'Fairyland' Costume Designer Maggie Whitaker Breaks Down the Massive Undertaking of Recreating the Aesthetic of 1970s San Francisco

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Courtesy Impact24 PR

The highly-anticipated film Fairyland debuted at Sundance Film Festival in January and has received nothing but positive reviews since (it currently has a 96% on the Tomatometer).

The film, based on Alysia Abbott’s 2013 memoir of the same name, follows a young Alysia as her life is uprooted when her mother suddenly dies and she moves with her queer father Steve to 1970s San Francisco. Emilia Jones (CODA) takes on the role of adult Alysia and Scoot McNairy plays Steve.

Fairyland spans across the ’70s and ’80s and, as you can imagine, incorporates a ton of fun, colorful, and very nostalgic fashion — all of which was up to costume designer Maggie Whitaker to recreate.

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Courtesy Impact24 PR

Maggie had a great starting point with Alysia’s memoir. That said, she was also given some leeway to put her own mark on the film. She told Femestella,

“When we began the design process for our lead characters, we leaned heavily on the source material as our foundation.”

She continued,

“But because we were going to be using vintage garments and crafting looks as authentically to how Steve and Alysia would have (shopping at vintage stores, reusing old pieces) and working with clothes that were period accurate to their world, we would not be meticulously recreating garments from scratch. That meant that we could interpret rather than replicate.”

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Courtesy Impact24 PR

In addition to using Alysia’s memoir, Maggie also turned to a variety of books from the 1970s for inspiration. Two of her favorites include Idols by Gilles Larrain and The Cockettes: Acid Drag and Sexual Anarchy, 1969-1972 by Fayette Hauser (out of print).

She also turned to the GLBT Historial Society Digital Collections as another resource.

Then it was time to put together all the looks — a whopping 137! — for young Alysia, adult Alysia, Steve, and hundreds of background actors.

Fortunately, Maggie had several sources she could turn to for authentic, vintage pieces.

“My biggest asset with clothes was our local costume rental house — TheatreWorks Costume Rentals in Menlo Park. They let me pull four racks of stock ranging from the 1930s through the 1980s. We needed wild vintage pieces that could mix in with the 70s clothes for the early hippie commune days.”

She also did two more “massive buys” from Liz Baca in LA and Afterlife Boutique. She rounded out her collection with pieces thrifted from smaller vintage shops.

fairyland movie 2023
Courtesy Impact24 PR

The film later transitions from the 70s to the 80s, which is when one of Maggie’s favorite fashion moments takes place.

“We created an 80s club night that I think is peak perfection. Every background person in that club looks flawless, and our leads stand out as being exactly who they should be at that moment, sneaking into a club that probably isn’t all ages and just being cool enough to pass but having the best night ever.”

Sounds, incredible, right?

Unfortunately, most of us will have to wait until we can view the film for ourselves — Fairyland is not yet available on any streaming services. But given the great reception it’s received, it’s probably only a matter of time before Fairyland graces our small screens.

Lena Finkel
Lena Finkel is the Editor and Founder of Femestella. Prior to starting Femestella, she worked at People, InStyle, Tiger Beat, and Sesame Workshop (aka Sesame Street). She loves all things Real Housewives and Vanderpump Rules. When she's not busy binge-watching TV, you can find her hanging out with her tuxedo cat Tom.