Jamie Kennedy, Zak Orth, Leonardo DiCaprio, Dash Mihok, and Harold Perrineau as the young Montagues. Photo: Courtesy of Everett Collection.
Twenty-five years ago, Baz Luhrmann laid his scene in fair Verona—and it was like nothing we’d ever seen before. The Australian auteur’s kaleidoscopic reimagining of Shakespeare’s classic romance, Romeo + Juliet, was a brash thrill ride through the streets of some combination of Venice Beach, Mexico City, and Miami, populated by god-fearing gangsters and glamazons. At the center of it all were two career-defining performances from a young Leonardo DiCaprio and Claire Danes as the star-crossed lovers, their mesmerizing chemistry making for a love story that has stayed in the hearts of millennials ever since.
DiCaprio and Danes weren’t the only reasons the film became such a cult classic, however. Yes, there was its iconic soundtrack—Des’ree’s “I’m Kissing You” remains the ultimate karaoke tearjerker—but also the flamboyant costuming. From Mercutio’s glitzy lingerie set and cape as he belted out “Young Hearts Run Free” at the Capulet party, to Juliet’s ethereal angel wings, to the flaming sacred heart on the Hawaiian shirt worn by Romeo in the opening scenes on Verona Beach, these are looks that haven’t just become a part of cinematic history, but fashion history too. (The latter style in particular has never been far from a menswear catwalk over the last 25 years.)
For that, we have the Australian costume designer Kym Barrett to thank. A contemporary of Luhrmann and his wife, Catherine Martin, at art school in Sydney, she first worked as a wardrobe assistant on the first extravaganza in their Red Curtain Trilogy, 1992’s Strictly Ballroom, before signing on to join the couple’s merry band as they began plotting their radical take on Shakespeare. “We were a very ragtag group and wanted to do stuff our own way, and we spent a lot of time working out not just what we wanted to do, but why we wanted to do it,” says Barrett of the collaborative spirit that underpinned the film’s making. “Some of it was luck, and some of it was just really hard work.”