Shirley Kurata on building the batshit wardrobe for ‘Everything, Everywhere, All At Once’

Shirley Kurata on building the batshit wardrobe for Everything, Everywhere, All At Once | Soho House

The absurdist box office smash is arguably one of the best-dressed films of the decade. Bronwyn Cosgrave meets the woman behind the sartorial madness

Sunday 21 August  by Bronwyn Cosgrave

The pandemic had a massive effect on fashion. Our remotely-lived lives rendered street style temporarily obsolete and fashion weeks became virtual film festivals, while streaming shows with meticulously crafted wardrobes – such as Euphoria, Halston and The Queen’s Gambit – dominated the style conversation instead. For a time it seemed that the golden era for big-screen costume movies – of the kind that came of age in the 2010s – had little chance of making a comeback. 

But then along came Everything Everywhere All At Once. The absurdist comedy drama from writer/directors, Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert (known as ‘the Daniels’), is a whacky-yet-heartwarming family drama revolving around a married couple, Evelyn (Michelle Yeoh) and Waymond (Ke Huy Kwan). 

As she copes with an IRS audit, runs her struggling laundromat and grapples with meeting her daughter Joy’s girlfriend, Becky, for the first time, Evelyn discovers she must connect with a parallel universe of her own identity to halt Jobu Tupaki – a powerful ‘Alphaverse’ opponent – from destroying the multiverse and life as we know it.

As even that quick precis reveals, Everything Everywhere All At Once is head-spinning, to say the least. The costumes conceived by Shirley Kurata as the characters shift between our known reality and all the others in the multiverse are concurrently showstopping. Their contrasting guises lend pace, intrigue and flair to the box-office hit, which mingles comedy, science fiction and martial arts, among many other genres. 

Before Kurata got her start in film, she spent a decade styling fashion shows for Laura and Kate Muleavey’s label, Rodarte; she also crafted red carpet looks for directional entertainers, including Beck, Pharrell Williams and Zoey Deschanel. Here, she explains how she dreamed up Everything’s fantastical fashion-forward wardrobe.

Shirley Kurata on building the batshit wardrobe for Everything, Everywhere, All At Once | Soho House

Production company A24 describes the film a ‘hilarious and big-hearted sci-fi action adventure’ about an ‘exhausted Chinese-American woman who can’t seem to finish her taxes’. But what’s it really about?

‘It’s a maximalist film. So it’s sort of mirroring the world that we live in. There’s so much information presented to us. There’s so much craziness going on. We’re often so overwhelmed by it all. This movie is just sending a message of empathy and kindness. It’s just giving you a hug and just saying: “Listen, we don’t have the answers to how to cope with this world. But a way of getting through it is just to live with kindness and empathy.” And also to appreciate the little things in life, too.’ 

A costume designer’s work begins with reading the script, which is logical. Tell us about reading the script for this film for the first time. 

‘It was so dense. I had to read it about 20 times to figure out, “Okay, this is this world. This is another world.” Because within a scene you are jumping from world to world. So that was kind of overwhelming. But it was also very inspiring. I’ve never read a script like it. I knew that, with the Daniels, it would not be a normal scenario. So it was a mixture of like: “Oh my god, how am I going to get all these costumes with the time that I have? And with the budget that I have?” But I come from the music video world – and the low-budget film world. We know how to stretch a dollar and be open to ideas or options.’ 

Some directors are known for their sartorial point of view. Others, not so much. Where would you put the Daniels in this range?

‘For them, representing the character is important. So Evelyn’s day-to-day outfits are very, just sort of typical. But then, of course, [the Daniels] also love the fun costumes. So they’re a mixture.’ 

Shirley Kurata on building the batshit wardrobe for Everything, Everywhere, All At Once | Soho House

Describe how the characters dress differently for the real world and the multiverse. 

‘For the real world, I just sort of imagined: “Where would this character shop?” Like for Joy, it was like Urban Outfitters. But she’s wearing a baggy sweatshirt as a form of rebelling against her mother, because I’m sure her mother would not want her to wear that. But also, its reflective of her angst and generational trauma that she’s dealing with. So, I just tried to shop at places where I thought the character would shop.

