Clerks III Costume Designer Allison Pearce Expands The View Askewniverse [Exclusive Interview]

Allison Pearce isn't just a costume designer for "Clerks III." She's also designing for Kevin Smith's View Askewniverse, not to mention Randal's movie-within-a-movie. In a sequel that's largely about the past, Pearce had to do a deep dive into the franchise's history. And as to be expected from any self-referential Kevin Smith film, there are plenty of callbacks and nods to his previous work.

Pearce, who graduated from Parsons the New School for Design, has spent years designing costumes for comedy. She hustled at "Saturday Night Live," learning how to work fast and well. Pearce also worked as a costume designer for the excellent "Black Bear" and notable music videos, including Japanese Breakfast's "Boyish." Recently, the costume designer told us about her experience about working on "Clerks III."

'They all need to work together to make sense on camera in black and white'

What research did the movie-within-a-movie require?

I think that when I read "Clerks III," I knew this was going to be a very research-driven project. I spent a lot of time looking at these digitized screengrabs, a VHS tape of the original 1994 "Clerks" and researching what Dante wore, what Randal wore, what Egg Man wore, all these little walk-on roles that were only in one scene in "Clerks." Those are the people that came back, those are the people in Kevin's world in the View Askewniverse.

I think I approached this one a little differently than most projects. I think for the movie-within-a-movie — I used to work on "Saturday Night Live." I was part of their design team and I learned a lot about the art of parody and how important it is to specifically detail-oriented copy something and recreate something, so that the audience really doesn't see a difference and doesn't see any holes.

Even though the original is black and white, did you still want to stay true to the colors of the costumes in the original?

Yeah, working in black and white is interesting because especially in "Inconvenience," I feel there are a few scenes where you actually see black and white and then we pull back and it's in color. Dante's sweater, Brian O'Halloran tells me that it was a black and white sweater. But at the time when I was doing research, I had no idea what colors it actually was. It looks black and white in "Clerks," so when we made that sweater it's a hand-knit replica. When I started making that, I thought, "Well it doesn't really matter what color it was originally, it just needs to look black and white on camera.

When you work in black and white, nothing's black and white, really. Tones look the same. Yellows and blues often look the same. It's really just about contrast. When I chose the colors for that sweater, yes, it's going to look black and white. But there are different tones — there's cream, there's light gray, dark gray, black, and they all need to work together to make sense on camera in black and white.

Was that a new experience for you, designing costumes for black and white?

I think we did a few "SNL" sketches in black and white. Whenever I do fittings and I know we're going to be shooting in black and white, that's a question I ask the DP, too. I'm like, "How are we shooting this?" If they don't tell me we're shooting in black and white, it's a big deal for me not to know that. I usually shoot fitting photos, I'll shoot it in color and I'll also scale it to black and white using a filter that I think is more realistic to what the tone's going to be. In this instance, I looked at what the black and white version of "Clerks” was because there are so many different ways for that to look, contrast-wise, and me and the DP chose a filter so that we could make sure it was super accurate. 

I don't know if I can think of a specific "SNL" sketch. There was one that we did that was shelved, that was a Hitler Volkswagen commercial. I understand why it was shelved because it was so crazy. It was Hitler through the ages with different Volkswagen vehicles and the early inception one was him in the VW factory in Germany and that was in black and white.

That never saw the light of day. It was the early 1900s, 1950s driving a buggy on Route 1 on PCH and then there was, I think, '70s with the VW van, and then current with the Jetta. It was all these different eras of costumes. No one ever saw it. VW was like, "We changed our mind."

[Laughs] It sounds like a pretty good sketch, I'll say that.

I thought it was really funny and Taran, yeah, he played Hitler. Taran Killam.

'For Jay, it was really challenging to recreate his original 'Clerks' look'

How did the aesthetic choices, especially in the convenience store, influence your choices?

I think that the framing was important in the Quick Stop, and when I worked with [DP] Learan [Kahanov], everything in that location was very tight. All of the shots were basically mediums. We didn't really see full bodies often, especially when they're shooting "Inconvenience." So when I was looking at what Elias wears and all of his different costumes, I mean, we see 20 Elias costumes on camera. They had to be quick beats and they had to read. So that meant I would lean more into big shoulders, like the bonnet that I gave him for his goth baby doll look or really interesting sunglasses. Things that were very graphic and would read very quickly and also maybe don't need to see the full costume right away. You can see a medium and it still reads.

How much do you want to change up Dante and Randal's style? Of course they're older, but there's always that idea of being stuck in the past a bit.

Yes, I think that they have looks. When I came on board to do this project specifically for Dante and Randal, it was continuing their vibe that was already established. It's technically an ongoing story, it's a franchise, so I have to have it make sense. With Randal, he has a lot of graphic T-shirts that are new, things that are easter eggs from past Kevin Smith films. He wears a "Truth or Date" taping T-shirt — that's a "Mallrats" easter egg.

