In early September 2009, my then 7-year-old son came up to me and announced that he wanted to be Gene Simmons for Halloween. As a longtime KISS fan, I was very proud of him for his excellent taste, and I immediately knew that of all the costumes that Gene has worn over the years, the 1976 Destroyer Tour costume is the most iconic look, and therefore the only choice for an awesome Halloween costume. Unfortunately, with its spiked armor, leather bat wings, studded codpiece and thigh-high scaly dragon-headed platform boots, it is also the most complicated to replicate on the shoestring budget I had at my disposal. Resolving to make as much of it as possible out of materials I had on hand or could find cheap or free, I set out to gather my materials.
First of all, let me apologize up front for the lack of in-process pictures. I totally spaced picture-taking in the mad rush to build this costume, so all of the shots are taken after the fact. I have tried to capture as much detail as possible in the pics, and to be extra desciptive in the text when necessary. I think the finished product is worth presenting anyway, and I promise to take more pics of any future builds I do.
That said, let's build a costume!
Step 1: You Will Need...
One set of football shoulder pads
3 or 4 five gallon plastic buckets (get gray or silver ones if you can) - food grade or unused is best
Sculpey or other oven-bake polymer clay
2 long black shoelaces
2 strips of black leather approx. 12" x 3"
Black nylon web strap - about 2 yds
Black industrial strength sticky-back Velcro- about a yard, 3/4" wide
Papier-mache (make your own, or buy pre-made from the craft store)
Plaster bandage - 2 rolls
1/2 yard of black vinyl or pleather
One yard black ripstop nylon
Approx. 120 Quilter's thumbtacks
Two packages of iron-on silver studs
scrap of corrugated cardboard about 5" square
Old pair of black jeans
Two black heavy-duty zippers about the same length as the legs of the jeans
Pair of thick-soled zip-up boots with heel (or real platform boots if you prefer)
4-6 large sheets of stiffened craft felt in black or gray
3 sheets of floppy craft felt in black
Small package of red sequins
2-3 empty plastic gallon-sized milk jugs
Old clothesline, rope or cord - various thicknesses
One can flat black Krylon Fusion spray paint
Three cans silver (Hammered Metal) Krylon Fusion spray paint
One small can of silver shoe paint or vinyl paint
One jar black enamel model paint
One jar silver enamel model paint
One small jar red enamel model paint
Pop rivets and washers in Short, Medium and Long lengths
High-temp hot glue
Amazing Goop or Craft Goop
Ten Phillips head wood screws - 1" long
14 machine screws - 1" long - and matching hex nuts
Fine grit wet/dry sandpaper
Medium grit sandpaper
Jig saw with fine-toothed blade
Pop rivet tool
High-temp glue gun
Sewing machine w/ black thread
Leather sewing awl w/mblack thread
Drill and assortment of bits
Phillips screwdriver or screw bit for the drill
Leather punch set
Grommet setter and black grommets
Paint brushes for enamel model paints
Step 2: Start the Armor
After a round of dumpster diving, I found a stack of 5-gallon plastic soy sauce buckets behind a Chinese restaurant, and those were the raw material for the rest of the armor.
The upper and lower arms, breastplates, abdomen plates, yoke covers and collar pieces were cut out of bucket plastic with a jigsaw and sanded lightly. I probably could have gotten away without the breastplates and yoke covers, but I wanted the armor to look as little like football pads as I could manage, and I had a whole lot of buckets. (TIP: Cut the armor pieces so that the curve of the bucket follows the curve of the armor piece. Bending the plastic against its molded curve is a royal pain.)
I used a heat gun to help the arm pieces retain the proper curve. Simply heat carefully to soften the plastic, bend into shape(use gloves), dunk in cold water to set the new shape, repeat as necessary.
