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COSTUME COUTURE : DESIGNERS CREATE CHARACTERS WITH CLOTHING FIT FOR AN OSCAR.

Byline: Barbara De Witt Daily News Fashion Editor

Paris may dictate fashion, but films inspire it.

Over the years, Hollywood costume designers have sent women running for Joan Crawford's swagger suits, Marilyn Monroe's white halter dress and Audrey Hepburn's little black dress.

This year, the trendsetters are the empire dress from ``Emma,'' safari suits from ``The English Patient,'' and that whole '40s ``Evita'' glamour thing - compacts, red lipstick, fitted suits and furs.

Ruth Myers, a veteran costume designer with 50 films and an Oscar costume nomination (``The Addams Family'') under her belt, was surprised by the nomination and the instant popularity of the high-waisted dress with scoop neck and puffed sleeves she created for ``Emma,'' the film adaption of Jane Austen's novel about a young English matchmaker.

``It's an honor to launch a trend,'' said Myers. ``But the dress is meant for young women with perfect figures like Emma (Gwyneth Paltrow), as the style is not very forgiving.'' The designer said her major challenge was to create a watercolor type of picture through the use of pastel-colored clothing - and to do it in a hurry.

``We had five weeks to create 150 costumes, and we were constantly working on the set, ripping apart dresses to make new ones,'' she added.

Speaking of ripping apart, two-time Oscar winner Albert Wolsky said his biggest challenge this year was designing clothes for Demi Moore in ``Striptease'' that would come off quickly. A past president of the Costume Designer Guild with awards for costumes in ``Bugsy'' and ``All That Jazz,'' he said costume designers have a variety of challenges from theme to technical construction, but the most important aspect of the job is defining a character through clothing.

And sometimes it's a not a pretty sight.

In ``The Birdcage,'' Ann Roth gave us lessons on what to wear when you're a middle-age guy who wants to be a femme fatale but needs to dress like a matronly mom ... while designers Anthony Powell and Rosemary Burrows had to turn ``serious'' actress Glenn Close into a raving maniac with over-the-top fashions. But it was a sassier task than the one Ha Nguyen had for ``The Nutty Professor.''

Those ``Nutty Professor'' costumes designed for Eddie Murphy's 400-pound appearances were so voluminous that they were simply stuffed with bubble wrap instead of hung on a standard museum mannequin, said Maggie Murray, who has organized an exhibit of Oscar-worthy costumes at the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising in Los Angeles. The free exhibit, open now through April 12, features 78 movie costumes, including designs from four Best Costume nominees, Paul Brown for ``Angeles & Insects,'' Myers for ``Emma,'' Roth for ``The English Patient'' and Janet Patterson for ``The Portrait of a Lady.''

``Angels & Insects'' designer Brown made over 20 original gowns to illustrate the development of the film's main character Eugenia (Patsy Kensit), beginning with peacock blues and bumble-bee yellows as an ingenue to pale beige and lilac when she takes over the mantle of queen of the colony. At the other end of the fashion spectrum is Matty, a poor relative who is dressed in gray throughout the film. Kristin Scott Thomas, who plays Matty, used those drab costumes to get into character. ``The skirts I wear are very heavy ... and I can't slouch ... so that really helps in defining the character I play (since) all my movements have to be very precise, very subdued and contained because the costumes are so restrictive.''

Although Murray selects the costumes long before the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announces its nominees, she thinks she has pretty good instincts. ``As soon as I saw ``Angels & Insects,'' I wanted the costumes. The picture is obscure so an Oscar might be a long shot,'' said Murray, ``but the costumes are exquisite and colorful - like gleaming jewels - so I immediately contacted the studio and said I'd be willing to store the costumes for free for the entire year in order to feature them in our exhibit.''

Her personal favorites in the school's fifth exhibit are from ``Emma'' and ``Portrait of a Lady,'' which she thinks are strong contenders for the Best Costume category, but she adds that she liked the authenticity of the clothes from ``The Crucible,'' which didn't get nominated.

She also was disappointed that ``Evita'' didn't get a nod from Oscar because it is ``a costumy picture about a woman who was famous for her clothes and jewelry in real life,'' said Murray. For this lavish musical production, Penny Rose created 85 costume changes for Madonna, including that glamorous white ball gown and the little print dress that Evita wears when she leaves for Buenos Aires - which have been copied for Bloomingdale's Evita Collection - and are included in the Fashion Institute exhibit.

Also included in the ``great costumes that can't win'' category of the exhibit are those from ``The People vs. Larry Flynt,'' designed by Arianne Phillips.

``To me, great costumes should be judged on their integrity to the characters and what they do to embrace what film is about,'' said Phillips, who put Hustler magazine publisher Flynt (Woody Harrelson) in a loud yellow suit and his wife (Courtney Love) in fishnet stockings.

Also included are costumes from film classics such as ``The Virgin Queen, ``Chinatown,'' ``Lady Sings the Blues,'' ``Camelot,'' ``Orlando,'' ``Darling Lili'' and ``The Greatest Show on Earth.''

What: Salute to the Art of Motion Picture Costume Design.

When: Open 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday through Saturday; through April 12.

Where: Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising, 919 S. Grand Ave., Los Angeles.

Details: It's free. For more information, call (213) 624-1200.

CAPTION(S):

12 Photos

Photo: (1--4--Cover--Color) Oscar's clothes call

Costume dramas vie for coveted Academy Award

(5--Color) Who's the trendiest of them all? ``Emma,'' for giving us those sassy babydoll dresses with empire waistlines by Ruth Myers and for fanning the flames of Jane Austen-mania. Our rating: Four Stars

(6--Color) Oh no! It's another dose of '70s fashion-trash, with those loud suits and fishnet stockings featured in ``The People vs. Larry Flynt.'' We didn't blame designer Arianne Phillips - after all, she was just recalling history. Our rating: Two Stars

(7--Color) ``The English Patient'' is romantic, exciting and a real crowd-pleaser, but you've gotta admit the fashions weren't too memorable. Costume designer Ann Roth gets points for authenticity and getting us to rethink safari suits. Our rating: Three Stars

(8--Color) Incredible, impeccable looks of a bygone era are featured in ``The Portrait of a Lady,'' with rich, dark designs that bespoke upper-class Victorian society at the end of the 19th century. Designer Janet Patterson outdid herself. Our rating: Three Stars

(9--Color) Actress Patsy Kensit plays one weird lady in ``Angels & Insects,'' but her over-the-top, colorful gowns by Paul Brown are pure art. Our rating: Four Stars

(10--Color) Ha Nguyen, a grad of the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising in Los Angeles, which is holding an exhibit of Oscar-worthy movie costumes, had the task of dressing Eddie Murphy in a variety of sizes in ``The Nutty Professor.'' Our rating: Two Stars

(11--12--Color) Fashion is fickle, but Evita's glamorous '40s fashions by Penny Rose, left, and Bob Crowley's plain-but-authentic costumes for ``The Crucible'' were unfairly unnoticed by the Oscars club. Our rating: Four Stars (Evita) Three Stars (The Crucible)
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Title Annotation:L.A. LIFE
Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Article Type:Movie Review
Date:Mar 13, 1997
Words:1214
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