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SCREEN STYLE

Over the Top

July 02, 1993|BETTY GOODWIN

The Movie: "Orlando"

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The Setup: Adaptation of Virginia Woolf's story of Orlando (Tilda Swinton, pictured), who arrives at the Elizabethan court as a young man and, over the course of a 400-year-long journey, becomes woman Orlando, never aging a day.

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The Costume Designer: Sandy Powell, whose credits include "The Crying Game," "Caravaggio," "Edward II" and the forthcoming "Wittgenstein."

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The Look: Sumptuous costumes so gloriously over the top that they amaze and frequently amuse.

For many, the reason to see this cross-dressing spectacle will boil down to one thing: the clothes. Sure to be considered at Academy Award time, the fashion wonders are loaded with fake jewels, woven with gold threads, fluffed, starched and gathered--and that's just for male Orlando.

Over time, Orlando evolves from Renaissance velvet breeches and shiny tights (male) to 1990s jodhpurs and riding boots (female).

Fashion gender games, of course, are part of the confusion and fun. As a 17th-Century man, Orlando wears a single pearl drop earring (men really did wear them, assures Powell) and more ribbons than a French poodle (ditto).

There's equal time for the excesses of court women, who looked as ridiculous as the men.

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Crown Jewel: Queen Elizabeth I (Quentin Crisp), whose extraordinary plumage involves a jeweled collar, crown, brocade gown and an orange cloak decorated with eyes and ears (based on a garment that possibly existed).

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Try This at Home: If it means anything, romantic Renaissance touches are starting to crop up in contemporary fashion collections of Richard Tyler, Cynthia Rowley, Donna Karan and others.

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Quoted: "I'd say it's slightly stylized, but the basic proportions are historically accurate," said Powell.

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Sources: The principals' clothes were custom-made in London. Jewels were made by Simon Costin. Gold mesh, gold brocade and silk fabrics are primarily from India. Men's Renaissance tights are the English Wolford's label (with spandex).

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