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In today's era of TV reboots, everything old is new again (see: Sex and the City, Labertascheand that wonderfully retro WandaVision), and viewers eagerly embrace beloved characters from decades past. Of course, the word "iconic" gets thrown around a lot, but Soleil Moon Frye's makeover of her '80s character Punky Brewster is really worthy of the descriptor.
Punky is presented as a sequel to the story of the title character and is now a single mother at 40 who balances career, children, dating and of course friendship. Cherie Johnson repeats her role as her best friend. But don't worry – fans of the original will be happy to see that Punky is still perfectly punky, keeping elements of their signature style along with their unique brand Punky Power. However give an icon of the 80s Lighting up the 21st century is easier said than done.
Enter costume designer Mona May, known for her ability to create similarly memorable characters (see: Cher Horowitz, Josie "Grossie" Geller and Giselle out Bewitched to name a few). We met May on the set of her latest project in Vancouver to talk about all things fashion. Read on for questions and answers with the color-obsessed costume designer, as well as tips on how to maintain your personal style.
You are known for creating iconic female characters. What was it like to style an already memorable character for the present?
My goal is never to make a character an icon, but rather to make him authentic and real. That is the key to success. When everything is aligned, we have a hit and something becomes an icon. The story is always the most important.
For Punky, the challenge was translating her childhood energy into a woman who is now an adult. She's such a beloved character because she was so smart and street-conscious in some ways and had her own funky style where she wore two different shoes and marched to her own drum. For me it was a very important thing for the adult punky. She is still that person. She is still the little girl inside in her heart and being.
How did you bring Punky Brewster's signature style into the 21st century?
She's a photographer on the new show. She's still an artist and her personal style and home keep an eclectic feel that I love. For example, her jewelry is from a Navajo tribe and she wears bracelets from India. Their clothes had to be colorful. There was simply no getting around it.
Now we're creating a mom, but she's not just a mom in jeans and a plaid shirt. My goal was to make her a role model for today's woman and encourage her to step out of her comfort zones and sweatpants, especially during COVID, and try a pair of leather joggers or a cool band t-shirt and get on with the time remember when they looked at the world with open eyes. It's got punky – the energy of "It's not over yet; what's next?" She brings that to her character in her look, which is a very eclectic yet casual mix. But it also has to be functional and practical.
How did Soleil Moon Frye learn about the growth of her character? How much of the original punky was true to Frye's personal style and does that continue with the reboot now that she's a mom?
There's always a mix between the character and the actress. You have someone like Soleil who grew up in LA and grew up in fashion – her best friend is Rosetta Getty – so she knows and has a huge influence on what she wears. Being the nervous mom is who she is in real life. Soleil plays in Doc Martens every day. Whoever is punky now is also whoever Soleil is. She grew up to be this cool mom herself.
She was so fun working with because I was trained too. I have no kids. I am not a mother. I live in my own world of costume design so it was really fun to be exposed to their lifestyle.
It was a difficult TV show because we were one of the first shows to start filming after COVID. Hollywood reopened in September and we were one of the first three shows on the Universal property. We had a lot of responsibility and very strict protocols for putting up masks and shields. In the beginning, we also had to quarantine the clothes for 24 hours. It was a very intense process to say the least. Luckily we had the energy of Punky and Soleil to lift us up. It's such a positive show that it really didn't feel that hard. It was a lovely experience and my costumes support it in every way.
Which brands or designers were featured in the 80s show compared to today? Any continuity?
My approach to costume design is more about shapes and colors than specific brands. You have to be careful about dating too much because then it becomes a historical show so I try to stay very modern and fresh. For example, Clueless has such staying power because it's timeless.
To the Punky BrewsterWe play within the period but give things a little timelessness. We used memorable pieces like overalls, headscarves, two different colored shoes and complemented them with certain shapes of T-shirts or oversized things that she wears, such as Flashdance-inspired sweatshirt. There are moments but I wanted it to feel very modern and inspiring with undertones of the past.
We also did a lot of iterations to show how people actually dress. It's a real wardrobe. You see the same pieces throughout the season, which I think is important without being boring – it offers a bit of realism. Also the way I presented the clothes shows that they have been worn and washed and aged. Nothing is brand new from the hanger. Today we buy things with holes. Sometimes you can't even tell if something is straight off the runway or from a thrift store.
Who are your favorite designers right now?
I am very versatile and am more interested in the pieces in the collection than in the respective designer. Still, I like Dries Van Noten and have been a huge Moschino fan ever since Clueless. I like feminine things like Ulla Johnson's clothes.
For me, it's really about the shape that the designers create and that supports the female body. Most fashion does not support women's bodies. We're overclothed and over-fashioned. If I ever had a collection of my own, I would celebrate all forms. I overemphasize femininity in my films. It's such an important line of passage in my work. Wear the clothes, but they won't wear you. This is what I look for in fashion designers. For example, when women stopped wearing corsets – wow, their bodies can breathe! I love Cher's line-in Clueless"My party clothes are so authentic."
They are known for their celebration of color as seen in movies like that Clueless and Romy and Michelles High School Reunion. Can you talk to me about the role color plays in your POV in costume design?
I am very intuitive and feel the energy of color. Color has an incredible influence on our moods. Red is sexy and exciting. Yellow is beautiful and makes you happy. For example the yellow suit in Clueless: T.The energy of yellow was the right color to use Cher on the first day of school where she is like a ray of sunshine. This is how I use paint and paint my canvas. I look at each frame as a painting and try to find the balance between mood and story. There is an energy suitable for attitude.
Personally, I was born in Calcutta, India and that's where my love for color comes from. My first life experience was so colorful. The saffron yellow and the incredible colors of the saris are so vibrant. That must have influenced me because I love color. I can't live without color. I live in a pink house! I wear red glasses!
You worked with Drew Barrymore for decades. Her personal and characterful style is also iconic. How does your partnership and collaboration work when you “synchronize” with an actress?
Drew and I have known each other ever since The wedding singer. I designed and worked on her first film as a producer with her company Flower Films Not kissed. She asked me to do this film because we connected. It's amazing to still work with her Santa Clarita Diet 20 years later and see her grow into this incredible woman.
It's the same zest for life that Soleil has – they are who they are complete and complete. That's so attractive to me. And I love that I've been friends with Drew for so many years to support that. And the same goes for Soleil – hopefully I'll get to know her for another 20 years. These types of women are changing the world. They give us permission to be who we are and lead by example. This is the life Drew lived, too. All the different incarnations, the good and the bad, that makes them real.
Do you have any tips for real women on how to maintain their personal style?
The most important thing is to find out who you are and how your body works. What are your attributes Do you have a nice cleavage, a nice ass, a small waist, great shoulders, sparkling eyes or beautiful hair? What gives you this empowered feeling? This is the beginning of your own discovery. Find dresses that emphasize the feature. Don't be afraid to play with your personal character. Are you the funny girl, the feminine girl with the clothes? Or maybe a sporty girl? Work with your body. We talk about this in fittings.
If you look at Geena Davis in Stuart LittleShe is a six-foot tall woman with broad shoulders and large feet. She looks incredibly beautiful because we played up her small waist, a silhouette that was tall in her 40s. Actors like Geena Davis and Susan Sarandon know who they are. You have the power to say: "Look at me in my beautiful, feminine dress with my curves." I hope that one day I can make a line of clothing that celebrates women's bodies and beautiful curves.
Punky Brewster Premiere on NBC's peacock on February 25th, with all 10 episodes of the first season now available for streaming.
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