I think when I came on board, Kevin and some artists, collaborators, graphic designers, they had already made a lot of the graphics because everything that's in the Quick Stop, too, is Kevin Smith world. They're all things that have existed in other films that end up back in the Quick Stop. I think there's Mooby's cereal on every aisle and all things like that.

So you're designing not only for a movie, but a filmmaker's universe.

Yes, I think it made me ... I like to think that I'm pretty self-aware when it comes to what I'm doing and hopefully it makes sense to the audience. But I think for this, I was a little more tuned into knowing that people cosplay costumes and characters that are in his films and I need to do the characters justice with "Inconvenience" and even Elias. All those things need to make sense and I think it needs to be relatable for his fans, which are millions and millions of people. So I was definitely thinking about that when I was designing the film.

How about doing Jay and Silent Bob justice?

Well, I think Jay and Silent Bob have looks that are established. For Jay, it was really challenging to recreate his original "Clerks" look. None of those things existed anymore. Some of the actors we had on board kept random costume pieces for 30 years. But for Jay, that was a full recreation.

His hat is a San Jose Sharks hat, and we had to get approval from the team. I think Kevin ended up tweeting at them to get them to agree to use the hat in the movie. Originally, he wears these Asics, they're Gel Saga Asics. I had to figure out how to get those shoes, all these really specific things. When Jay does his dance, he's dancing in this dark peacoat with a hood. Those are all things that also needed to make sense for Jason, the actor. Does this feel right? Does this feel accurate? Does it feel good for your performance, too?

I imagine Silent Bob's coat remains the same?

That's the same. I don't know where they got the original, but there are many, many copies of it. There are a ton of them, and then "Clerks 1," he wears a drug rug underneath it. I think originally that was in the Secret Stash, Kevin's comic book shop in Red Bank, that was on display there. I had to crack it out of a display case for him to wear it, and he also wears a Felix the Cat backwards hat. That was a whole rigmarole to be allowed to do it, and in the end, we couldn't. I just made something for Kevin that said Felix on it. We couldn't even show the original graphic that was in the movie. We tried, but there are a lot of graphics in the original "Clerks" and brands and logos and it's different now. You can't really do that anymore.

Based on my understanding, the way they made "Clerks," he made it just with his friends and family and whatever they were wearing, they were wearing, and it was an indie. It did end up getting purchased, obviously, but I think that he wasn't thinking about it. I guess back then it wasn't such a big deal. It's such a thing now. Everything has to get cleared and everyone has to sign paperwork agreeing to put their brands on camera, and it's like, no one ever [notices the logo] anyway.

'You want to support local businesses and give them props if you can'

Why do you think Silent Bob's coat created such a look people remember?

I think it's the lapel — it doesn't feel the same as a menswear longer overcoat. The lapel kind of feels like an opera coat, it feels different. When I looked at it, too, it's like it was two-toned. It's black and olive green, and I just think it's very special-looking and it also looks very '80s to me, which I feel like has become this weird, timeless, Silent Bob look. I love it.

Even with the extras, how specific did you want the costumes to be for Jersey?

I think there's the use of some local sports teams and local businesses. Whenever I go to a location and if it makes sense to have graphics in the film, if it's contemporary, you want to support local businesses and give them props if you can. I don't remember the store, but there's a shirt that Jay wears that's got a big clown on it. So it's a big happy clown and that's an actual sign that exists in New Jersey. It's a liquor store sign.

There's another shirt that Randal wears that's a coffee house shirt, and that's from the real business. I can't remember the name of it now. There's also a bunch of New Jersey Devils stuff. We worked with the Devils team, and they were so excited because Devils are a big part of the original "Clerks." Randal wears a New Jersey Devils hat. So, the hockey jersey that Jay wears, they let us pull from their stadium and they were really excited to work with us.

It's a great jersey.

They're so good. It looks so good on camera, too — those colors are awesome.

What about the Quick Stop uniforms? What's unique about those?

When I first came on board, Kevin said, "The guys now own the convenience store and they've implemented this uniform that they wear, but they're still wearing it over their personal clothes." So you still see their characters and it was inspired by the Mooby's uniforms in "Clerks 2." So it's kind of got a vintage bowling shirt vibe, not like a yuppy Best Buy polo shirt or anything like that. It's a little more alternative-looking. And then the patch with the logo, that's the actual sign that's outside of the Quick Stop now, and I mean, that's been there for 30 years. That's the same logo.

Since "Saturday Night Live" is famous for its intense schedule, how much of an education was that as a costume designer? You had to move fast, right?

One of my biggest takeaways working there was that I learned to trust my gut a lot more. I did the pre-tape, so all the digital shorts, all the pre-recorded videos. I would get my script Wednesday night, sometimes at 9:00 or 10:00 PM after the table read. Thursday morning, we're prepping, sometimes we're shooting Thursday night, often we're shooting Friday morning. You get 12 hours, and that's, like, nothing. It's a full short film, all of those little pre-tapes.

When I read a script, I have initial reactions for what I think the character should look like, especially if there's input, if there's any indication of what it should look like. I think with "SNL," I was able to hone in on my instincts and just go with those.

"Clerks III" is now available to rent on VOD.