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Gilt-y Pleasures of 'Innocence'

September 17, 1993|BETTY GOODWIN

The Movie: "The Age of Innocence"

The Setup: Martin Scorcese directs the film adaptation of Edith Wharton's novel of upper-crust New York society in the 1870s. Newland Archer (Daniel Day-Lewis) is torn between a socially suitable wife, May Welland (Winona Ryder, pictured above with Day-Lewis), and a woman of the world, Countess Ellen Olenska (Michelle Pfeiffer, pictured at right).

The Costume Designer: Gabriella Pescucci, whose work has appeared in "Indochine," "The Adventures of Baron Munchausen," "The Name of the Rose" and "City of Women."

Inspiration: The novel provided precise descriptions of such garments as Ellen's red cape and her burgundy velvet robe, although black ostrich feathers were substituted for fur. High-society portraits by John Singer Sargent and James Joseph Jacques Tissot, a French artist who also painted women having tea and strolling, also offered ideas.

The Look: The first glimpse of May in a pale peach gown with a cloud of tulle pinned at the collar and Newland in white tie and tails suggests that costumes will have more than a cameo in the film.

The camera lingers on details such as a table piled with stacks of fresh white gloves. Viewers have time to adjust their eyes, not to the display of riches--lavish silks, velvets, ribbons, tucks, pleats, embroidery, furs, feathers, laces, jewels (real and fake)--but to the prissiness of it all. After all, this was a time when bonnets were tied in big bows under chins and necklines revealed little skin.

Ellen's passion is telegraphed by her wardrobe of deep reds, clarets and burgundys; the virginal May is attired in whites, pastels and fresh-looking prints.

Only the tiniest concessions were made for the 1990s actors: Some dresses were made with built-in corsets, for efficiency's sake.

Try This at Home: The "dandy" look has been rediscovered by men's and women's fashion designers, but Newland could give it another push. Note the elaborate silk embroidered vests under his suits by night, and the mixing of patterns--a windowpane plaid jacket with a checkered vest and a paisley tie--by day. He also wears the homburg, in both straw and wool felt, a hat with great style.

Hit: You would need a pause button to get a good look at May's white lace wedding dress, a costume so elaborate that it took a month in the sewing room. Fortunately, it reappears in an opera scene. (As the film points out, it was customary for brides to wear their wedding gowns again during the first year or two of marriage.) This time, though, the sleeves have been shortened and the neckline cut down.

Quoted: In explaining why the men's bow ties and ascots were pre-tied and sewn in place, assistant designer George Potts said: "It surprised me when I was doing the research that, back then, many of the ties were pre-tied. You get a better bow, plus, for a movie, it's good for continuity's sake."

Sources: The costumes for Newland, May and Ellen were made at Italy's House of Tirelli, theater costume specialists. Barbara Matera, a New York costumer, handled the others. Pescucci incorporated vintage fabrics and embroidery in many of the dresses, and Newland's Chinese silk robe was an authentic period piece. Shoes--lace-up boots and high heels in suede, leather and satin--came from the Pompei shoe company in Italy. Furs were by Fendi.

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