Fashionista on film

Sunday, July 13, 2003

NEW YORK -- Sure, Reese Witherspoon is the star of "Legally Blonde 2: Red, White & Blonde," but a lot of the buzz surrounding the new movie is about its glitzy fashion show.

Witherspoon's sorority-girl-turned-lawyer-turned-Washington-activist character, Elle Woods, wears more than 40 outfits in the 95-minute sequel to the 2001 hot-pink film "Legally Blonde."

The wardrobe is built around a bubble gum-colored skirt suit and pillbox hat that costume designer Sophie de Rakoff Carbonell says pays tribute to Jacqueline Kennedy. The outfit celebrates the breath of fresh air that both the former first lady and Elle bring to the stodgy capital, she explained during a recent phone interview.

"I wanted a period look and reference certain points in history without having period costumes."

Tackling a script that considers each outfit a pivotal character, Carbonell divided the film into three fashion scenes -- a gray-flannel corporate law firm that Woods spruces up with a wine-colored, 1940s-ish suit and a floppy hat, a congressional office for which Elle deems worthy of Chanel tweeds (dotted with rhinestones, of course), and the Washington mall where Elle wears politically correct clothes to support her crusade to stop animal testing of beauty products.

Limiting the wardrobe, including makeup and accessories, to cruelty-free products called for some creativity on the part of Carbonell and her team.

"Reese doesn't wear fur anyway, but in the first movie one of the most memorable outfits was the hot pink leather. This time it was a conscious decision not to use leather, suede, fur and no animal skins down to her shoes. Well, the shoes do have leather soles -- there's only so far you can go -- but the uppers are satin or fabric," Carbonell says.

"You don't realize how challenging it is to avoid leather until you try to do it."

Carbonell designed outfits she knew she wouldn't find on the racks of fashion houses and retailers, such as the Jackie suit and an ethereal pink wedding gown, but many of Elle's ensembles are slightly tweaked versions of the ladylike pencil skirts and fitted jackets that are popular this season and the mod styles that will appear in the coming months.

Dolce & Gabbana, for instance, switched the color from green to pink on a bustier that was already in production, and Carbonell went shopping at a Prada outlet store in Palm Springs, Calif., to get casual clothes from -- gasp! -- last year's collection.

Carbonell also took satin and dyeable Jimmy Choos and jazzed them up with Swarovski crystals, ribbons and lace.

The most over-the-top shoes are Elle's fantasy wedding stilettos that are part sandal, part pink-studded cleat that complement her dream wedding gown, a strapless Reem Acra gown with hand embroidered insets on the bodice and skirt.

New York-based designer Nanette Lapore re-created in a brighter blue a trumpet skirt and corset-cut jacket that's part of her fall line.

"Legally Blonde 2" is Lapore's first direct collaboration with a movie costume designer, though her clothes have been featured before on television.

"The movie's look worked well with mine. It's very fresh and colorful, but girlie colorful, not extremely bold. It's really pretty and feminine but kind of tailored at the same time, which is kind of how I describe my clothes," says Lapore.

Other designers contributing to Elle's closet included Marc Jacobs, Emanual Ungaro, Chloe, Tocca and Juicy Couture.

As for Elle's hair -- and one can't discuss "Legally Blonde" without mentioning hair -- the color is a wheat-gold blond, says Frederic Fekkai, a celebrity hairdresser who has a cameo in the film.

"It's a color that's good for people with fair skin and light eyes. It's good for people whose own hair color isn't too dark so there's no contrast with their eyebrows," he says.

Many women choose to lighten their hair because they've learned from celebrities that blond hair looks better in photos because it catches the light and it's a softer look as women age, Fekkai says.

Meanwhile, Hollywood stylist Phillip Bloch expects to see Elle's influence on the wardrobes of the teenage girls who worship her.

"Girls want to be Elle Woods, she dresses well and she has brains. It (the movie) says it's OK to be a little superficial and still have more to you," Bloch says.

Movies' influence on fashion might be even greater than stars' appearances on the red carpet because movies are around forever and people might resurrect styles they see when they watch their favorite videos, Bloch says. "Think about 'Clueless' or even go back to 'Gone With the Wind.' Some of those looks are still around."

At least you can count on Witherspoon herself to be wearing her "Legally Blonde 2" outfits for years to come: One of the perks of starring in a fashionista film is keeping the entire wardrobe.

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