How the 'Jem and the Holograms' Costume Designer Brought the '80s Cartoon to Life

Find out how the famous star earrings were reimagined for millennial audiences and why Jem's iconic pink jacket almost didn't make it into the film.
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Find out how the famous star earrings were reimagined for millennial audiences and why Jem's iconic pink jacket almost didn't make it into the film.
Aja (Hayley Kiyoko), Jem (Aubrey Peeples) and Kimber (Stefanie Scott) rock out. Photo: Justina Mintz/Universal Pictures

Aja (Hayley Kiyoko), Jem (Aubrey Peeples) and Kimber (Stefanie Scott) rock out. Photo: Justina Mintz/Universal Pictures

For their big screen debut this Friday, '80s favorite girl band Jem and the Holograms is undergoing some changes: The ladies are transitioning from cartoons to live action, embracing modern technology and getting a major wardrobe update thanks to costume designer Soyon An, for whom outfitting Jerrica/Jem (Aubrey Peeples), Kimber (Stephanie Scott), Aja (Hayley Kiyoko) and Shana (Aurora Perrineau) was not that much of a stretch. The multitasking costume designer and stylist also dresses real life recording stars Selena Gomez and Fifth Harmony for their performances.

In the upcoming movie (and in a Bieber-esque twist), the millennial Jerrica finds fame as Jem via a homemade YouTube video posted by little sis Kimber, instead of a live battle of the bands contest against the Misfits. "I haven't seen the cartoon since I was a kid," admitted An, so she binged on the series on Netflix for initial inspiration and then looked to what was then Style.com, WWD and "all the fashion magazines" for current trends. She took inspiration from designers including Jean Paul Gaultier, Valentino, Diane von Furstenberg, Saint Laurent (obviously) and Miu Miu. "I was looking at all of those runway shows and trying to predict the future, too, to design something that was going to be timeless," she added. "Like how the 'Jem and the Holograms' cartoon is."

The ladies take a bow. Photo: Justina Mintz/Universal Pictures

The ladies take a bow. Photo: Justina Mintz/Universal Pictures

But to maintain consistency with the original cartoon, An did incorporate each character's signature color into her updated look — pink for lead singer Jem's pink, orange for keytarist Kimber, purple for drummer Shana and blue for guitarist Aja. She had the majority of the performance looks custom built and invested quite a bit of time and negotiation effort into Jem's iconic pink jacket. "I had to fight for [that jacket]," explained An about going back and forth with producers who were concerned that the bubblegum hue on the coat was too close to the shade of Jem's wig. "It needed it to be the perfect pink and [they thought] maybe black would be more rock 'n roll than pink? I was like, no pink is so rock 'n roll, it's just all about how we do it." After getting the go-ahead, An ended up airbrushing a leather jacket to the ideal level of pink-ness, which took "about 16 hours."

"This shade of pink deserves a selfie." Photo: Justina Mintz / Universal Pictures

"This shade of pink deserves a selfie." Photo: Justina Mintz / Universal Pictures

The costume designer-stylist also called on established working relationships with Rebecca Minkoff, Nasty Gal and Kitson for lent "product placement" pieces to supplement the girls' performance looks. "I just felt like [the brands] were a perfect fit," she said. "They are young, contemporary, edgy and on trend. I definitely used my resources for this project." Swarovski also came on board, providing elevated sparkle for the custom built stage costumes.

For the pre-fame Jerrica and her sisters' everyday looks, An kept it real. "I wanted to make sure that the transition [to fame] was honest and true," she said. "These girls were from Northern California and didn't have a lot of money to spend. They probably shopped at Forever 21 or did hand-me-downs. Their foster parent, played by Molly Ringwald, owned a vintage store, so they [wore] what they had access to and what they could afford." Again, the costume designer pulled from her professional experience to chart the girls' rise to stardom "because this film is [about] everyday girls transforming into Jem and the Holograms." An knows firsthand how to dress ingenues breaking into the business after arriving in Hollywood.

A pared-down Shana, Kimber, Aja and Jerrica/Jem. Photo: Justina Mintz/Universal Pictures

A pared-down Shana, Kimber, Aja and Jerrica/Jem. Photo: Justina Mintz/Universal Pictures

To those ardent fans of the original series who are concerned that certain beloved characters and elements are missing from the movie: Holographic computer Synergy will emerge in 2015, but with a makeover — from synthesizer/hot '80 aerobics instructor hologram to a diminutive R2D2-esque robot. Thus, Jem's "it's showtime Synergy" star-shaped earrings were reimagined for new audiences too.

"It was two months of sitting in [meetings]," An explains about the earrings, which were ultimately designed by Art Director Kevin Bird with input from Director John M. Chu (who also helmed "Justin Bieber: Never Say Never") and An. "We just wanted to make sure it was the right cut. It was original. It was fashion forward. It wasn't gimmicky or cheesy. It was just beautiful and cool. And we came up with this Aurora Borealis galactic-cut shape that looked like a star, but not really." As for how the earrings interact with Synergy, well, you'll just have to watch the movie to find out. 

Photo: Soyon An

Photo: Soyon An

Follow Soyon An on Twitter @soysfashion and Instagram @soyonan.

"Jem and the Holograms" premieres on Friday, Oct. 23.