Restauranteur, chef, author, television host, producer and general provocateur: Throughout his multi-faceted career, Eddie Huang has worn many hats. That includes fashion arbiter, as captured on the big screen in his directorial debut, "Boogie."
"He's extremely fashionable. Listen, I'm fashionable, but he's extremely fashionable,” says the movie's costume designer Vera Chow, calling from Atlanta, where she's filming season 10 of "The Walking Dead."
The Queens-set movie, also written by Huang, is a coming-of-age story about aspiring NBA player, Alfred "Boogie" Chin (newcomer Taylor Takahashi). The Chinese-American high schooler juggles the usual teen pressures of aspirational crushes and outer-borough athletic rivalries, as well as the high yet differing expectations from his striver mother and ex-con dad, both immigrants from Taiwan, and the challenges of straddling cultures, stereotypes and barriers in American society.
Of course, Boogie and his friends, including crush Eleanor (Taylour Paige) are also New York City zoomers — and they dress like it, too: There are 100-plus vintage, athletic, streetwear and buzzy indie label-stacked costumes by Chow in the film.
Chow — who has four upcoming projects, including "Hong Kong Love Story" and "A Father's Son," a Ronny Chieng-starring pilot that I need to see — is well-versed in the very specific New York City sense of style, after two decades of living here. But she needed to study up on the elusive Gen Z. She credits her "a little bit younger" assistant designers, plus Huang himself, with helping her out.
"This is the demographic that Eddie is a true, true expert in," she says. "He helped me out a lot with some of the more obscure brands that I've never heard of."
In support of the local Asian and Asian-American fashion community, Chow looked to local indie brands like YanYan and Black Bean Grocery for costumes. She also shopped Lower East Side boutique Chop Suey Club, which carries pieces from Asian creatives around the world, and consulted with Opening Ceremony.
"I really tried to look for these very edgy and niche brands that only people 'in the know' will know," says Chow. "Like, you can't really buy them randomly anywhere."
Eleanor works at a Lower East Side influencer "thirst trap" (her words) vintage boutique, filmed in actual influencer-frequented vintage purveyor Procell on Delancey. Throughout her costume arc, Eleanor wears a Sandy Liang Congee Village hoodie, which pays homage to the restaurant owned by the designer's father (and frequented by real New Yorkers, probably bleary-eyed and hangry at 2:00 am). Her wardrobe is filled with other clout-y items, like a cropped "Meow Mix" tee from Opening Ceremony, a color-blocked Patagonia windbreaker, an Aimé Leon Dore sweatshirt by Queens-bred designer Teddy Santis and a Ralph Lauren Polo Bear T-shirt. (For those who picked up on the scripted Taiwan politics references, Eleanor's navy "1992" sweatshirt is, per Chow, a just coincidence.)
While incorporating '80s and '90s vintage into Eleanor's wardrobe, Chow maintained a "tomboy vibe" to show the teen standing her own and challenging a headstrong Boogie. "She's cute and sexy, but her clothes doesn't really fall into that [cutesy] stereotype," Chow says. "It was both Eddie and my decision to break her out of that. She's a pretty strong individual on her own."
Chow worked in more "feminine elements" — like the aforementioned pastel blue hoodie and a kinda "High Fidelity" pleated buffalo plaid mini-skirt and tucked-in graphic T-shirt — as Boogie and Eleanor's relationship progresses. "We took care to not to be like 'Oh, she's someone, when she's dating someone, she turns into a girly girl,'" she says. "We wouldn't fall into that because as the story went along, she is the strength in the relationship and she does, like, whack some sense into him."
Boogie's more understated utilitarian looks counter Eleanor's stylized aesthetic. "It's not as edgy as Eleanor," says Chow. "He's definitely unintentionally cool, like he just looks like he doesn't care." Because he's focused on landing a college scholarship on his way to the NBA, athletic-wear is his thing — hence a black The North Face fleece and lots of Champion.
"He's not aware that Champion is cool again, but he is aware that Champion is cool again," says Chow. "We do want to marry it with the practicality that he's first and foremost an athlete. Aside from being just a hobby, basketball is almost like a duty."
With so much pressure from family and his team on the court, Boogie wears his athletic-gear both as a passion and an obligation. "He's not going to be in the coolest basketball gear," she says.
However, Adidas did sponsor the movie and provided the sneakers, including Monk (the late Pop Smoke)'s Harden B/E 3 kicks, some not-on-the-market yet styles and classic shell-toes. "Trendy kids these days, they know to go back to the old stuff," says Chow. The sports giant also outfitted the fictional basketball teams, Boogie's City Prep in Queens and rivals in Brooklyn.
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Boogie's adversary on- and off-the-court, Monk, also challenges him sartorially. "He's definitely flashier. Way flashier. He has that Karl Kani tracksuit. Man that was a bright, bright suit," says Chow.
For when Monk surprises him on an MTA bus, Chow intentionally dressed Boogie in a muted look. "He's caught completely caught off guard and pretty vulnerable," the costume designer says. "I mean, I wouldn't call Alfred 'vulnerable,' but it's definitely sets the tone."
While Boogie rebels like a usual teen, he does honor his heritage by wearing a jade pendant, similar to Huang in real life (but minus a few thick gold chains).
"I really appreciate Eddie hiring an Asian costume designer because there are details that — no matter how much you research as an outsider — you're not going to know how this works," says Chinese-American Chow, who was born in British Hong Kong and moved to New York as a teen. "What kind of jade do you wear? How big is it? Is on a gold chain? Or is it on a rope? Or is it on a red string," she continues. "It says something. Are you from Flushing? Are you Stuy Town? Are you Hoisan? Are you Taiwanese?"
Boogie wears a simpler, smaller pendant on a thick yellow gold chain, which especially stands out against his vintage red Boss sweatshirt. "It's just because he's a younger kid," says Chow. His mother (Pamelyn Chee) — who dresses for the NBA contract she wants for her son (and ultimately the family) — dons splashier pieces accented with diamonds. ("It's a bit of a status symbol," per Chow.)
Huang plays the role of Boogie's uncle, who pops up to drop some wisdom on his hot-headed nephew, in the film. His costumes blur the line of fiction and reality — like a Kangol khaki bucket hat (which Huang also wore to direct) and a notable patchwork shacket with a suede-accented collar (above left, alongside Boogie in his trusty Champion, Jorge Lendeborg, Jr. as Richie in a Hummel x Willy Chavarria tracksuit and Perry Yung as Boogie's dad). "That is all Eddie," Chow says.
For his appearances, she would prep a mix of Huang's personal pieces and collaborations with designers to discuss with the writer-director-actor in fittings.
"We do have a conversation every morning before he gets dressed," says Chow. "He gives me a piece of his mind and I meet him somewhere in the middle in terms of storytelling versus fashion."
'Boogie' opens in theaters on Friday, March 5.