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SCREEN STYLE / BETTY GOODWIN

Earning Their Stripes

March 16, 1994|BETTY GOODWIN

The Movie: "The Hudsucker Proxy"

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The Setup: Seeking to gain control of the company by putting an idiot in the president's office, Hudsucker Industries honcho Sidney J. Mussburger (Paul Newman) nabs mail-room nerd Norville Barnes (Tim Robbins). Newspaper reporter Amy Archer (Jennifer Jason Leigh, pictured with Robbins) wants the story. The film is directed by Joel Coen and written with his brother Ethan (who also produced) and Sam Raimi.

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The Costume Designer: Richard Hornung, whose credits include "This Boy's Life," "Miller's Crossing," "Raising Arizona," "The Grifters" and "Sleeping With the Enemy." He received an Academy Award nomination for the Coen brothers' "Barton Fink," and could receive another for "Proxy" next year.

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The Look: High-styled and wacky, precisely constructed with fashion sight gags. Costume history buffs will surely frown at the loose approach to late-'50s fashion. The battle for Hudsucker's control is set in 1958 and '59, but Hornung "really did 1952"--and earlier, he said. "Otherwise, it would look like 'How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying.' " In fact, early-'50s lines--fat lapels for men, skinny skirts for women--just look funnier.

No character has been overlooked. Working with a gray-navy-silver-brown palette that lends the film a black-and-white quality, Hornung dresses Hudsucker's vast, all-male board of directors in suits of varying shades of dull. Some sort of bow is affixed to all of the frightening-looking company secretaries. "It was my idea of woman, totally pre-liberation, as something to be opened," explains the designer.

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Hit: The use of stripes to indicate status. The higher one's position, the wider the suit's pin-stripes. By the time Robbins' Norville Barnes is president, he's wearing chalk stripes. For graphic punch, neckties are also striped.

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Trivia: Amy Archer's divine pinched-waist suits and dresses--in the Barbara Stanwyck-Katharine Hepburn mode--are enhanced by an "all-in-one," a combination bra and mid-thigh corset popular from the '20s through the '40s.

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Inspiration: The movie "The Big Clock" and Esquire and Vogue magazines dating from 1948 to 1952. Also, for Amy Archer, Irving Penn's photos of Jean Patchett, and a chevron-striped suit worn by Rosalind Russell in "His Girl Friday."

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Quoted: "It's a very designed movie. The only color is the Hula Hoops," Hornung says.

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Sources: Barnes' and Mussburger's suits were custom-made at Vincent Costumes in New York. Their neckties are from Hornung's personal collection of about 1,500 period ties. Amy Archer's wardrobe was custom-made by Dale Wibben, including undergarments, in Los Angeles.

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