Talk about calling your shot. Back in the early 2000s, actor-director Jon Favreau landed the assignment of helming the modestly budgeted Christmas comedy Elf, starring Saturday Night Live favorite Will Ferrell. But as Favreau confided to his regular costume designer at the time, Laura Jean Shannon, he had bigger ambitions with the film. "Jon called me and said, 'Listen, I really want you to be part of this project," Shannon tells Yahoo Entertainment now. "I'm setting out to create a Christmas classic."
Mission accomplished. Released in theaters on Nov. 7, 2003, Elf was a runaway box-office success and remains one of the 21st century's most popular holiday movies. Meanwhile, Ferrell's alter ego — that sugar-loving North Pole-dweller Buddy the Elf — became a symbol of the Christmas season. And that's largely thanks to Shannon, who created his signature green-and-yellow look. The designer created a half-dozen Buddy costumes for the movie, and one of them will be auctioned off as part of The Prop Store's upcoming Entertainment Memorabilia Live Auction, to be held in London from Nov. 9 to 11. Yahoo Entertainment has created a 3D model of the to-be-auctioned costume that you can interact with throughout the holiday season.
Click below to place Buddy the Elf in your living room using augmented reality and click on the audio button for a full immersive experience narrated by costume designer Laura Jean Shannon:
The specific costume that fans will be able to bid on is labeled "Hero-1," which Shannon says is the version that she worked with throughout the fitting process. "That's the one that we utilized for the entire process of dialing in the suit," she explains. "We used it throughout the fittings, tweaking it and making sure it's perfect. That doesn't necessarily mean it's pristine! Sometimes we would use 'Hero-2' for our pristine beauty shot suit. This was the one that we decided had the best fit."
During the same call in which Favreau told Shannon that he planned to make a Christmas classic, he also disclosed that he planned to take his inspiration from the animated holiday specials that he grew up watching as a child — think of Rankin-Bass's 1964 version of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, for example. Shannon's own research would take her even further back in time, though. "I did quite a lot of research on folklore and different ancient tribes from all around the globe, and I incorporated a lot of Nordic and other influences into all of the design work," she remembers. "I wanted it to have this timeless feel to it."
To enhance the timeless quality of Buddy's elven outfit, Shannon and her team built the costume using methods that date back to the turn of the 20th century.
"Much to the chagrin of everyone, I created the suit with actual period construction," she notes. "We only used things that existed at the turn of the century, so we had fiddleback seams on his jacket, which is a throwback to the historical way of constructing a men's jacket with the tails [in the back] and the cutaway at the front. And the jacket closed with hook and eye [fasteners] all the way down. I really wanted to avoid the sound of Velcro! It was really important to me that it would be this timeless suit that was cobbled together by tiny elf hands that had been doing it for centuries."
Of course, Shannon does admit to using some 21st century materials. For example, while she dyed an "abundant amount" of boiled wool to find the exact right shade of green for Ferrell's complexion — for the record, "grassy green" is the shade she settled on — the actual costume was made out of more comfortable fabric. "I didn't want Will to die of heat!" she says, laughing. "We found something that was breathable, but looked like boiled wool and had that kind of vibe."
As you can see in our 3D model, the front of Buddy's coat features some beautifully embroidered snowflakes, reindeer and holly. "I used a lot of classic folkloric visuals," Shannon says. "Oddly enough, I doodled holly all through high school just for fun. So I used my high school doodle holly; I think you're the first person I've told that to! I guess I must have known Elf was coming at some point."
Eagle-eyed fans might also notice a red splotch on Buddy's right shoulder. Shannon's not sure where that came from — "It's not like, 'Oh yeah, that's from that time that Will did that thing!' she jokes — but she has expert advice for how the winning bidder of the suit can restore the full grassy green. "They should bring it to a textile artist that works in the film business — they'll touch it up."
Compared to the jacket, you'd think that Buddy's yellow tights were an easier lift for Shannon, but she says there was one... um, size issue that complicated things. "The challenge was to figure out how to stick Will in tights and know that he was going to have a 50-foot tall male crotch on a movie screen for all the world to see," she says, laughing. "So we had a fitting for undergarments under his tights and tried several different things. It was amusing to say the least, and he was a really good sport about it."
One of the fixes they tried was an Andiamo biking undergarment that Ferrell would wear under his tights. "We thought, 'This will smooth things out," Shannon recalls. "Instead it made him look like a woman — it gave him cameltoe! So we didn't use that, but from then on everyday he would say to his dresser, 'I need my Andiamo!' He was a joy."
Besides creating a Christmas classic, Favreau also crafted the rare modern-day blockbuster that's never spawned a sequel. Interestingly, Ferrell recently revealed that a script for Elf 2 was written, and he turned down $29 million to suit up in Buddy's costume again. According to Shannon, the screenplay never reached her desk. "I don't remember ever talking about it [with Jon] to be honest. I personally think it's great that we made this one perfect little movie that we just poured our heart and souls into and that really resonates with people, you know? I don't think there needs to be a second version of that."
And it's not like Shannon's working relationship with Favreau stopped with Elf: she also designed the costumes for hits like Chef, Iron Man and The Jungle Book. Iron Man in particular was a watershed moment, as it launched the juggernaut known as the Marvel Cinematic Universe. "Rebecca Gregg, who was my co-costume designer on that film, had to dress Robert Downey Jr. for a screen test so that we could get him hired for the role," she remembers. "It was an awesome moment to be able to take that leap with Marvel and start them on the path that they've been so successful following."
These days, Shannon continues to work in the superhero realm: She's the supersuit designer for Stargirl and Titans, not to mention the Amazon Prime Video hit The Boys. "I'm actually now in a director shadowing program so I can start directing my own episodes," she says, crediting Favreau with helping her expand her creative horizons. "He really valued and honored me outside of the constructs of being a costume designer... our collaboration helped create who I am as an artist in this industry."
Still, Buddy the Elf will forever be her No. 1 hero. "Every year without fail, at least six people in my life will go: 'You designed Elf! I had no idea,'" she says, delightedly. "I've done a lot of big movies, but it's the one movie that everybody knows. We set out to make a Christmas classic and we did."
Elf is currently streaming on HBO Max.