Twenty years ago today, to the delight of teenage fangirls everywhere, Emma Bunton, Geri Halliwell, Melanie Brown, Melanie Chisholm, and Victoria Beckham (née Adams), the mega pop group formerly known as the Spice Girls, made their hotly anticipated feature film debut. Part musical, part comedy, part bizarre fantasy, Spice World was one hour and 33 blissful minutes of pure, unadulterated entertainment, as audiences followed the five heroines, who all play themselves, around London in a double-decker tour bus, meeting Elton John, attending a dancing boot camp, and fending off aliens, all the while wearing truly spectacular outfits. In honor of the film's milestone anniversary, we spoke with the costume designer, Kate Carin, about working on the cult classic.
When did you first meet the Spice Girls? At a hotel in London. They were already quite famous at that point, but it wasn't really until mid-filming that they really hit the big time. I was in my 30s, and most of their fans were a lot younger than me. They are quite a force to be reckoned with—they can really take over the room. I, too, can be quite a force to be reckoned with, so I tried to be myself and speak my mind. We gelled very quickly. They were 100 percent open-minded and up for anything; they didn't have any preconceived ideas about what this was going to be because none of them had ever done a movie before. They would give anything a try, even if they were unsure of something. Mostly, they worked so hard. They were recording an album while we were shooting, so every time they had a break, they would go off and record. And on the weekend, they were booked to do advertising campaigns. I don't know how they did it.
What was your approach to the costumes? When I came onboard, each of the girls already had a personality stamp and established look, so we basically expanded that look. There were a lot of designers that they hadn't been exposed to yet, so we cobbled together what we could find on High Street—a lot of Topshop. Then we had the opportunity to have stuff that was made to measure, and that just opened up a million doors. So, with Scary Spice, we were able to shape her legs for her patent leather boots. We made a lot of stuff for Posh, too. Sporty was sponsored by Adidas, so they sent loads of stuff for her. Baby had the long, over-the-knee socks and the little, short dresses. This was not a normal movie in the sense that you have a story you tell with costumes, it was more like a fashion showcase. There were many changes—if you walked out of a shot wearing something, you may walk back in wearing something else. It was all part of the fun. This was aimed at young people, so everything was very vibrant and bright and catchy. The whole palette for the movie was the most delicious, mouth-watering bowl of fruit that you could ever get your hands on.
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What were some of your favorite memories from the set? When we shot at Royal Albert Hall. One of Scary Spice's heels broke just as she was about to go onstage, so we fixed it with a cork. It was literally MacGyvered back on, and she was able to do her dance routines and everything. We had a lot of wardrobe malfunctions. Posh would want everything so tight, so she would bend over and the seam of her dress would split. We'd fit all the girls at the end of a day in about ten minutes on the back of my wardrobe truck. We had two wardrobe trucks: one for clothes and one for shoes. They could come in, take all their clothes off, stand in their bras, and just try on anything that you threw at them. They always had a laugh while they did it.
Do you have a favorite style moment? I love the photo shoot scene, when Posh dresses up as the Bond girl and Scary dresses up as Diana Ross. That was fun to do, because we thought of some iconic people off the cuff and ran with it. I love the army scene as well. That was good fun to do. They were all dressed in camo but wearing a variation of the same shirt. Each one was tailored to their character. We put Posh in heels and she ran through the whole obstacle course in them. Victoria has got the best sense of humor. She was very cheeky and irreverent.
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And of course Posh has the little Gucci dress. Was that line borne from the outfit? Victoria always had the little Gucci dress. That look was established well before we made the film.
I love the scene where the girls dress up as each other. Oh yeah, that was fun! They all had the best laugh doing that, because whilst they were great friends, there's also quite a lot of rivalry between them as well—happy rivalry, not hurtful rivalry. I can't even remember who dressed up as who; they all just came in and stripped to their underwear and decided what they wanted to wear for each character.
Where did you acquire the Spice Force Five costumes? We made those! Anything that was specific like that, we made for them. We worked with a man named Kenny Hall who was referred to me by a friend who ran the wardrobe department at Regent's Park Theatre in London. He went on to work for Victoria and designed her wedding dress. Those costumes were meant to be futuristic and spacey. It was all very, very tongue-in-cheek.
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I have to ask about the assless chaps. Some of those guys were from Chippendales! When we realized it, we thought, "Wouldn't it be a laugh to have to have them strip?" We thought it would be a bit cheeky and a bit risqué. The girls weren't expecting it at all—we didn't tell them. The reaction was completely authentic. They pissed themselves after that [scene]. They absolutely rolled with laughter.
What was the most challenging scene to film? The alien costumes were the most stressful costumes on the whole job for me. I'd rather design for those girls for the rest of my life than ever have to design another alien. They girls teased me all the time, asking to see the drawings. I put it off as long as I possibly could. We ended up picking a fabric that looked a bit scaly and ran with it. I didn't know about that scene until we were already shooting.
Was the alien bit improvised? It was very last-minute. The girls have very strong personalities and big voices. We were shooting a scene one day and one of them came up with the idea of doing aliens, and the next thing you know, we get a script and you're making alien costumes. The fabric came from Shepherd's Bush Market.
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Who was the most involved in the costumes? Geri has a very big voice. She was very much the mother of the pack. If anybody was feeling unsure about something, Geri's opinion would be asked and given. She had such an energy about her; she was so refreshing.
Did the girls stay in character for the duration of shooting? They were never offset. They would arrive in the morning in character, and they would leave at night in character. At that time, there were hundreds of fans chanting all day long while you were trying to shoot, so they had to be. It was their brand. Those girls were performing 24 hours a day, seven days a week. They were machines. Machines.
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The movie has developed a cult following. Why do you think it still holds up today? I think the world needs color. It needs positivity. It needs vibrancy. It needs youth. I think we are drawn to that—we are attracted to things that are bright and shiny and strong. And those girls were bright and shiny and strong. Their message was very positive. I think it's iconic because their personalities were iconic, and everything that was around them and enforced on them was coming from a very positive energy. They were literally like the steamroller that came into time and people had been looking down and they just started to look up. It was a real moment in time; the world had been in a bit of a recession and these beautiful, bright, shiny young women came out singing about being strong and powerful and positive, and we all ran behind them as they took the lead. A lot of us have not looked back from that.