Allison Pearce is the costume designer for the upcoming Clerks III. Clerks III is the third chapter of the cult-classic comedy series written, directed, and edited by Kevin Smith, coming to theaters 28 years after the original film’s release on September 13.
PH: Can you share a bit about how you got into the industry? What drew you to costume design?
Allison Pearce: I always had an interest in sourcing, and I think that drew me to designing. As a kid, I was always thrifting, using found objects and repurposing. I’ve also always been interested in nature, and work from artists like Andy Goldsworthy always intrigued me. I attended Parsons the New School for Design, and I was on track to get into the fashion industry, but I didn’t feel like I fit the industry after having a few internships in it. I had some friends at the Tisch film program who were working on their thesis films, and one asked me to act in and costume design her film. Honestly, I had no idea what a costume designer was at that point, but I had always loved movies, so I gave it a shot. I used all vintage clothing, and we shot in black and white on cameras from WW2, like the kinds they mounted on the side of airplanes. I loved the process and having to visualize how different prints would look in black and white.
PH: Who are some of your influences?
Allison Pearce: Man Ray, David Lynch, Yamamoto, Fellini– it’s hard to choose! My mother gave me a book of Man Ray’s photographs in high school, and I think that really stuck with me. There are so many different ways to look at the same subject. Surrealism was something that I was super into from a young age. I first started getting into Italian neorealist cinema in college, and I think that opened up the door for me. I remember I watched The Bicycle Thief and Amarcord in the same weekend, and I was hooked. I think Japanese designs like those from Yamamoto are central to my work. The art of Wabi-Sabi is something I think about often - art doesn’t need to be perfect.
PH: What led you to your latest project, Clerks III?
Allison Pearce: I was really excited to be part of the world that Kevin Smith has created. I think upon reading the script, I saw that there was this incredible challenge to recreate original costumes from Clerks. Costume design is as much about creativity as it is about problem solving, and I love to solve problems! I saw Clerks III as a great challenge to do something really special for the View Askewniverse fans. I hope I did it justice!
PH: You had a pretty daunting job of paying homage to the original film through your costumes. What approach did you take to accomplish this?
Allison Pearce: Research from previous Kevin Smith films was extremely crucial to this process, specifically when Randal decides to write a script and shoot his movie, “In Convenience.” All that footage is matched from the original 1994 Clerks. For the most part, we used all the same actors as well, who are mainly Kevin’s lifelong friends, collaborators, and family. The Wardrobe Supervisor, Maren Reese, and I poured over hours of footage, studying digitized screengrabs of the original VHS. Dante’s sweater that he wears in the Salsa Shark scene is a replica of the original. The original sweater that Brian O’Halloran wore in Clerks was a late 1980s Liz Sport women’s sweater that had mysteriously vanished, so I sourced a pattern that matched the number of argyle diamonds, what size, and how the collar sits somewhat boatneck on his neck. The yarn colors I selected are actually cream, black and white. Since we shot the “Movie in a Movie” scenes in black and white, technically I could use any color way to create that tone, as long as it was a match in black and white. That sweater is a hand knit, full replica of the original Dante Clerks sweater. I worked with a very talented German-American knitter Yasmin Esmek, who coincidentally helped create the Mr. Rogers sweaters for the Tom Hanks’ film. The original fit on Brian was quite oversized, so we replicated that with the new pattern. The art of parody is something I learned on SNL: when you’re referencing an event that actually happened, you have to do it justice. It can’t just be similar, it has to be exactly the same or as close as you can possibly get. It can’t just be a similar sweater, it needs to be THE Dante sweater.
PH: What did collaboration with Kevin look like?
Allison Pearce: Kevin reminded me recently that the only verbiage from the script was “Elias wears a metal t-shirt,” but it’s through fashion that Elias really finds himself in Clerks 3. His journey is told through his look. In Clerks 2, Elias is a Jesus Freak. In Clerks 3, Randal has a health scare which takes Elias to this place of denouncing Christianity and becoming a follower of Satan. His character really transforms on screen and becomes this Gothic Edgelord type character. After the first fitting with Trevor, Kevin called me and said that I should just “go for it.” He encouraged me to really jump in and go further with this character. Creating his funeral look was really special.
I found a vintage silk Victorian cape, and we draped black burnt out velvet over top to give it a nice texture. The lining was red silk for an extra pop of color. When you work with black articles, the textures, small patterns, and details are super important. Otherwise, it can just be a large black blob on camera and difficult to light for our cinematographer, Learan. I worked with a local leatherworker, Steve from Lunafae Leathers, to create some unique Elias pieces, one of them being the shoulder and body harness he wears underneath his asymmetrical one shoulder cape. The body harness sits on his waist, almost like an armored corset, and features chainmail and gold spike detailing on the shoulder. We paired it with an elbow piece and actual armor we sourced from designer Brandon Bermudez. Corset armor was very important in the 15th century, and at the time, I was reading a lot about Medieval dress for another project with Celia Rowlson-Hall. The armored glove and corset armor was very heavy, so Trevor had to take it off between takes. His large pentagram necklace is something I made - it began as a paperweight from an occult shop.
PH: Can you dive a little deeply into the pieces you incorporated from the first film and/or other Kevin Smith films?
