Why You Need to See 'Get On Up' This Weekend

If only for James Brown's soulful hits and decade after decade of lavish fashions.

Source: Jemal Countess/Getty Images North America
James Brown at the 2002 MTV Video Music Awards
Source: Bauer Griffin

Break out your retro garb: You're going to want to dress the part when you're at the movies, dancing in your seat to the soulful soundtrack of James Brown's life. Produced by Mick Jagger (see if you can catch the comical nod to him in the movie), Get On Up follows Brown's incredible journey from poverty to opulence, with his famous, funk-filled hits—not to mention dynamic dance moves—leading the way.

While the film does touch on the more difficult times in his life, Brown's upbeat, feel-good tunes help tell the story of how he overcame oppression to become one of the most influential musicians in history—the "Godfather of Soul," no less. We got the scoop on his lavish wardrobe on and off stage, straight from the film’s costume designer, Sharen Davis.

I didn’t want it to be right on the money. I really wanted it to be more of an homage.

–Sharen Davis

The film is shot over many different decades. Which was your favorite to design for? "Oh boy, I really liked the mid '60s to early ‘70s. That’s kind of newer for me, and it’s a little more out there—you can get away with a little bit more."

Get On Up costume designer Sharen Davis
Source: Kevin Winter/Getty Images Entertainment

What was the most challenging costume to re-create? “Pretty much any time [Chadwick Boseman, who plays James Brown] danced, it was challenging. When he started dancing, he just started losing weight [laughs]. We were like, ‘Ohmigosh, did he just lose five pounds in that one number?’ Chadwick is unbelievable; the whole movie I just called him Mr. Brown. I never even called him Chadwick."

From your perspective, what is the overall theme of the film, and how did you help convey it through fashion choices? "I was trying to break the conventional mold of a biopic. I did research on some more obscure outfits that he had; because the movie’s always bouncing around so much, I wanted the costumes to do the same. I wanted [the audience to think], ‘Did he really wear that?’ And I actually have photos of him in most of his stuff. I just wanted to keep it really fresh, and I wanted to let you know through his clothes that he was always changing and re-inventing himself."

In your opinion, what was his most over-the-top ensemble? "His fur coat with a leather vest when he walked off the plane, like ‘I’m so rich, I can get anything I want.'"

A lot of the women's period pieces, including rompers, jumpsuits and peplums, are trending again. “I know, it’s so weird. When I did Dream Girls, the same thing was happening."

Source: Universal Studios

What do you hope the women’s costumes convey about their characters? "I tried to make very bold and strong character choices, so you can kind of understand each of the women’s roles in his life.

For his mother [played by Viola Davis], at the beginning, I wanted to make sure you could tell she—they—were poor. And when you see her at the end, I wanted to make sure you know that she had went down a really tough road and was trying to pull it together.

Octavia Spencer’s character [Aunt Honey] was one of strength and a businesswoman, so I wanted her to look like she had money and really took care of herself—and maybe somehow she encouraged him to be that kind of businessman.

For Jill Scott’s character [Brown's wife DeeDee], I just thought she was always so enamored by him and kind of followed in his footsteps—whatever he was doing, she was going to do. 'Oh he’s wearing a dashiki, I better get an African draped-something on.' I think it was more that she just idolized him so."

Source: Stephen Lovekin/Getty Images North America

What other considerations went into wardrobe selection? "I didn’t want it to right on the money. I really wanted it to be more of an homage. I didn’t want you to think, 'Oh, it’s exactly like James Brown.’ I wanted it to be, 'Oh, I kind of remember Brown wearing something like that.' Some things are right on the money; when they’re pulled out of actual history, I did copy it. But in his private life—the private moments in his house that no one really knows—I took liberties on designing a few original ideas, but in the realm of what he would have really worn. [Also,] making it work for the scenes and characters was more important."

Get On Up hits theaters today. Get a sneak peek by watching the trailer, below:

Associate Editor at StyleBistro. California native, Brooklyn resident & country girl at heart. Follow me on Twitter: @katie_ddavidson Follow me: Google
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