the local teeny-bopper store Justice to outfit a K-pop group for a big competition number. "I just got the largest size tween girl clothes and put them very tightly on beautiful Asian women," he says. "It was so inappropriate. But then you see them and they’re adorable."
So as your ears are taking in the all the harmonious mash-ups and riff offs, keep your eyes peeled for the, uh, pitch perfect costuming in the upcoming movie when it hits theaters on May 15. "I’m so proud of this movie," says Pérez, who is currently busy styling a summer collection for Express inspired by the "Pitch Perfect 2" costumes. "As a costume designer, this is my best job ever."