Step 3: Armor Cont'd
Once the pieces were formed, I test-fit everything together by drilling holes for pop rivets, but I used paper brads instead, so I could take it all apart for painting. The shoulder caps were hung from the existing straps in the shoulder yoke using their existing rivet holes, but I moved them lower onto the straps so that they would hang more "down" than "sticking out". I also reversed the sides they hung on so that any remaining embossing would be in the back instead of the front.
The upper arm pieces were suspended from the shoulder yoke by short pieces of black nylon web strap, and the lower arms were attached to the upper arms the same way. The abdomen plates were similarly suspended from the front of the yoke, under the breastplates so the rivets wouldn’t show. The yoke covers and breastplates were riveted directly to the shoulder yoke.
While I was drilling, I also drilled through the existing lace holes on the yoke and into the breastplates so that the armor could lace up in the front.
Step 4: Make Spikes. Lots of Spikes.
To make the spikes, I made a mold out of some milk jug plastic by drawing 4 triangles connected to each other along a side, cutting the resulting shape out of the milk jug, folding along the lines of the triangles and taping the edge closed, leaving me with a hollow plastic pyramid-thingy. My spikes were about 1" square at the base and 2" tall. Then I pressed the Sculpey into the mold, inserted the machine screw, leveled the bottom, and carefully removed the spike. Repeat 15 more times, omitting the machine screw for the last two. The two screwless spikes are used for the gloves in a later step.)
I drilled holes in the armor pieces for the spike's machine screws in the appropriate locations (2 for each forearm and shoulder cap, one for each upper arm, chest front and back) and installed the machine screws through the holes with a dab of Amazing Goop and a hex nut for each one.
Because I had not made the spikes to exactly fit the curve of their corresponding armor piece, there was a slight gap at the base of the spike, which I covered with a bead of high temp hot glue to simulate a weld line (this detail occurs on the real Gene Simmons’ costume as well, so it’s not really a cheat).
Step 5: Paint and Assemble the Armor
Once the paint had cured, I assembled the whole thing using pop rivets in the rivet holes I had drilled earlier, and some more hot glue to “weld” the edges of the collar pieces in place. The paint got a little bit chipped from the riveting process, but this was easily touched up with a bit more spray paint along with the hot glue on the collar.
Step 6: The Spiked Gloves
Step 7: The Codpiece (or, Cod of Thunder)
I cut a five inch wide belt out of the vinyl, about ten inches longer than my son’s waist measurement, sewed the pouch to the bottom center of the belt and hemmed the edges.
I then cut a four-inch circle of heavy cardstock for the codpiece medallion, Gooped it to a six-inch circle of vinyl, turned the edges under and Gooped them down to the back of the circle. (TIP: When sewing or covering things with heavy fabrics like vinyl, use scissors to snip the fabric every half inch or so perpendicular to any curved seams or fold lines. Snip almost but not quite all the way up to the seam line. This will result in much smoother curves when the seam or fold is finished.)
When the glue dried, I used a sewing awl to sew the circle to the center front of the codpiece belt, with about two inches of the circle above the beltline. Even though I only really needed to sew the bottom half of the circle to the belt, I sewed all the way around the circle to give it a more finished look.
Then I measured the belt to just short of my son’s waist measurement, folded the excess length to the inside, and sewed a seam about a half inch back from the fold, making a little doubled-over tab on each side of the belt. Using a leather punch, I punched five holes in each tab and installed black metal grommets in the holes so that the codpiece could lace up in the back with a black shoelace (if you’re not feeling grommetty, Velcro would also work). The excess vinyl was cut off of one side, but left on the other side to use as a “tongue” under the lacing.
I then sewed a black elastic strap I had salvaged from the shoulder pads to the bottom point of the crotch. My strap had come with a little slide buckle which had been riveted onto the shoulder pads, so I just put the codpiece onto my son, marked the bottom center of the tongue in the lace opening, and riveted the buckle to the tongue. This made an adjustable crotch strap to help hold the codpiece in place.
