For a Deadly Doll, a Killer Wardrobe
A doll’s clothes can be as memorable as any worn by a human, especially if that doll has a taste for blood.
Talky Tina, the demonic toy made famous by “The Twilight Zone,” had her plaid dress with a dainty lace-trimmed collar. Annabelle, the sinister doll that first appeared in “The Conjuring,” has her white gown with leg-of-mutton sleeves. And even those who have not seen “Child’s Play” (or its sequels) probably know of Chucky and his blue overalls.
The titular star of the horror film “M3gan” stands to be another murderous doll recognized for a killer outfit. Not least because M3gan, whose name is pronounced like Megan, for most of the film wears a striped, silk twill scarf tied in a pussy bow — a sartorial choice that tends to elicit strong reactions.
M3gan, which stands for Model 3 Generative Android, is a life-size artificially intelligent doll designed to provide companionship and emotional support — until a programming glitch turns her into a Terminator-esque killing machine. There are parts of the film where the doll is played by a high-tech puppet, but in most scenes, M3gan is played by the actress Amie Donald, 12, wearing a mask.
M3gan, who has wide eyes with long dark lashes and dirty blonde hair that falls below her shoulders, wears the pussy-bow scarf with an inverted-pleat shift dress layered over a striped long-sleeve shirt, white stockings and shiny black Mary Janes. Gerard Johnstone, the director of “M3gan,” described the doll as having clothes that evoke the mod fashion of the 1960s and “long, flowing hair” like the “Mod Squad” actress Peggy Lipton.
“I wanted her to be classy and elegant and unexpected, almost like the toy equivalent of those automotive shows from the ’60s, where the car would appear on the turntable and everyone’s minds would be blown,” Mr. Johnstone said.
Three of the possible outfits for M3gan that ended up on the dressing room floor. Credit…Universal Pictures
The film’s original script, written by Akela Cooper, only referenced M3gan wearing children’s clothes, Mr. Johnstone said. Putting her in a loose-hanging shift dress was both a stylistic and practical decision.
“M3gan has to move quickly and unencumbered. She’s got to run on all fours. She’s going to attack people,” he said. “With the shift dress, I could see the possibilities.”
About 25 versions of the dress were produced by the film’s costume and wardrobe department. “They lasted through all of the dancing, all of the killing,” said Daniel Cruden, the film’s costume designer. Lizzy Gardiner, an Oscar-winning costume designer who created M3gan’s main outfit with Mr. Johnstone, said the pussy-bow scarf was also painstakingly reproduced.
“We needed so many perfect replicas that each one had to be cut and hand sewn with the stripe in the silk in exactly the same place,” she wrote in an email. “It needed to be fluid without being bouncy. Large but consistent with a young, tiny girl. Doll-like but fashion forward.”
While developing M3gan’s wardrobe, many other possible outfits ended up on the dressing room floor. “Initially I wanted her to have a bunch,” Mr. Johnstone said. But by giving her a signature look, “that one costume can be really the focus,” he added. “People could dress up as her for Halloween.”
Where did you look for inspiration for M3gan’s clothes?
GERARD JOHNSTONE I was on Pinterest every night looking at fashion, trying to figure it out. Originally it was just me and my wife, for a female perspective. I kept going back to the ’60s because of the detailing and the fabrics. Everything was so rich. And Gucci kids’ dresses ended up being a big inspiration. I loved a yellow one with red ribbons that I saw online, but we couldn’t physically get our hands on it.
If Gucci was such an inspiration why isn’t M3gan wearing the label?
JOHNSTONE I wondered if we could get them on board. But you have to get approval and it takes a long time, especially when you’re making a horror movie, so we went our own way. We hadn’t proved ourselves. The hope now is that it wouldn’t be too hard to get some designers if we do another film.
DANIEL CRUDEN If a toy from a film gets licensed and there isn’t clothing approval, it could be seen as replicating for a profit. Even if I’d found a pair of vintage Gucci sunglasses, we’d have put them through clearance to make sure they were OK to use.
When viewers see M3gan commit her first murder, she wears a different outfit — a black cloak with gold buttons and a fur collar, black stockings and leather gloves. What inspired that look?
JOHNSTONE It was kind of a subversion of Little Red Riding Hood. I also thought of her as a bit like Damien from “The Omen.” The black gloves were a practical consideration because the gloves made the hands feel more robotic. And she’s a doll — she has to have some accessories.
Speaking of accessories, in another scene M3gan wears a pair of purple sunglasses. Why?
JOHNSTONE I really fought for her to have that moment. It felt like it could either be great or ridiculous. I was worried some people might think, “Is this going to diminish the scares?” But once everyone saw her really rocking the look, they started to get on board.
CRUDEN We had a real hunt for the sunglasses because we knew they were going to be a statement.
JOHNSTONE I wanted Prada.
CRUDEN We ended up with a brand called Minista, they came from a children’s boutique in Auckland, New Zealand.
From left, M3gan’s equestrian, Audrey Hepburn-inspired and sporty looks designed by Mr. Cruden for a scene that was cut from the film.Credit…Universal Pictures
What are some of the outfits that didn’t make it into the movie?
CRUDEN There was a scene that showed different M3gans on a turntable wearing looks I created for her. One was French-inspired, with a black beret, black turtleneck and high-waisted flared silk pants. We had a beach M3gan with a peasant blouse, beach hat and espadrilles. Equestrian M3gan had jodhpurs and riding boots. Sporty M3gan looked like she was ready for tennis.
JOHNSTONE Daniel did a very Audrey Hepburn look with a scarf and sunglasses. But the looks were on a dummy M3gan, and she didn’t look alive. If we’d been able to do it with our main M3gan, it would have worked. It was a shame.
Interviews with Mr. Johnstone and Mr. Cruden have been edited and condensed.