Birds of Prey is a new kind of comic book movie. As its subtitle "and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn" states, Birds centers on Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie), erstwhile partner-in-crime-and-love to the Joker. But by the events of Birds (opening Feb. 7), the pair have broken up, leaving Quinn as a newly single and independent woman ready to take on Gotham solo for the first time. It’s a feminist reimagining of the genre, and it’s also fun as hell — right down to the costumes.
To bring Quinn and her colorful gang of mischief makers to life, the team employed veteran costume designer Erin Benach, most recently known for her work on A Star Is Born. Benach focused on bringing out each character’s playful side through their clothing. For Quinn, that meant experimenting with stickers, beads, sparkles, and other vibrant, wearable materials — like the jacket that was initially made out of party streamers and yellow police caution tape. (Benach later had to add in more durable fabric, but the style remains the same.)
Another standout outfit, the metallic gold diamond jumpsuit that Quinn wears during some more stunt-heavy scenes, posed a similar problem. It needed to pop onscreen, but Robbie still needed to be able to throw a punch in it. “She had to crouch down, kick, and jump while also looking sleek and good in hero shots,” says Benach. "Things were especially rough around the joints — there’s a lot of wear that happens around there — so there were extra panels sewn into places like the knees, the elbows, and things like that."
A similar strategy was used to make other characters' fashion forward costumes functional. "[Jurnee Smollett-Bell]'s Black Canary suit was super fitted, and we had to design a stretch version of it," Benach says. The other challenge of such a stylish, playful film was ensuring that all of the characters' fun accessories didn't accidentally turn into weapons during fight scenes. "Harley’s diamond chokers are basically impaling points if she moves the wrong way, so we created a rubberized version," she says.
Quinn's eclectic personal style plays heavily into Birds of Prey, and nowhere is that more apparent than in her already iconic "Harley F*cking Quinn" t-shirt. While it’s not flashy, it's impeccably Quinn, which was important to Benach. "I wanted Harley to have this fun shirt that really spoke to her DIY nature. It was something she could easily make herself, and it was very appropriate that it’d have her name all over it."
The shirt is now for sale as part of DC's official merchandise, so fans everywhere can join the fun and cosplay as this film's version of Harley Quinn. For Benach, the impact her costumes have on movie-goers is one of the true perks of the job. "As costume designers, we have this chance to not just play into pop culture, but we have a chance to affect it, and be a part of the conversation. It’s really fun to partake in that."