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Clothes With Real Kick

In 'Moulin Rouge,' the cancan dancers' colorful petticoats (and um, even contrasting undies) make a bold statement--one that the fashion world hopes to cash in on.

May 04, 2001|VALLI HERMAN-COHEN | TIMES SENIOR FASHION WRITER

The difficult, high-energy dancing caused damage to body and soles, including an on-set accident that required Kidman to get knee surgery. "We had an on-set cobbler to fix the shoes. The poor dancers' shoes were disintegrating," Martin said.

To keep Kidman in her 19th century costumes, "we had to make a leaning board for Nicole because it's uncomfortable to sit in a corset," Martin said. "She suffered like you wouldn't believe. It was just agony from morning to night." Kidman even cracked a rib from the combined pressure of being lifted while being tightly laced. Martin and the star considered remaking her wardrobe but managed to shoot corset-less until she healed.

Other actors endured the tortures of their special-effects wardrobes, including John Leguizamo, who played the unnaturally diminutive artist Toulouse-Lautrec. "He had all sorts of different leg contraptions to make him short . . . and they were all extremely uncomfortable," she said. To play Harold Zidler, the "Moulin Rouge's" corpulent impresario, Jim Broadbent wore a fat suit that was difficult to ventilate. "We got an air conditioner and put a couple of holes in the suit," said Martin. "Then we stuck a hose into the suit and blew in air."

The unkind and sometimes comedic aspects of making the movie were recorded for a coffee table book that will be released along with the movie. The film's lush look also was irresistible to Vogue's Wintour, who saw modern messages in the period pieces.

"There is so much fashion out there that is so simple, minimalistic and very tasteful," said Wintour. "To have something more romantic, bohemian and decorated made a lot of sense for us. It's a look that was picked up by many other designers and Bloomingdale's, who had huge success with a ['Moulin Rouge'] store."

"It's a fun, free and colorful way to dress," Wintour said. "It's sexy without being vulgar. And Nicole is the perfect model for all of this entire look."

It may be no coincidence that the movie has already influenced fall's trends for corseted looks, boots and full skirts because Wintour's support of the movie sent a clear signal. Though the powerful editor gives credit to Luhrmann and Martin for their vision, she admitted that, "I certainly have talked to them [many designers] about the movie for some months. They were aware of my interest and that we put Nicole on our Christmas cover, and in dresses for the May issue. Then we saw a lot of it echoed on the runways."

Her endorsement also inspired Bloomingdale's Ruttenstein, who described Wintour as "a very strong catalyst who got all the designers excited about this." He, in turn, created the "Moulin Rouge" boutiques, which he stocked in an unusual way.

"We invited 25 New York and 25 California designers to two screenings of a 15-minute clip of the movie," he said. They were asked to make modern clothes, most $100 to $200, for a young, contemporary customer who might wear them to proms, summer weddings or parties. Los Angeles T-shirt maker Chris Lee of Skinny Minnie, who holds licensing rights for the movie, has already sold 1,200 of his $32 screen-printed "Moulin Rouge" tank shirts to Bloomingdale's, and more are on order.

Elsewhere in the store, the Christian Dior "Moulin Rouge" makeup has boosted the line's sales by 100% in two weeks, Ruttenstein said. "People want the Nicole Kidman look--the smoky eyes, the red lips and the pale skin."

He is betting that the combination of the movie's modern soundtrack, top stars and fun costumes will attract a young customer dressing for proms and summer weddings. His faith in the movie and its look is so strong, he's keeping the "Moulin Rouge" boutiques and store windows in place for twice as long as originally intended.

Though he and other supporters of the movie realize "Moulin Rouge" is a box-office gamble, Ruttenstein is nevertheless buoyed by the early success of the cancan clothing trend.

"The clothes wouldn't sell if they weren't the right clothes," he said. "You can't give customers what they don't want."

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