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They're Dressing for the Straight and Narrow

September 25, 1997

The Television Series: "La Femme Nikita" (USA Network, Sunday, 10 p.m.)

The Setup: Criminals get a second chance at life to work as operatives for a secret, anti-terrorist government agency (as in the 1990 French movie of the same name). Nikita (Peta Wilson) is a tall, hipless, supermodel-style villain-catcher.

The Costume Designer: Laurie Drew, a Toronto-based designer. This is her first series.

The Look: If you want to get a handle on the new Gucci generation, this ensemble of rescued freaks and rogues would seem an unlikely source to turn to. But they're all as sleek and slick as the silver "G" on a black leather belt.

The Rules: The aesthetic is absolute--strict, severe, dark and extremely Italian. Blue jeans, prints, plaids and primary colors are verboten, as are pleats. "We're into lean and mean," says Drew. Women eschew blouses under their suit jackets and men shun neckties. Not unlike those Gucci magazine ads, there's something almost "Star Trek-y" about the look for men and women. But you don't need spacesuits when the body-squeezing tailoring comes from Prada, Dolce & Gabbana, Armani, Versace and, for at least one Nikita suit, even Gucci.

Dressing for Success: These are the suits of the moment. Nikita's mentor Michael (Roy Dupuis) wears only Gaultier. Suits are all black, all made from Lycra stretch wool, all narrow and single breasted, all worn with Gaultier black T-shirts or mock turtlenecks. For Nikita, it's back to the '70s with dark, pinstriped suits with close-fitted jackets with high armholes and long, narrow sleeves. Low-rise pants have a slight flare, but trousers never break at the shoe. They just clear the ankle revealing stiletto pumps or boots. About half of Nikita's suits are custom-made knock-offs.

Inspiration: European films as well as art and photography magazines, including Britain's "The Face," plus quarterly reports on Italian ready-to-wear collections. Every six weeks or so, Drew heads south from Toronto (where the show is filmed) to New York to take in art galleries and "absorb."

Trend Watch: For attack gear, agents wear sturdy, but narrow weatherproofed black jackets made for rock climbing by Diesel.

Bad Hair Day: The tendency to transform Nikita's long, blond hair into fantastic twisted shapes, high ponytails and braids may give her hairdresser something to do with her hands, but better to leave it long and straight--or just cut it off.

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