Costume designer Shirley Kurata won her first award for Everything Everywhere All at Once while the movie was still in production. On set, directors Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert (collectively known as the Daniels) gave out daily accolades to various crew members, long before the film would earn 11 nominations at the 95th Oscars. Kurata was presented with a custom medal, upon which Raccacoonie exclaims "Great job!," and a motivation mug with words of wisdom attributed to Poppylippians 4:13.
"It was an award to show their appreciation for the hard work done on the film," she says now. "I use my mugs for my morning coffee all the time. I like that they remind me that, 'I can do all things through bagel.'"
A celebrated wardrobe stylist and designer who has been a staple in the fashion industry since the '90s, Kurata was enlisted to bring her signature aesthetic of exuberant maximalism to the story of Evelyn Wang (Michelle Yeoh), an unexceptional laundromat owner recruited to save the multiverse, while also dealing with a failing marriage to husband Waymond (Ke Huy Quan), her strained relationship with estranged daughter Joy (Stephanie Hsu), and an interminable tax audit.
The costumes designed by Kurata, whose own parents owned a laundromat in Monterey Park, California, become increasingly larger than life as the film left behind the coin laundry and IRS office for a multitude of universes: A martial arts universe, a universe in which Evelyn is a Michelle Yeoh-esque movie star (for which Kurata won the aforementioned award), and the infamous hot dog universe. All the while, Evelyn is being pursued by the verse-jumping villain, Jobu Tupaki (also played by Hsu).
Kurata designed a dozen or so wild looks for Jobu, including a preppy golfer, a luchador, a K-pop star, and Elvis, along with the show-stopping centerpiece ensemble: A goddess-like gown with an Elizabethan ruff and braided bagel hairpiece. For her efforts, Kurata received her first-ever Oscar nomination for Best Costume Design.
"I'm so honored to even be placed in the same company as these amazing, talented costume designers," the costume designer says. "It's not very often that a contemporary movie gets put in this category, so to even be considered for it is something that came as a surprise to me — but also a great feeling of excitement and happiness."
Here, Kurata shares with A.frame how she applied her unique eye to Everything Everywhere All at Once.
A.frame: The universes in this movie require you to costume across different realities, time periods, and film genres. How expansive was the research you did on this, and what did it look like translating that into your designs?
It involved watching a lot of movies, from watching movies suggested by the Daniels such as Paprika and Holy Motors, to watching Chinese martial arts films — Stephen Chow films and films that Michelle Yeoh was in — to rewatching futuristic dystopian films, like The Fifth Element, The Matrix, and Blade Runner, and rewatching Wong Kar Wai's films. I also researched extensively with art and fashion books and online with fashion blogs. From there, I processed all of those inspirations and translated them into the looks we saw in the film. Kind of like how Jobu threw everything on a bagel, I threw everything that inspired me on a bagel to create the costumes for the film.
What was the biggest challenge you encountered in designing for this film, and how did you overcome it?
The biggest challenge was working with a limited budget and a limited prep time. I knew I didn't have the time or budget to make a lot of looks from scratch, so I overcame those limitations by reworking vintage pieces, borrowing pieces from designers, and customizing existing pieces.
I know it's like choosing a favorite child, but do you have one costume that you're most proud of, either because you know how challenging it was to get right, or because you just love how it turned out?
I think it would be Jobu's bagel outfit, because it took about four fittings to perfect. It was also filmed the last week of shooting, so I had a little more time to perfect it. I was able to experiment with different collars, capes, bodysuits, and create a custom belt for her myself.
And Jobu, especially, has so many different looks that are all perfectly over-the-top and instantly iconic. On Everything Everywhere All at Once, was there ever such a thing as going too far?
Not really! The Daniels encouraged me go as crazy as I wanted. If anything, because Jobu changed so much throughout the film, they were able to edit some looks that might fit in the category of going too far. It could have also been edited because the movie was too long. Either way, I was never restrained.
If you learn something new on every show, what was a lesson you took from EEAAO that you will carry with you into future projects?
To not be afraid of pushing the envelope and pushing the creative aspects of costume design.