Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Inspiring Orlando: Designers Flock to See Elaborate Costumes

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Inspiring Orlando: Designers Flock to See Elaborate Costumes

Article excerpt

FASHION IS ALWAYS looking to the past for inspiration. And smart designers have already started flocking to the movie "Orlando" for their next season's homework.

As usual, Karl Lagerfeld queued up first.

"He asked me so many questions about the costumes," says Sandy Powell, the costume designer for the film, which is based on the Virginia Woolf novel.

It is one of the season's most talked-about films.

"He'd ask, `What's this fabric?' and `How did you do this?' and how much everything cost," continues Powell about her encounter with Lagerfeld.

"I told him the costumes should have cost three times as much as they did, but my friends in the business sewed them all for me for less because our budget was so low. I wouldn't be surprised if Lagerfeld calls me to ask if they can work for him too," she says, laughing.

"Orlando" is directed by Sally Potter and stars Tilda Swinton as the title character and Quentin Crisp as the Virgin Queen.

The movie received rave reviews in London, as much for its style as for a story that spans 400 years during which the male character becomes a woman.

Potter took seven years to write the script, find the financing and make the film - and she still can barely contain her enthusiasm for the project.

"It is a reverie on immortality," she says. "The story dispatches lightly and wittily with the illusion of sexual and gender differences and concentrates on the essences of the self that are common to both genders. It's a dance through history that is non-nostalgic. It's a real epic."

So was making it. Potter finally got the 2 million pounds ($3 million) for the movie from companies in Italy, France, Holland, the U.K. and the former Soviet Union and spent 10 weeks shooting in England, St. Petersburg and Uzbekistan.

Throughout the film Potter had its stylistic image firmly in her mind, which she then passed on to Powell to interpret in the costumes.

Powell is the designer of the moment. Just before "Orlando," she worked on the film "The Crying Game," which required the crew to give up part of their pay in return for a cut of what the movie made. "We're finally starting to collect." Powell, 33, says, laughing. "Let's hope the checks keep rolling in."

She then joined "Orlando," where the budget was so small she had to recruit design students to help sew the costumes.

Powell meticulously researched the dress of the eras, then went away and drew her own versions.

"I'd become the fashion designer for that century," she says, sitting on a sofa in the offices of her London company. "I knew everything about it - its cut, fabrics and color - and would treat it as if I were doing contemporary clothes. In a way, each film I do is like a mini-collection."

Powell's challenge was to show four centuries of both women's and men's fashions in less than two hours.

Her favorite periods were the most ornate during the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries. Powell said the major difference between the 16th- and 17th-century costumes was the padding.

"Men wore a lot of padding in the 16th century, like the peascod over their stomachs and the codpiece," she says. …

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