Eunice Jera Lee is behind the costumes of Justin Chon's films — including 2017's Gook, her first proper costume designing gig, and the upcoming Jamojaya — as well as Daniel Goldhaber's How to Blow Up a Pipeline and Emma Seligman's Bottoms. For the Korean-American costume designer, each of the projects she's worked on has been deliberately chosen.
"It really has to appeal to my intersectionality. I'm really intrigued by telling Asian American stories, but also telling stories from the LGBTQIA perspective," Lee says. "For me, especially when we're talking indies, it really has to appeal to me, not only what my eye can bring to a film, but also how viewers are going to receive it and what they're going to take from it."
Lee got her start as a stylist and costume supervisor, working on music videos for artists like Nicki Minaj and Madonna. "It's a completely different world. It's stylized and it can be really fantastical, and I think that that was something that I got to bring onto this film," she says of Bottoms, the hyper-stylized teen comedy about best friends who start a queer fight club.
"This one in particular was really fun," she explains, "because we were creating a fantastical town, so taking from the real world but also the stylistic perspective for these lesbian characters. That felt really exciting."
Below, Lee shares with A.frame five films that had a lasting impact on her and have informed her own approach to designing costumes.
Directed by: Billy Wilder | Costume Design by: Edith Head
I became infatuated with Audrey Hepburn from a young age. My mom would take me to Hollywood Video or Blockbuster, and I would rent every VHS she starred in. Holly Golightly is Hepburn's most iconic role, but Sabrina was always my personal favorite. She's this girl gazing into a world she knows she doesn't belong in, and when she comes back from Paris, she's visually become the epitome of that world. Her dresses and her elegance are seared into my brain, but I think the real story and the real lesson that I gathered from this film was how quickly the power dynamic shifts into Sabrina's favor. That's where I learned that beauty and presentation in a woman can be a transformative tool.
Directed by: Larry Clark | Costume Design by: Kim Marie Druce
Kids is one of my all-time favorite films. I watched it as a kid, and it was revelatory. It played like a documentary to me, more than a feature, and maybe that was my age. In retrospect, I think a lot of that had to do with costumes. Most of the films I was watching at that time, like Clueless, everyone was perfectly pinned-up, and stylized, and even though they were based in reality, you can still see the curation of outfits. This film was a raw look at this subculture, and these kids were just a little older than me at the time. I remember watching this film again when I was older and wondering what the hell I was doing watching it as a child — or rather what the hell my parents were thinking letting me watch it. But I always consider Kim's work on this film, and I ask myself if I'm bringing the same level of authenticity to my characters.
Directed by: David Fincher | Costume Design by: Michael Kaplan
I love Fight Club. I feel like every woman has a spectrum of masculinity in her, and this film appeals to that part of me. But it also leaves me feeling really grateful to be a woman. It's such a male-driven concept — resorting to beating each other up just to feel a semblance of control and equality — but I feel like the really, really amazing thing about this film is juxtaposing that masculinity in their wardrobe. They're so macho in their actions, but the leader of the group, sartorially, he's so camp. Tyler's in this woman's robe and tight, floral shirts throughout the film, and he kind of looks like someone who should be walking down South Beach rather than someone who's engaging in this hyper-masculine behavior. And then on the other hand is Helena Bonham Carter's character, who plays this punk, no-bulls**t nihilist. The play on gender in the film is so nuanced.
Fight Club was a massive inspiration for my work on Bottoms. I made the football players' costumes ultra feminine, or as feminine as I could make them. We used smaller pads. Those uniforms are super bodycon, so getting the boys into them every day was an ordeal.
Directed by: Ridley Scott | Costume Design by: Elizabeth McBride
This film is the one I turn to when I need a girl power lift. I reference it so much in my own work, that it would have been so remiss to leave it out of my top five. For me, it's not just a film about feminism. For me, it's a love story. It's really about sisterhood, and empowerment, and this friendship between two women who have just had enough, and the lengths you go to to protect one another. It's really empowering to see Thelma shift from a housewife to a badass through costume. And then, of course, Brad Pitt as the ultimate f**kboy cowboy. That's so iconic.
Directed by: Christopher Guest | Costume Design by: Monique Prudhomme
This one's kind of an outlier, but my favorite genre of film is satire and mockumentaries, and some of my favorite actors are in this film — like Eugene Levy, Jennifer Coolidge, Catherine O'Hara, and Parker Posey, who I'm obsessed with. I'm also an avid watcher of the Westminster Dog Show. So, this film really combines a lot of loves into one. But it also has hilarious LGBTQIA representation, with the campy gay couple and Coolidge's secret relationship with Jane Lynch. I feel like the makeup, hair, costumes, production design — everything — is just so authentic and congruous. It's the perfect movie, isn't it?