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SCREEN STYLE

FASHION : Just Plain Lovely

October 15, 1995|BETTY GOODWIN

The Movie: "The Scarlet Letter"

The Setup: In a story loosely based on the Nathaniel Hawthorne novel, Hester Prynne (Demi Moore, pictured) is forced to wear a patch emblazoned with the letter A as punishment for adultery in mid-17th Century Colonial Massachusetts.

The Costume Designer: Italian Gabriella Pescucci, who won an Academy Award for "The Age of Innocence." Other credits include "The Adventures of Baron Munchausen," "Once Upon a Time in America," "The Name of the Rose" and Fellini's "City of Women" and "Prova d'Orchestra."

The Look: Puritan plainness is the order of the day, but there's nothing ordinary about these clothes. Even the homeliest black dresses have been infused with a certain loveliness in the form of flat, starched white collars trimmed with lace. In a time when lace and lace-making skills trumpeted status, it's clear why Hester's almost translucent collars--shockingly heavy with handiwork--sent up flags. (Notice, too, her lacy straw hats.)

And this isn't the only way Hester shocks: Yes, she wears black to church, but elsewhere dresses in deep colors--navy, dark red, green, brown. As Pescucci points out, "Color is very courageous in the Puritan world." But Hester's most blatant act of defiance is wearing a pale aqua dress, bare necked and loaded with embroidery, before the townspeople. Her baby, Pearl, in a gold-embroidered scarlet dress and coat is a symbol of Hester's courage.

You Should Know: Instead of pure black, fabrics were dyed in shades of green-black, brown-black and other variations to create a subtle richness and avoid monotony.

Inspiration: Hawthorne provided many precise clothing descriptions, including Pearl's red garments. The paintings of 17th-Century Dutch Puritan painter Peter de Hoogh, who painted interiors and scenes of daily life, also helped.

Quoted: "It is the first time I made a movie in the [17th] century--it was very new for me. I liked the surprise of it, but for me, the 19th Century is much easier," Pescucci said.

Sources: All hats, shoes and costumes were custom-made in Rome; the clothing, at Atelier Tirelli. Only the Native American costumes, laden with real furs, feathers and beads, were made at the production's headquarters in Canada. Embroidered fabric and antique lace for collars were purchased at the Marche aux Puces in Paris. Other textiles came from Paris and Como, Italy.

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