‘Once we went into the other worlds, I had a little more free reign. It was: “Well, what fun things can I get?” Some of it – like the Elvis suit that Jobu Tupaki wears – was scripted. And some of it, I was like, “I have this really cool, green feather poofy outfit that a designer is willing to loan me.”’ 

So you did work with some fashion designers on this project?  

‘There were some designers I reached out to for Tierra Whack, who I worked with. Tierra is very sort of, you know, she’s colorful. She likes to push the envelope. Tierra’s style is like [Joy’s alter-ego] Jobu Tupaki. One of the designers was Claudia Li. She’s from New Zealand, but is partially based in New York City. I thought it was important to reach out to an Asian designer because our main characters are Asian. And so Claudia made that amazing plaid look with the visor when we first see Jobu Tupaki. She made that and she also made the Bagel Follower’s white gowns and the skirt that Jobu wears in the Bagel Universe. That was sort of the basis of how I did the rest of her outfit. I was like: “I like this skirt. And I’m just gonna build on it. And make something from there.”’

You came to work as a costume designer with an already distinguished career as a stylist. This includes a longstanding association with Rodarte. Explain how your expertise and your fashion background guides your hand.

‘Greatly so. I love fashion. I studied fashion. My first dream was to be a fashion designer. But then I just felt like, “Well, I’m in LA. I feel like it’s a stronger place for film and TV.” I learned the ropes doing low-budget projects. Just to learn the trade. But fashion is always important. Whenever I can give a fashion moment in film, I will.’

Shirley Kurata on building the batshit wardrobe for Everything, Everywhere, All At Once | Soho House

So let’s talk numbers. This movie is an epic. Budget-wise, for the costumes, was it high or medium?

‘It was low. My whole entire budget for the movie was probably the cost of one Marvel costume.’


‘Probably even less than what it costs.’ 

How many costumes factored into the wardrobe?

‘A lot.’ 

So this was like a Black Panther situation?

‘I would say – I mean, we were getting into the hundreds.’

This film is an action movie. It stars Michelle Yeoh, who started her extraordinary film career as a female action hero in Hong Kong and in the 1997 James Bond thriller, Tomorrow Never Dies. She used to perform her own stunts. Explain how the demands of the stunts and fight sequences determined your working process and the wardrobe you crafted. 

‘Yeah, well, I worked as a costumer on The Power Rangers. Like really funny, but that’s where I learned about stunt work. I had my crash course on that film because, you know, there’s harnesses, there’s like, squibs [filled with fake blood for bullet hits] and we’d have to repair [a costume] on the spot and stuff like that.

Shirley Kurata on building the batshit wardrobe for Everything, Everywhere, All At Once | Soho House

‘You need multiples – the more the better. You also need to make sure that there’s a little bit of stretch [in a costume] or there’s enough room for movement. And so in the fitting room, I was like, “Do you think that you can do your stunts in this?” And Michelle was like: “Yeah, I mean, I feel comfortable in this.” We talked through making sure that she was able to perform. She’s such a pro. She made it look so easy.”
The department head of makeup, Michelle Chung, described working with you and Anissa Salazar – who headed up the hair department – as a ‘truly collaborative process’. How did you work together and why did it prove to be so rewarding?
‘We all had a reference of images in the beginning. So the minute that we kind of settled with a look, I would give it to them and be, “OK, this is what we’re landing on. I’m gonna let you guys do what you think is going to work for this look.” And then they would come back with something like reference images. It was great because I think we all had the same sort of aesthetic. There was no conflict whatsoever. We all respected each other’s work. It just happened so organically and smoothly. And that doesn’t always happen, because sometimes you work on projects, and you’re like, “No, I’m not so much into this makeup.” Sometimes people have different tastes. But it worked out 100% with Michelle and Lisa. I couldn’t have been happier with how well it all came together.’

Shirley Kurata on building the batshit wardrobe for Everything, Everywhere, All At Once | Soho House
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