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Dressing for an 'Affair"

Harrington went from stylist to costume designer in a flash.

July 30, 1999|MICHAEL QUINTANILLA | TIMES FASHION WRITER

Kate Harrington checks her purse, the bed, a suitcase, under a magazine, the top of a coffee table. Finally, she surveys a corner desk in her room at the Four Seasons Hotel in Beverly Hills. Out of luck, she phones downstairs. Could someone kindly buy her a pack of cigarettes?

Within minutes, her request is delivered. Such is the way of the world these days. Need something? Send someone to shop for it.

In fact, not too long ago Harrington--a former model turned magazine fashion stylist turned costume designer--needed closets full of high-fashion clothes for the remake of "The Thomas Crown Affair," directed by John McTiernan and starring Pierce Brosnan and Rene Russo.

"I went shopping," says Harrington, 38, who makes her debut as a costume designer when the film opens next Friday. With only two months "to pull the clothes together," that left no room to create anything from scratch: not a sketch, a pattern, a garment.

Harrington settled on a wardrobe for Russo selected from the 1997 Celine collection by Michael Kors (one of Russo's suggestions) and a few Halston creations.

For Brosnan's many suits befitting the self-made billionaire Thomas Crown, Harrington passed on Prada and Gucci and went with the hand-tailored detailing of Gianni Campagna, a shy, rotund Italian with a business in Milan and an eye toward opening a showroom in Los Angeles.

Harrington, a Long Island native--and former Los Angeles resident--has always been surrounded by great style makers, models, actors, writers and the world's most famous shooters: Herb Ritts, Bruce Weber, Matthew Rolston, Greg Gorman. Indeed, her life is an open book, she says, adding that her boyfriend is McTiernan, who is in the process of getting a divorce.

At the age of 12, after her parents, Peg Harrington (who died two years ago of cancer) and Jack O'Shea divorced, she moved in with her father and his significant other, the late writer Truman Capote. Her father now lives in Florida.

"I'm grateful to my dad for bringing Truman into my life," she says, puffing on her cigarette. "Truman changed my life." And opened her eyes to fine style, fashion and freedom of expression.

She recalls when Capote once sent her, at age 15, to the legendary Halston, who needed a junior model--and fast.

" 'Get in a cab, and get over to Halston's right now,' Truman told me. 'And when you get there, stand on your tippy-toes,' " she says. Halston's fitting model, who had been released, was half an inch shorter.

Harrington laughs, recalling the storyin her best Capote impersonation. He told her, "That will be a comfortable, safe job, and I don't have to worry about you running all over the place."

That was Capote, she says, always concerned about her, always introducing her to photographers like Richard Avedon and Francesco Scavullo, "friends of ours I used to go visit," always teaching her how to be fashionably chic.

"Truman had great chic about him. I never even knew people had taste like that. He was such an elegant guy. I've come to realize that he taught me about aesthetics."

And then there was Andy Warhol, who hired Harrington to work at his magazine, Interview, located at his compound of creativity known as The Factory. Harrington met Warhol at a luncheon while working as secretary to the publisher of Town & Country.

"For six months, Andy invited me to The Factory," but Capote, she says, would have none of it. "But I met Andy anyway. And he said to me, 'Would you like to be a stylist at my magazine?' "

For five years she was Interview's fashion and photo editor. "It was a pretty exciting time. I learned how to be a stylist. I worked with all these great photographers. I got my schooling in terms of learning everything about fashion, lights, people."

In 1986, Harrington, bored and tired of the whole New York scene, moved to Los Angeles to work as fashion director for the now defunct L.A. Style magazine.

When American Express Publishing bought the publication--and took creative control--Harrington bailed. She took a full-time stylist job with photographer Ritts, creating looks--and pictorial stories of characters in costumes--for music videos, commercials and magazine covers for Tom Cruise, Nicole Kidman, Michelle Pfeiffer, Cindy Crawford and Arnold Schwarzenegger.

"That's when I got the bug. I thought it would be so neat if I could work in movies," she says. But instead of following her instincts, she returned to New York as Vanity Fair's style director.

A year later she was back in Los Angeles. Schwarzenegger rang up Ritts and asked for Harrington's help in creating a style for his character in the flick "Eraser."

"I said 'Arnold, I don't do movies. I don't think this is a good idea.' And he said, 'Just pretend it's one of our magazine shoots, and just think of an idea. I just need an idea.' "

Harrington says when the film's costume designer quit, she was hired to "rescue" or complete the job.

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