"More is more is more!"
That was the mantra of Jake Oliver, a recent graduate of New York's Fashion Institute of Technology, who sewed more than a thousand ruffles onto a tuxedo shirt for Panic! at the Disco singer Brendon Urie.
It was a dream job for him and four other F.I.T. grads: designing costumes for a highly fashionable rock band's summer tour (see "Panic! At The Disco Don't Want Fans Fixating On Their Boyish Good Looks" and "Panic! At The Disco Announce Fall Tour"). The catch? They had less than a week to create 23 garments, a process that involved as much pressure as a "Project Runway" challenge.
"We had just finished school, and this was the first project that came to us," said Oliver, whose team was chosen for their passion and eagerness to think outside the box (not to mention for charging approximately 75 percent less than a corporate design crew). "We met with the manager and spoke to the band, and it was on. We did that on a Friday — and by Wednesday we had flown to Las Vegas [with mock-ups of the clothes] for the first fitting."
There, Urie and guitarist Ryan Ross enthusiastically approved the outfits, and made some far-fetched requests: three-quarter-length striped pants and jackets with pointy sleeves. Drummer Spencer Smith and new bassist Jon Walker left the creative angle up to the students.
"They were fun and extravagant," Oliver said of the band, who will be performing at the Video Music Awards on August 31 (see "Panic! At The Disco Carry Emo-Punk Banner Into VMAs With Five Noms" and "Inspiration For Panic! Video? Booze And Infidelity: VMAs Behind The Camera"). "An immediate thing clicked in my head being around them in their studio. There are more instruments than you can handle. They're singing, and while I'm trying to fit one of them, the other one's playing the piano. It gave me a rush, and it also gave me a vibe for the clothing, like to do something flamboyant: If the ruffles are four inches long, don't worry about it; if it looks too feminine, don't worry about it. They're obviously working their style out onstage, and I love it."
After the Vegas fitting, the design team had less than a week to complete two sets of outfits. Blueprints were drawn up, sketches were drawn, and fabrics, buttons, threads, snaps and doilies were purchased.
For the first look, the designers opted for colors like plum, off-white and avocado, as well as floral prints.
"They wanted a fresher look to go with their sound," Oliver said. "They wanted brighter colors and more energy. We worked in some browns, and we had florals flowing throughout. We put actual flowers on the shirts."
The second look had a darker theme, labeled "Moulin Rouge," with blacks, reds, off-whites and golds.
"We used the movie for inspiration," said Willie Marshall, who designed five vests in five days. "Also, the feel of an English dandy was an inspiration, with formfitting, tailored garments." These included the high-couture ruffle shirt for Urie, and a bright red, floral-patterned vest for Ross — with 20 three-dimensional flowers sewn on individually and 12 yards of chains draping around it.
Hyunwoo "Sean" Shin and Emiliano Santillan were responsible for the jackets, starting with mockups made of muslin and then creating the real jackets with the final fabric.
"We played their music while we were constructing their garments," said Santillan. "By using their music to inspire us, I thought it would show in the garments."
It sure did. High-peak lapels, long double-breasted tuxedo jackets and thick, pink upholstery fabrics were implemented into the design of the garments, which included an asymmetrical, single-button jacket for Ross.
"It's fun to design for people who you're into and give them something new, something different, something they might not [have thought of] themselves," said Aram Bashian, who patterned, stitched and sewed eight pants for each member's two looks. "It was fun for us, too, to get a little crazier and get theatrical."
Bashian looks at the experience as a springboard for other opportunities.
"It gives us a chance to do what we learned [at school] because in the real industry designers don't usually sit at a sewing machine and actually pattern and sew everything," he said. "They're just designing, and then they'll send it off to the factories. In this case, it was literally what we did in class, where we would design it, sew it and cut it."
One of the coolest pieces was a snap vest that Oliver designed for Urie.
"It snaps down so Brendon can go bare-chested," said Oliver, who was responsible for designing eight shirts in total. "The fans love that. At one concert, he jumped into the crowd after unsnapping it."
That unsnapping might have caused some unraveling: When MTV News caught up with Panic at Lollapalooza earlier this month, the bandmembers said the costumes are almost in tatters.
"After two months, it started falling apart, and there's pretty much nothing left of it," said Ross. "But it stood up for a while."
Walker added, "I mean, if you walk a dog for two months straight, its legs are bound to break."
Still, all parties were extremely satisfied, and the F.I.T. grads got to see the final outcome, which will forever be imprinted in their minds and hearts — and on their résumés.
"We got to go to one of their concerts and see our garments onstage, which was like a really cool fashion show for us," Oliver said. "Their manager commented that some of the clothes could be seen in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame — like, some of the pieces were kind of monumental. I hope that some of them will stick around."
And if they don't, he can always make more, more, more.