LISA FRANKENSTEIN Costume Designer Talks Capturing The '80s Goth Teen Dream

Learn how designer Meagan McLaughlin drew from her own Gen X youth to make the edgy fashions feel authentic.

By Abbey Bender · @Abbey_Bender · February 7, 2024, 4:11 PM EST

The costumes of Diablo Cody movies, from the "indie sleaze" sweatshirts and knee socks of Juno to the subversively girly heart prints and miniskirts of Jennifer's Body, are some of the most enduring sartorial creations of the aughts.

The clothes her characters wear are just as poppy, funny, and memorable as her signature sassy dialogue, and her latest movie, Lisa Frankenstein (directed by Zelda Williams in her feature debut), carries on the streak of playful style. Set in 1989, the horror-comedy centers on the creepy yet cute relationship between Lisa (Kathryn Newton), a high-school misfit, and the Creature (Cole Sprouse), an undead Victorian gentleman.

Lisa Frankenstein is filled to the brim with '80s style (the Creature's coming to life even involves a questionable tanning bed in a neon-hued room), and watching Lisa increasingly embrace her dark side through fashion is sure to resonate with any viewer who's ever had a goth phase.

While there are plenty of acid-washed jeans, colorful leotards, ruffled collars, and other '80s staples onscreen, Lisa's lacey, moody gothic dresses are the stars of the show.

FANGORIA spoke to Lisa Frankenstein's costume designer, Meagan McLaughlin, who previously worked on horror films like 10 Cloverfield Lane and Happy Death Day, about the art of capturing over-the-top fashion, bringing her personal memories of the era to the film, and the enduring influence of '80s icons like Madonna and Winona Ryder.

lisa frankenstein

How did you come to work on this movie?

My agent sent me the script, and I think I had less than twenty-four hours to read it and then be interviewed for it. From the moment I started reading it, I knew it was for me. The script described the Creature as Buster Keaton-esque, and I named my daughter Keaton after Buster Keaton, so that was a sign for me.

Lisa Frankenstein Meagan McLaughlin Inspiration Board

And all of Diablo's mentions of '80s things were just amazing to me. When I got to the dream sequence, I stopped reading and just started drawing. I sent the rendering of the dream sequence dress for my interview, and I've never been hired for a job so fast in my life. I just think the stars aligned.

Lisa Frankenstein Pabst Dress Dream Sequence Meagan McLaughlin Original Sketch

What's your personal relationship to '80s fashion? Did you grow up during that era?

Yes. This was the ultimate movie because Diablo and I are around the same age, and my assistant designer is as well. We were all putting our own little tidbits of growing up in the '80s in the movie.

A few of Lisa's costumes are directly taken from my personal wardrobe and pictures of me in the '80s — like at the grave site when she's wearing an autumn-colored button-down with a brooch and shorts and a woven belt and penny loafers. That was based on something I wore.

How much of the fashion was written into the screenplay?

All the band T-shirts [among them Violent Femmes and Bauhaus frontman Peter Murphy] were for sure a moment in the script. The script also mentioned Lisa's Blossom hat, and her 'slutty pirate' outfit. As a costume designer, it really helps you with the character if the writer and creator of these characters sees them in a specific way, and you want to complete that vision.

Lisa Frankenstein Meagan McLaughlin Inspiration Board

Were most of the costumes vintage?

The band shirts are all vintage, and fortunately, my assistant designer and I have a large vintage kit, and the majority of it is from the '80s. I also shopped on Etsy, eBay, Depop, and Mercari, searching for what I wanted.

For me, a lot of this time period was about brands like Esprit, Benetton, Banana Republic, Outback Red, Z Cavaricci, and Girbaud. I also have a lot of runway fashion on my mood boards and looked at Jean Paul Gaultier and Alexander McQueen, but then tried to keep the looks in that '80s era with a lot of layers.

Did you look at any particular '80s movies for costume inspiration?

Winona Ryder is a huge influence for me in that period, and we were absolutely inspired by her costumes in Beetlejuice and Heathers. I had taken a screenshot from Heathers of Winona in a gray top with a black skirt with suspenders, and that inspired one of Lisa's looks, but we had to leave the suspenders hanging for movement.drem

I also looked at movies like Say Anything and Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure. I would watch movies from 1989 strictly for the background to make sure we weren't doing a caricature of that time period and were capturing it as it was.

What about '80s music?

I am a big Depeche Mode fan and was listening to them a lot at the time. I was obsessed with Madonna in 1984, and you don't grow out of that obsession. There's a hint of Madonna-esque Like a Virgin fashion in there.

What are some of the specific considerations you have to make when costuming a horror film?

I've done quite a few horror movies, but I think because this one is a campy 'Zom-Com,' you want to keep it light. Sometimes in horror films, you'll notice a lot of the wardrobe is muted and not part of the story, whereas in this, it doesn't take a backseat.

You have to consider being able to see blood, and if you pick dark costumes, I don't know that it'll necessarily show up so well, so that's something you always think about. It was very important for Zelda to have us stay within the color palette.

Lisa Frankenstein Kathryn Newton

What was it like capturing Lisa's transition from straitlaced looks to goth ones?

It was really fun. You have to do a fine line of it not being too costume-y because as you can see, the pirate dress wouldn't necessarily have been in Lisa's wardrobe because that's not who she was.

It had to be something that possibly was a Halloween costume but didn't look like one.

What was the biggest challenge you faced costuming this movie?

The dream sequence was the true challenge for me. I personally hand-painted the dress Lisa wears, and it took weeks to do because I was in and out of the office and running around to set. I did that myself, and I'm very proud of it.

Lisa Frankenstein is only in theaters February 9. Check out more of Meagans BTS photos of her costume designs and mood boards below.

Lisa Frankenstein costume Pabst Dress Meagan McLaughlin

Lisa Frankenstein Creature costume Meagan McLaughlin