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By Design | FASHION / SCREEN STYLE

Putting Emphasis on Their Strong Suits

September 26, 1996|BETTY GOODWIN

The Movie: "The First Wives Club"

The Setup: Brenda (Bette Midler), Elise (Goldie Hawn) and Annie (Diane Keaton)--Manhattan pals who have all been dumped by their husbands--declare war on their exes.

The Costume Designer: Theoni V. Aldredge, who won an Academy Award for "The Great Gatsby" and whose other film credits include "Rich and Famous," "The Rose" and "Network." On Broadway, she has won Tony awards for "La Cage aux Folles," "Barnum" and "Annie."

The Challenge: Dressing three big stars, each with her own distinct fashion identity. "It happens that their taste is very close to the characters', so it was no problem," Aldredge said. "We were all lucky with that." Occasionally, a character's needs clashed with the actor's desires. For example, Keaton prefers knee-length skirts, but Aldredge wanted to hike up her hemlines to just above the knee, giving Annie a bit more oomph. Keaton objected until the designer pinned a hem and shot a Polaroid of the actress in the abbreviated version.

The Looks: Hawn's Elise, playing an aging but still sexy movie star, wears youthful clothes on a fabulous body. Think leather mini skirts, leather slacks, cropped blazers (made just for her) leggings and bodysuits (by Reebok). Aldredge's take: "Goldie loves sexy clothes . . . she has a great body. . . . She doesn't object to anything because she knows she can carry it." Hawn favors a continuous line and leans toward short jackets, slim trousers and either tunic-length or cropped (as in a black-and-white striped style by Barneys) sweaters.

Keaton's Annie, a wealthy homemaker, is an uptown version of her style mentor. "Since 'Annie Hall' she developed a look, it suited her and she kind of hung onto it," Aldredge said of the actress' affinity for tailored clothes. The designer softened the look with separates, including leather blazers and cashmere cardigans by Calvin Klein and Giorgio Armani.

Midler's Brenda, a dumpy matron who graduates into a saucier type, goes for fitted suits with tulip-shaped skirts in colors ranging from brown to red. The flared skirts, Aldredge explained, help balance out the actress' full bust line. Most of the suits were purchased at Barneys, Saks Fifth Avenue and other New York department stores, then restyled.

Trivia: Upon learning that each of them would wear white versions of their look (slim, leather pants and cropped jacket for Hawn; tulip-skirted suit for Midler; and a tailored suit for Keaton) for the finale, the actresses all responded the same way, Aldredge said: " 'Am I going to look fat?' I told them, 'No, it'll be just fine.' "

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