Press > Escape From L.A. > Exclusive Interviews > Robin Michel Bush (Costume Designer)

How did you end up being a costume designer?

I began my career as a costumer at Western Costume Company in 1976. My stepfather was Broderick Crawford and he agreed to open a door for me to work there as long as I gave it my all. In those days it was a training ground for costumers as well as the largest costume company in the world. You were required to work there a minimum of two years so in essence it was an AA (Associate of Arts) degree in costuming. I had the opportunity to work with and train under the best. Bill Travilla, Dorothy Jeakins, Edith Head to name a few. I learned period clothing, military, fabric, construction etcetera and progressed to doing shows on the floor. A wonderful supervisor, Agnes Henry took me out of western and I became a set costumer on a TV miniseries called Moviola. Through the years I learned more, became a key and eventually a costume supervisor. Although I had a great eye I never considered myself a designer of the caliber of the above mentioned from the golden days of Hollywood. However, times changed and studios began to phase out costume designers in favor of supervisors setting the look of TV shows and costume designers were only hired for large films. When I did my first show with John Carpenter (Director/Co-Writer/Co-Composer) which was Starman there wasn't a designer. Although not titled that was one of my first "design" jobs. John was very loyal to his crew and continued to hire me for his independent films.

How did you get the assignment to be the Costume Designer for Escape From L.A.?

When Escape From L.A. was first brought up he asked me to do it and I studied and broke down the script months before official prep started. The studio required John to hire a costume designer who was in the Guild Local 892 not just an IATSE (The International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees) local 705 member who is a costumer. I was asked to do four preliminary sketches which Debra Hill (Producer/Co-Writer) and John presented to Sherry Lansing (former Chief Executive Officer of Paramount) and the studio heads at Paramount and I was hired and joined the Designer's Guild.

How did you prepare for this project and what discussions did you have with John Carpenter (Director/Co-Writer/Co-Composer) and Lawrence G. Paull (Production Designer)?

Working with John and Larry Paull to come up with the overall look of the film was a huge collaboration with lots of ideas flying. I was honored to work with Larry and admired his vision. Often in futuristic films I go back to the past to find the future. The Mescalitos were an example of that. Drawing from years of Mexican culture and looks. I had to envision the materials that would be at hand following a quake of that magnitude.

Can you elaborate how some of the costumes were created and is it true that the fabric of Snake Plissken's (Kurt Russell: Snake Plissken/Producer/Co-Writer) suit was custom made to make it reflect in sunlight and go black in other light to make him undetectable for instance? Also, did you have other ideas for Snake's costume prior to this one and did Kurt Russell have any input on it?

John, Larry, Kurt and myself had discussed making the suit somewhat like a stealth bomber where it was visible or not as much depending on the light. I actually don't recall if it was John or Larry's suggestion but we all melded together often. We made 45 in total. For stunts, to age, for movement, for wet and of course the multiple Hero looks. His leather coat was a throwback to German WW
II (World War II) as well as his boots.

Cuervo's (Jones) (George Corraface) original helmet was an Aztec design made of crushed glass from car headlights and his coat was a faded out doorman coat from the Bel Air hotel with the sleeves cut off. 

The Saigon Shadows costumes were made from old furniture blankets we thought they might have found on the Queen Mary and the net shirts were reminiscent of the fishing nets in Saigon. 

Pam Grier's (Hershe) one costume was supposed to be the gold curtains torn down from the QM (Queen Mary) and she always had a sock stuffed you know where cause she was a transvestite. She grew hair under her arms for the part!!!

What kind of challenges did this project provide to you and did you encounter any problems making over one thousand costumes for the movie? For example, which costumes were the hardest to come up with, create or gather material for?

Kurt's stealth costume was probably the hardest because we had to invent the material and resources available today, were not then.

Shooting as many nights as we did was also difficult because we were continuing to have costume fitting during the day as well as building thousands of costumes.

How was the experience working with the cast and crew and what went on behind the scenes? Did you ever get any funny reactions or comments from actors or extras wearing your costumes and is it true that Pam Grier's (Hershe) dress was bothersome for instance?


Which costume or costumes are you the most proud of and which ones were the most fun to create?


What's your favorite memory or memories of working on the movie?

I loved the street scenes. I was able to get VERY creative. There were so many strange and surreal looks. The polypropylene hooker, rat man, condom man. We did one scene laughingly called 100 hookers, 100 fantasies. The layers of Larry Paull's design, Gary (B.) Kibbe's lighting, John's direction and the costumes to me as well as the amazing cast we had remain a symphony to this day in the street scenes and through the movie.

I will say that Escape was one of my favorite films I've ever done costume wise and I believe Spirit played into the design ideas. That may sound strange but I honestly don't know how we came up with so many different and complex costumes. I had an amazing costume department. Steve (Steven) Loomis, the Costume Designer on Escape From New York came out of retirement to run the workroom. I had at least a half dozen costumers with me who were also costume designers but agreed to work as costumers for the film. My crew was truly the best there was from the aging, dying, construction to the set. Top Notch. The amount of costumes that had to be custom made was huge in the short time frame we had but somehow it happened.

What do you think of the movie personally?


What are you currently doing and what do enjoy doing in your spare time?

I mentor young costume designers today, play piano, guitar, hike, travel and spend a lot of time with family and friends enjoying life to the fullest. I also am involved in the spiritual arts.

Thank you for your time, Robin.

Costume Budget Breakdown (PDF) (838 KB) (3 Pages)

Source: Production Book