In order to protect the boy’s skin from all of the thumbtack points, I just cut some black felt to line the inside of the codpiece and used Amazing Goop to glue it in place. I figured that the Goop would also help to anchor the tack points into the codpiece so the “studs” wouldn’t fall out, and it seems to have worked. The Cod of Thunder was complete.
Step 8: The Bat Wings
I used a large serving bowl to mark the scallops along the bottom edge of the wings and then cut the shapes out.
I sewed the two sides of each wing together along the cut edges, leaving a 1 inch gap at the top on both sides.
I turned the wings right side out, threaded a piece of nylon web strap through the gaps at the top, and sewed the gaps closed, leaving a couple inches of strap sticking out of each side.
I folded the strap over and sewed a small loop in each end of the strap right at the end of the wing, cutting off the excess strap.
I threaded a “Quick Link” D-ring connector through each loop.
I also sewed a line of black thread from the point of each wing scallop to the opposite corner, just to enhance the batwing look.
To finish the wings, I used a line of silver iron-on studs along the black thread lines I had just sewn. I only used studs on the front side of each wing. Technically, there should have been a matching line of studs on the back, but I didn’t have enough studs to do both sides.
To attach the wings to the armor, I riveted a picture hanger loop (usually found screwed to the back of a picture frame, but I bought mine at Lowe’s) to each wrist and each shoulder blade and hung the wings on using the D-ring connectors on the nylon strap. Wings done.
Step 9: Scaly Legs
I decided instead to use stiff felt.
I made a base for the scales by cutting the legs off of an old pair of my son’s black jeans that he had outgrown, opening the outside seam, measuring from his ankle to a couple of inches above his knee, and hemming the top edges at that measurement.
I then installed heavy-duty black parka zippers along the opened outside seam to close the legs back up. My zippers were a couple of inches longer than they needed to be, so I put them in with the excess length at the top of the jeans leg so that the leftover zipper could be tucked in at the top to hide it. As it turned out, this extra zipper made them easier to get zipped up anyway, as it served as a place to grip while zipping.
Then I made the scales. I bought six large sheets of stiff craft felt (black, because the store didn’t have grey) and marked out rows of scales picket-fence style. I figured that it would be easier to sew on a few rows of scales connected together at the bottom than to try and sew on a gazillion individual scales.
Gene’s real boots have three different sizes of scales, so I made mine that way too. The large scales were 2 ½” wide x 3” tall, the medium ones were 2” x 3”, and the small ones were 1 ½” x 3”. After all the rows of scales were cut out (6 lg, 10 med, 8 sm), I added a little dimension by running a bead of hot glue along the curved top edge of each scale.
The rows of scales were then dipped into a 50/50 mixture of white glue and water (for extra stiffness and paint adhesion), and hung outside to drip dry.
When dry, I painted the front and back of each row with more Krylon Fusion Hammered Metal paint, trying to leave the scales a little darker in the center and brighter on the edges. If I had an airbrush, I would have darkened the center of the scales with black paint as a separate step after the silver base coat, but I don’t have an airbrush, so I just did my best with the silver paint.
Once all the paint had dried, I sewed each row to the jeans legs, starting at the top with the first row of large scales hanging over the top of the jeans leg by an inch and a half or so. One straight stitch across the bottom of the row was all it took. My sewing machine was not happy about sewing glued and spray painted felt to a jeans leg, but I eventually made it through. I overlapped the scales in an offset pattern for maximum coverage and to hide the previous row’s stitching. Gene’s real boots have been made (at different times) with both offset scales and straight-up-and-down columns of scales, so I just picked the pattern I liked best.
I then trimmed off the excess scales at the zipper line, and the scaly part of the boots was finished.
After my son had worn them a few times, I noticed that they tended to "settle" down to knee level, so I hot-glued a strip of leftover stiff felt inside each one along the shinbone area to help keep the scales from slumping.