Allison Pearce: Ruse Lady, played by Donna Jeanne, was almost a full replica costume build. In the original Clerks, she wore a very 1990s crew neck sweatshirt as part of her costume. I recreated this design, which is an eagle soaring over a mountainous horizon, with our graphic designer and had it screenprinted. There are hardly any heat press graphics used in this film. Kevin and I both feel that screen printed graphics have a more natural, casual look that fits better for these characters. Her jacket was a very specific late 1980s style windbreaker. I found something similar in a vintage store, and I worked with my tailor, Olivia Wexelman, to change the collar, remove the hood, and add elastic cuffs.
It was fun working with all these actors, mostly Kevin’s family and friends from Leonardo, and trying to piece together what they actually wore in Clerks. Some people held onto their costumes for 30 years. Often it was impossible to find exact images of all the costumes, so I would consult with the actors themselves and test their memories. For Jay’s character, we had to remain true to the original. This character has been a cornerstone for the View Askewniverse. I had to recreate Jay’s looks from the original Clerks, and since none of those items existed anymore, I started from scratch. I made both his Doonsbury t-shirt and San Jose sharks hat - both replicas from the original film. It’s funny because there are a lot of logos on camera in Clerks, and now we have to get approval and clearance when we want to use a brand. Not to mention, Jason Mewes no longer has pierced ears.
However, Jason does wear his original Dogma jacket in Clerks III. It’s this amazing 1980s black, red and white Perry Ellis zip up windbreaker. That was on display in the Secret Stash, and for our movie, we had to break it out of a display case. I made sure to tell our key costumer, Ricardo James, how special that piece is. Dogma is such a fantastic film, and I felt really special that we got to use that piece in our movie.
PH: What’s your design process like? Can you give us a peek into your mind and thought process?
Allison Pearce: I think my process shifts depending upon the project. After I’ve read the script, and often during, I’m visualizing the characters. I’ve learned over the years to trust my gut, and if I go a certain direction instinctively, it’s good to explore. For example, on Black Bear, I felt drawn to earth tones for the color palette, allowing our characters to feel at home in their wild Adirondack environment. I specifically utilized red as a color that represents a woman on the edge. Since Aubrey & Sarah’s characters switch costumes before the second act of the film, I went into it knowing that their looks needed to feel very different but natural in their world. The performance is so central that I wanted the costumes to feel subtle and understated and not distract from that. I used mostly solids but in natural fabrics like linen, cotton, wool, and there’s very sparse use of pattern at all. The boho dress from sustainable designer Doen, shared by Aubrey and Sarah, is one of the few places you see patterns in costume.
PH: You also worked with graphic designers to develop graphic t-shirts with even more easter eggs. What was that experience like?
Allison Pearce: Graphic t-shirts are very important in this world. Every graphic tee you see on screen was designed and screen printed specifically for our movie. When I came on board as the costume designer, Kevin and his graphic designers, Nate Gonzalez and John Spregelmeyer, had all these designs ready to go. It was up to me to translate that into graphic tees for Randal, Jay, and Elias to wear on screen. Randal’s Truth or Date Pilot Taping t-shirt is my favorite- that’s a Mallrats Easter Egg. There were some local businesses also that we wanted to use in our film - like the Leonardo clown which is a giant sign outside of the local liquor store and a staple of the town. There’s this great t-shirt Jay wears which we refer to as the Leonardo Dancing Bear, which is a t-shirt also worn by Joey Lauren Adams in Mallrats.
PH: Do you have any costumes from this project that really stood out / that you really enjoyed creating? Can you explain?
Allison Pearce: I feel really proud of Elias’ character arc as told through costume. A lot of those scenes are such quick beats, and I really had to design his costumes so that they hit you quickly. They read fast and the audience needs to register who it is right away. I had a great time with Elias and Blockchain Coltrane. I think my favorite look for them is the Cat Customer scene. We built this teal feather shoulder harness for Elias. My assistant Lara De Brujin and I also made this shoulder harness for Blockchain with a fake taxidermy crow we found at a local shop. We built it onto this beautiful body harness and also gave the crow a tiny Pentagram necklace. I remember during a take Austin Zajur was talking to his crow, pretending to whisper in the crow’s ear, and I was just crying laughing. It’s so rewarding when you create this space through costume for the actors to have fun and explore their characters on camera.
PH: Throughout the years, do you have any favorite costumes you've developed? Can you share why?
Allison Pearce: I still feel really rooted in my work with director Celia Rowlson-Hall and her film Ma. We shot that in the desert, and the environment was a huge influence for me. Ma’s pink t-shirt is actually quite special although it feels so natural for the character. I worked with an ager dyer, and we used all natural elements to get that pink, burnt out desert sunset color. That film has no dialogue, but it feels so rich and engulfing. The entire project feels like a moving painting, and the costumes are a huge part of that. I love working with Celia for many reasons, but her work as a choreographer allows me to think about costuming in an entirely different way. Our characters need this whole other range of movement in whatever I design, and often their costume becomes part of their dance. It’s just special for a costume designer, and I feel really lucky to have done this work. Celia is a good friend, and I look forward to having a collaborative working relationship with her for years to come.
PH: Finish this sentence...to be a great costume designer, you need to ___________.
Allison Pearce: Be open-minded and have fun!
PH: What other projects/work are you excited to share?
Allison Pearce: I recently worked on a fun project over summer that I’m very excited about, and hope to share it with everyone very soon!