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Behind The Fashion And Beauty Of Gregg Araki’s Nowhere, 25 Years Later

The film has long been inspiring artists and designers since its 1997 release.

by Marie Lodi

It’s been 25 years since Gregg Araki’s film, Nowhere, was released to the world. A hard-to-find indie film then, and a hard-to-find, queer cult classic now, Nowhere was the third and final movie in Araki’s teenage apocalypse trilogy. One that the director himself would describe as “Beverly Hills, 90210 on acid” (fitting as there are several actors in it who also appeared on the ‘90s teen drama).

Nowhere follows a group of teens with names like Dark, Lucifer, Montgomery, Egg, and Dingbat, who are all going to a party thrown by someone named Jujyfruit, and all of the nihilistic, sex-filled, disturbingly violent adventures they engage in along the way, which also includes an alien invasion, if that wasn’t enough. It featured a cast of up-and-coming actors at the time, including Ryan Philippe, Mena Suvari, Heather Graham, and a fresh-off-The Craft Rachel True, as well as an assortment of wild cameos from ‘70s sitcom actors.

Nowhere’s surreal and hyper-saturated visuals were just as ahead of its time as its themes. One scene had Araki’s muse, James Duval, standing in front of a mural of his own image pointing a gun at his head, wearing an American flag-themed towel wrapped around his waist, while another had Rachel True standing in front of a neon polka-dotted wall wearing overalls painted in the same manner. The costumes, which were by SaraJane Slotnick, range from graphic tank dresses, bedazzled crop tops, and snakeskin minis, to oversized tees, bustiers paired with jeans, and assorted club kid attire. Most of the characters had brightly-colored hair, courtesy of hair and makeup artist Jason Rail, who began posting behind-the-scenes Polaroids from the film on Instagram several years ago, as well as other Araki movies he worked on, like 1995’s Doom Generation (yes, he was behind Rose McGowan’s iconic bob hairdo) and 2003’s Splendor.

Although Nowhere’s costumes and makeup can easily fit in with today’s hodgepodge of throwback beauty and fashion trends, the film has long been inspiring artists and designers since its 1997 release. Jeremy Scott referenced the movie in his Fall 2011 collection, while Araki fans Carol Lim and Humberto Leon enlisted the director to shoot a Nowhere-inspired short film for Kenzo’s Fall 2015 campaign. Heaven by Marc Jacobs’s 2020 debut was filled with Araki images, mainly from his film Totally F***ed Up, though the designer held a screening of Nowhere to celebrate the line’s launch.

Below, Slotnick and Rail break down some of the most memorable fashion and beauty looks in the film and talk about the impact Nowhere has had after all these years.

What are some memories of working on Nowhere that stand out?

SaraJane Slotnick: I just rewatched it and I forgot that I’m actually in it. There was the gang, the Ataris, and I’m one of them. I had made these Atari costumes out of silver lamé, and one of the women that was supposed to wear them was the model Jenny Shimizu, and she just didn’t show up. So Gregg was like, you’re gonna put that on, And I was like, okay. And then I’m in the car drinking vodka. That was me.

Jason Rail: That was the first time I ever had a panic attack on a job because I was so overwhelmed. Literally, no matter what the actual actor’s hair was, Gregg wanted it the opposite for the film. So if it was straight and brown, he wanted to go blonde and curly. For me, as an up-and-coming hair and makeup person in Hollywood, I was so excited for the opportunity. But like I said, I had a panic attack because I needed to dye Heather Graham’s hair dark, and she was kind of establishing herself back then and was blonde in Drugstore Cowboy. And I kept getting calls from her management saying, ‘Please don’t color her hair.’ And I’m like, talk to the director, I’m just doing my job. But being naive and trying to make everybody happy, I just decided, oh, I’ll have a panic attack. But other people were super into it. Like we had to dye Christina Applegate’s hair a sort of reddish-brown. And she was so into it. She hated being a blonde all the time, because she could never get out of character. She always had to be Kelly Bundy [from Married With Children].

How collaborative was each look? Was Gregg involved a lot?

S.S.: Gregg was probably, by far, the top collaborator that I’ve ever worked with. What you see on screen, all those ideas came from him, and I just carried them out. He’s just brilliant. He would just say, OK, Mel’s gonna be in overalls. And I want them to match the wallpaper. What do you got for me? And then Egg’s dress, he insisted that it be hand-sewn with tiny flowers. So I sewed 300 of them on four dresses. He’s just an incredible genius when it comes to ideas and collaboration.

J.R.: He definitely had an eye, and he drew me pictures of every single character. So I had one page of Polaroids of what the actor really looked like. And then the next page was a drawing of what the texture and the length and the kind of style of the hair and makeup that he wanted. During pre-production, I was the only person there, I did everybody’s hair. I had to bleach and color the hair, and Kathleen Robertson was the only one who couldn't change her hair because she was still filming Beverly Hills, 90210. And Gregg was very specific and wanted Lucifer to have purple hair. So I had to get a human hair wig that was just bleached to high heaven and then we dyed it purple. Sometimes it would get really hot, and she would sweat and you could see little purple rivers going down her neck, so that was another cause of panic. I would be like, ‘Purple wig!’ That was like an alarm.

