Without the creative work of Madera native Allison Leach, the next superhero to hit the big screen, Max Steel, would have been max naked. Leach is the costume designer for the feature film based on the popular Mattel toy and that includes creation of the super suit for the hero, as well as the selection of all of the other clothing seen in the movie.
Leach started working on “Max Steel” in 2013. She says getting the right look for the Max Steel costume was a major collaboration between the filmmakers and Mattel executives. “Max Steel” is a line of action figures from the company that has been around since 1997. There have been two animated series and nine direct-to-video animated films before this live-action offering.
“Communication is one of the biggest parts of my job,” Leach says. “I was communicating between Mattel and their wishes, our director, our production designer, the stunts coordinator. I had to worry about every last millimeter of the actor’s body and the suit itself.
“Then I also had to work with the manufacturer of the suit, Legacy EFX.”
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Along with the upcoming feature film, Leach has worked on a variety of projects, including TV, such as “Mad Men,” “Glee,” “John from Cincinnati” and “H+.” Movie credits include “Black Moon” and “The Last House on the Left.” Mixed with this has been work on theater productions and music videos.
Her dream job would be to work on “Outlander.” That would be a little bit of the universe coming together since Leach’s father, Tim Leach, graduated from Chowchilla High, the same school that produced “Outlander” creator Ronald Moore.
The family walnut farm that Leach grew up on in the Madera Ranchos area is a long way from the Hollywood world that Leach lives in these days. She’s sitting in an overstuffed chair in the lobby of her apartment building that was once used by Paramount Studios to house its biggest stars. Leach’s apartment was once the home of silent-film star Clara Bow.
Most of her time growing up on the farm owned by her dad and mom, Linda Leach, was spent with chores, but she did find time to plant the seeds of what would eventually become her career. Leach’s mother gave her a dress-up chest, and she would spend hours mixing and matching the wardrobe items for herself or any friends who came to visit.
She also got a lot of exposure to color, design and textures through Fashion Crossroads, the dress shop her grandmother, Bernice Leach, owned and operated in Madera.
“From being in the shop, I got introduced to fashion of manufactured clothes. My other grandmother (Barbara Robins) was a quilter, and she taught me how to sew,” Leach says.
Those backgrounds started to come into play while Leach was at Clovis West High. That’s where she discovered she had an interest in drama – both acting and stage management. Leach loved the idea of being part of a collaborative project that would continue through the years as she worked on theater, film and TV projects.
She continued to cultivate her passions at the University of Washington, majoring in drama and women’s studies.
“I discovered costume design in undergrad, and I thought it was really fun. I wasn’t sure that it could be a career until I graduated,” Leach says.
Leach had found her career path but wanted to improve her skills in pattern making and sewing, so she went to Paris and Holland for three years to study. The biggest lesson she learned while abroad was to lose her “American eye.” Exposure to the culture and fashions in Europe expanded her fashion vision from what she had cultivated before traveling.
Her fashion sense began to go from being safe and happy to being darker and more brutal. She had a much broader view of fashion as art.
“That really helped me, particularly in creating the Max Steel suit. There’s something dangerous about it. I like using a mix of prints and bright colors when it’s appropriate. But, with the Max Steel suit, we only had black and white,” Leach says. “Then it becomes how much luminosity should there be.
“You learn there are a million shades of white and a million shades of black.”
The variations of black and white finally selected went into making only three Max Steel suits. One of the suits was a little more flexible, a necessity for the sequences where the hero goes flying through the air.
They all have a very dramatic look.
“In creating a suit, it has to be very theatrical in a way,” Leach says. “You need major impact in an instant. The minute you look at it, it has to be iconic. The director kept saying if you showed this to a child, could they draw it?
“The suit is a very complicated thing but could not be so complicated that a child couldn’t do a simple drawing of it. That was great direction.”
Steel’s suit was just a small part of the costume work that Leach did on the film. She was responsible for every stitch of clothing, from the background actors to the main players. Each look was a mix of purchased clothing or original creations.
Leach couldn’t make up her mind whether the everyday wardrobe for the film’s hero should include a leather jacket, hoodie, letterman jacket or jean jacket. She ended up mixing the three.
Her job requires her to work closely with the teams doing the hair styling and makeup so that a performer’s look is correct from head to toe. She laughs and says it is surprising how much money is spent on shoes when generally the camera never goes lower than the actor’s chest. Her philosophy is to spend the majority of money on the upper half of dressing an actor.
All of her work will be on display in “Max Steel,” which is set to open Friday, Oct. 14.
But Leach isn’t sitting around waiting for the opening as it has been a busy week for her working as an assistant to the costume designer on the new Ryan Murphy short-run series, “Feud.” The only thing Leach is allowed to say is that it deals with the battle between Joan Crawford and Bette Davis as played by Jessica Lange and Susan Sarandon.