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Sexy, styling, unscripted

October 22, 2005|Valli Herman | Times Staff Writer

Pacing barefoot backstage at Smashbox Studios' largest venue Wednesday, Jaime Pressly is in a panic. The actress' first collection of ready-to-wear is set to debut in 30 minutes, but three models are missing, her own hair and makeup aren't done and her new Maltipoo puppy is whimpering from all the chaos.

Pressly, a petite, high-energy, full-volume blond, and veteran of such B-movie fare as "Torque," "Cruel World," "Not Another Teen Movie" and "Joe Dirt," can be heard above the din in the cavernous tent.

"No one checked the roster!" she yells to a string of headset-wearing, clipboard-toting assistants who are unable to explain the absences.

Had this been the trailer for one of her movies, the next scene would likely feature either a deranged man with a knife, a bumbling goon or a white trash family, and inevitably, Pressly as the scantily clad eye candy -- cheerleader, college girl, victim or scheming villainess.

Yet this story unfolds with a plot at least as predictable: Models, still wearing makeup from the last runway, finally rush backstage for new makeup and hair (including giant Afro wigs), and Pressly, with a "show must go on" determination, delegates the last details then plops into the makeup chair. Cameras from TV Guide, the Style channel and countless fashion glossies follow, hoping for a sound bite and a tabloid-perfect smile.

"You know what? I enjoy it, and I have the most amazing team of girls," says Pressly as a makeup artist surrounds her blue eyes with shimmering shadow. Without missing a beat, Pressly answers and asks questions amid the swirl of activity.

Yes, she's very lucky. Yes, she's always wanted to be an actress first, but she also wanted to be a designer and go to the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York. And now she gets to be a designing actress. Oh, and she's a cover girl too. That's her, all right, posing in frilly lingerie on the October cover of For Him Magazine (generously placed on every seat at the fashion show).

"I guess everything is timing," says Pressly, 28. "And now the timing is right."

After years toiling in unfulfilling, typecast roles, Pressly hopes that the newest role -- fashion designer -- will sustain her. She's switched this season from stitching up lingerie to casual sportswear -- wrapped, ruched and cropped knit jersey separates under the label J'aime by Jaime Pressly.

It's a good thing that she has a hit TV show, because the competent but not inspiring clothes aren't likely to send buyers into spasms of joy. The general ideas: bandeau tops, capris/knickers/leggings, wrap ballet tops. However, her role as Joy on the new NBC comedy "My Name Is Earl" is winning praise over the captivating way she portrays Earl's scheming, sassy, white trash ex-wife. She's not a redneck, but she plays one pretty convincingly on TV. It's as if her latest role is a composite character of all the previous.

The native of Kinston, N.C., brings a kind of Southern candor to her roles as fashion designer and trailer trashy actress. Her body-conscious sportswear might wear well on Pressly (or Joy), whose body is toned to perfection by 11 years of gymnastics training and continued rigorous workouts. But it's the perfectly proportioned few, or the audacious fewer, who will wear her cheek-baring brocade minis, deep V-neck dresses the length of tunics and blousy, low-rise knickers.

In between working 12 hours a day, five days a week on "Earl," Pressly refines her clothing ideas with Jenny Pyle and Jacqueline Dadon, who are listed on her program as "collabarative designers." Pressly says she doesn't sketch very well, so others refine her ideas.

Her friend, volunteer model and acting colleague Tamala Jones (they did "Can't Hardly Wait" together) has long admired Pressly's style.

"She's always been a fashion head," Jones says backstage, wearing a black Afro and the collection's best outfit, a ballet top and flowing skirt. "Even if I had something casual on, she'd find a way to make it sexy," says Jones, who predicts that her friend "is going to be huge."

Though Pressly may have made her share of fashion first-timer's mistakes (she didn't realize that lingerie design was rather limiting, and she and her collaborators are still learning how to fit a mini), Pressly is refreshingly honest. Sure, she's made some poor choices in movies, but a girl's gotta pay the mortgage on her four-bedroom home in the San Fernando Valley.

Unlike Jennifer Lopez, Gwen Stefani and Beyonce, Pressly isn't capitalizing on a well-burnished fashion image to create her line. Still, that position leaves her with a credibility problem. She's fielding criticism that she's just the face and name for a collection, or that her fashion work is somehow a publicity stunt.

"I think it's difficult transitioning to anything," she says. "If you're a musician who decides you want to act as well, people are going to have something to say.

"The truth is, back in the day, everybody had to be a triple threat. They had to sing, dance and act. All of sudden, they criticize people who do that now. I think if you can do all three, why wouldn't you? It's more entertaining. I'd rather do that than be somebody just standing there looking pretty."

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