Let’s talk about some of the film’s most famous looks, starting with the scene with the Valley girls, which were played by Rose McGowan, Traci Lords, and Shannen Doherty.

J.R.: That was literally the very first day, so that was kind of a great way to start the shoot. They all had their real hair in the front and then it was just wigs on the back. But I was sort of just making fun of that Moon Unit Zappa song, “Valley Girl.” And it just went with how Sarah had their clothes with tutus and the bright colors. The way it was shot was so memorable, just to have these three girls together. And then the irony, since there would be issues with Shannen and Rose because of Charmed later on. Of course, Gregg was the one that decided they would have the retainers. So at the end, when they get zapped by the lizard monster, the only thing that’s left are the retainers sitting on the bench. I thought that was kind of clever. Gregg really does spend a lot of time thinking about those details.

How about the “What Ever” girls?

S.S.: That was me, the “What Ever” came from me. For the [ideas for the costumes], some of it came from me, and all of it was made by me, except for a couple pieces from like the dominatrix place or Urban Outfitters. Like, I didn’t make Christina Applegate’s cat shirt, but every character was explained to me, and then I facilitated Gregg’s ideas. If I had just bought a pair of overalls, and put them on Mel in the room with dots, it was definitely his idea. Gregg is really an incredible collaborator, and me being able to facilitate some crazy ideas. There were certain things where he was very insistent what he wanted and certain things where he let me just do it, and the “What Ever” was part of that, but I really don't want to take away any credit from him because he's incredible. His brain…

J.R.: At that point, I think that was towards the end of filming and people were tired, so I kind of got to play with them. And I was thinking about the group the B-52s and just being silly.

With the dominatrixes, which were played by Debi Mazar and Chiara Mastroianni, I always think of Sugar and Spice in Batman Forever, especially since Debi Mazar was also Spice. They had a similar look. Was that just a coincidence? Or was there any kind of inspiration behind that?

S.S.: That was a coincidence, because basically, it was black and white, good and bad, you know, sweet and sour. It was very, in a weird way, straightforward. But when it came to the actual costume and the pieces, Debi’s not the type of person to put on just anything. She wanted to wear Thierry Mugler, and I had like, $5,000, so it was a really incredible push. I’ve been doing this 32 years now, and that was really just the beginning of my career. And I learned that certain people need different things. And it pushes you in a positive way to reach deeply into yourself because she wouldn’t wear just something from Melrose. It had to be really high-end and really beautiful. I got that outfit from a dominatrix place, But it worked out. I think everyone was really happy.

There were really so many cameos and up-and-coming actors.

J.R.: It was interesting because a lot of those actors that were in Nowhere were just kids. Like Ryan Philippe. And Mena Suvari was 16 and in Catholic school. Her mother would drive her. And then Debi Mazar, it was so amazing to work with her but I was so nervous because she used to be Madonna’s makeup artist. And I had worked with people in New York who had just recently worked with her and spoke very highly of her, but were like, you know, you better be on your game, because she’s not going to let you get away with any kind of sloppiness. But it was great to work with her and Chiara Mastroianni, whose father was in all of the Fellini movies, and her mom is Catherine Deneuve.

Do you remember any of the beauty products you used back then?

J.R.: Makeup For Ever Liquid Gold on Rachel True’s eyelids. And I forget the name, it was a brown MAC lipstick that we used for her. I also had this fairy pink sparkly powder that was also Makeup For Ever that I used on Mena Suvari. I used to get sponsored by MAC so a lot of the other girls have a lot of MAC makeup, but the more special, colorful stuff was usually Make Up For Ever. And that’s when I discovered the NARS highlighter stick, Copacabana. Oh my god. That was always on the clavicles and cheekbones, on the bridge of the nose. And sometimes I would put a dab just on the center of the lips to make the lip look a little fuller. I was also using a lot of Stila lip gloss.

Nowhere has achieved cult status over the years. What are your thoughts on how the film has inspired younger generations?

J.R.: When Euphoria first came out and I hadn’t seen it yet, I got a couple of phone calls and emails from people saying, ‘Euphoria reminds me of Nowhere.’ And I was like, really, well, that’s interesting. And then when I saw it, I could kind of see how in some aspects, like with the makeup and hair, that the person who did that could have watched Nowhere and been inspired or was just, you know, being more alternative.

I do get a lot of DMs on my Instagram from people who felt like they didn’t fit in, and they were outsiders — and to be able to see characters in the movie with different-colored hair or wearing weird shoes, they can relate to that. It made them feel sort of comforted knowing that like, oh, there’s others like me out there. Sometimes people want to fit in even if they know they don’t. And so I think this gives them that weird sort of wiggle room to be a part of something. Nowhere sort of does that because there’s not one type of weirdo. There’s all sorts of different people that you can relate to, and then to see them all together as a group, it’s kind of nice.