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Dressing Footballers' Wives on a tight budget; STYLE: Costume designer Sarah Arthur mixed big-name bargains with high-street buys for the hit TV series.

Byline: CATHERINE JONES

DRESSING footballers' wives, the kind of women renowned for their obsession with designer labels, was a dream for clothes-loving Sarah Arthur.

But there was one problem for the Cardiff-based costume designer - the budget for each episode of the hit show, Footballers' Wives, was pounds 4,000, a snip when one considers it is the price of just one Versace suit.

Ms Arthur, 41, knew she had triumphed when the ITV switchboard became jammed with calls from women wanting to know where they could buy the glitzy outfits featured in the Tuesday night series.

It was a case of glamour by thrift and achieved after months of traipsing around designer bargain outlets and charity shops to complement the few expensive pieces she could afford. Ms Arthur says she mixed designer bargains with high street pieces to create an expensive look - something reallife footballer's wife Victoria Beckham has admitted to enjoying doing.

"I spent some time in McArthurGlen in Bridgend - the Nike shop was good for some sports pieces and The Suit Company for the men's outfits. I also got a Versace jacket at the Littlewoods catalogue shop. If you're prepared to go through everything, you will find bargains."

Howells of Cardiff proved fruitful as did TK Maxx - "for DKNY or Ralph Lauren tops for the men" - while the Designer at Debenhams department in Cardiff provided several pieces for the show. A pair of satin shoes, dyed to the appropriate pink by Ms Arthur, were bought for pounds 5 in a sale in Ravel in St David's Centre.

"The character played by Gillian Taylforth wears various things from David Morgan. Some of the jewellery, which I designed, was made by a Cardiff jeweller, and a company from the Valleys embroidered the football strip, " she said.

She started preparing for the eightepisode run last June. As the costume designer, in charge of a team of three - including an assistant from Cardiff, Sarah Melvin - her job involved reading the scripts, discussing the characters with the producer, meeting the actors and pulling together a huge wardrobe for the men and women.

But the job is not as glamorous as it sounds.

"I would leave Cardiff at 3.30am to arrive on set in Surrey in time to have the outfits prepared for shooting."

Ms Arthur researched the lives of footballers' wives and discovered the competitive element among women who feel they have to look the part - "although they are not all as they are portrayed in the series. Some are more low-key."

Her skills and thrift came into play with the creation of the wedding dress for the character of Chardonnay Lane - a pink feathered ball gown - to marry fictional Earls Park player Kyle Pascoe.

Ms Arthur says she would have loved the luxury of spending pounds 10,000 on a wedding dress from Isabell Kristensen - but had pounds 1,000. The main bodice and skirt came from Ellis bridal wear and were dyed baby pink.

Feathers and sequins were added later and she also stitched flowers around the waist.

The look was featured in OK magazine.

Ms Arthur has two children - Dominique, 11, and Ben, six, with her partner, David, and started her 20year career in Cardiff, working for BBC Wales, HTV and then stints in Bristol and London.

Ms Arthur, who won a Bafta for her costume design on the Welsh drama, Treweryn, describes her own style as mixing high street with designer.

Another bargain hotspot for Footballers' Wives was Bicester Outlet Village in Oxfordshire - with stores such as Versace, Karen Millen and Whistles stocking out-of-season pieces and samples. Ms Arthur is also full of praise for the Spanish high street store, Zara, which has several outlets in London.

The wives Chardonnay Lane: Played by Susie Amy, she is the fiancee of the team's heart-throb Kyle Pascoe. As a page three model, she has been wearing Kyri, a designer worn by the likes of Tracy Shaw, Amanda Holden and Carol Vorderman. Outfits include a denim bustier and matching trousers.

"But because Kyri isn't cheap, I had to mix it with high street pieces from Top Shop and Lypsy, " says Sarah.

Donna Walmsley: Played by Katharine Monaghan, Donna is married to rising star Ian but has no truck with couture clothes.

A young mother from Bolton, she hasn't quite worked out the glamorous world of footballers' wives and looks less "put-together" than the other wives.

Tania Tucker: Played by Zoe Lucker, Tania is the Queen Bee - so plenty of labels and plenty of colour.

"Tania's the kind of woman who'd go over to Paris or Milan to get her clothes so I've gone for a lot of very striking, couture outfits - Versace, Gucci, Christian Lacroix."

How to look chic on the cheap Alter the look of a garment by changing the buttons - or adding accessories such as a corsage or perhaps feathers (as in the case of the wedding dress);

Check dress agencies for designer-label shoes and bags which may well never have been worn;

Avoid bold patterns because people will remember them;

Have the patience to trawl designer outlets for one-off samples, last season's stock or seconds;

Get over to Italy. What you shell out on the air fare, you'll save on the shopping spree. The costume designer snapped up Armani suits, which would cost pounds 600 in Selfridges, for pounds 60 a piece, and shirts, which would be pounds 130 here, at pounds 7 each. She bought bags at the Dolce & Gabbana outlet. "Italy is amazing. There are designer outlets and the high street is a season ahead of us."

CAPTION(S):

GLAMOUR: Footballers' Wives stars Chardonnay Lane (Susie Amy), Donna Walmsley (Katharine Monaghan) and Tania Tucker (Zoe Lucker) in clothes designed by Sarah Arthur, inset left Inset picture: Nick Treharne
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Publication:Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales)
Date:Feb 15, 2002
Words:962
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