Step 10: Dragon Head Boots
Anyway, due to my lovely and intelligent wife’s totally valid and well-considered concerns, real platform boots were off the table. I would have to get creative. I didn’t want the dragons to have itty-bitty short teeth due to the low soles, so the obvious solution was to build a false platform shell. My son’s actual foot would be inside the platform instead of on top of it, giving us the look of high soles and the safety of regular soles at the same time.
We went to Goodwill and found a pair of zip-up boots with enough sole thickness in front to attach things to ( ¾ inch), and enough heel to add just a bit of height (2 ½ inches).
Back at home, I started looking around for materials to make the platform shells, and eventually settled on old gallon milk jugs from the recycle bin.
I cut a four-inch-wide strip from around the center of the jug to wrap around the front of the boot, and secured it in place with a staple gun, then trimmed it to the contours of the sole. A piece from the side corner/rounded bottom of the jug was fit into place as the toe of the boot. At this point, it looked like a translucent white Frankenstein shoe.
Other pieces of the jug were used as details: a roughly triangular piece from the creased bottom corner of the jug made a serviceable nose and flared nostrils; the bottom of the jug yielded a nasal ridge; small curved bits from near the top of the jug made eyebrow ridges. After fitting all the pieces, I took it all apart, traced my cut pieces onto a second jug and cut out another set.
Then both boot covers were assembled permanently using hot glue.
The plastic base was covered with three layers of plaster bandage and left to dry. I then added more details. The eyes were made from miniature plastic Christmas balls broken in half with pliers. The brow ridges, eyelids, lip line and teeth were bulked in using old nylon ropes from the storage shed. All the pieces were hot glued into place and then covered with another three layers of plaster bandage. The bandage was covered in a thick layer of papier-mache, and the final details were sculpted in by hand, then sanded smooth when dry. NOTE: The papier mache shells were pretty easy to ding up. If I were to do something like this again, I'd use fiberglass cloth or Bondo to give the shells a little more toughness.
The spaces between the teeth and the nostrils were painted with Testor’s black enamel model paint, and I mixed a gunmetal color from black and silver enamel to darken the creases between the brow ridges and around the eyes.
The eyes themselves were base-painted with red enamel, then covered with red sequins one at a time using super glue and a straight pin.
Finally, the shells were attached to the boot soles with wood screws in the black spaces between the teeth, the screwheads were touched up with black paint, and the dragon heads were done.
Step 11: The Accessories
The base of the costume was just a long-sleeve black tee shirt and a pair of his Mom’s black tights (A black unitard would have been more accurate, but this stuff was free). We added a studded choker from the Halloween store and a cheap black “Rocker” wig styled into the traditional Simmons topknot (and with the faux Jheri curls brushed out) and that was the costume. Except for the makeup….
Step 12: The Makeup
The only real trick to the makeup is to apply the white first in the general areas where it goes, and powder it heavily with baby powder to set it. Then sketch in the black areas with an eyeliner pencil and fill them in. If you are using budget makeup, it is a good idea to remove any stray white makeup from the black areas with a Q-tip before filling in with black, to avoid making gray. If you are using professional theatrical makeup, you can probably skip this step.
Powder the black areas heavily with baby powder (an old sock full of powder works very well for this), remove any excess powder with a soft makeup brush, and you’re ready to Rock & Roll All Nite!
Step 13: The Results
As is undoubtedly apparent, this was a labor of love on my part. It was challenging and messy to work on: being covered in plastic sawdust, spray paint and glue is not the most pleasant thing I can think of offhand. Parts of the project made me want to pull my hair out, such as figuring out how to fit the collar onto the armor.
That said, this was an unbelievably rewarding project due to all the joy my son got out of it. He loved all the attention he got, especially winning the costume contest downtown on Halloween night. If you’re looking for something challenging that’ll grab a lot of attention on Halloween, and you don’t mind devoting a few weekend days to building it, the Gene Simmons Destroyer costume is totally worth the effort.