Unforgettable Threads

We asked for dozen Tinseltown types to tell us which female star's movie costume lingered in their mind long after the movie was over.

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Director Sidney Lumet, in his book Making Movies, tells of sending Sean Connery to meet with costume designer Ann Roth about his clothes for Family Business. After Roth showed him his wardrobe, Connery raved to Lumet, "She's given me the whole bloody character." Many people probably think of costumes as decorative irrelevancies, but the best of them illuminate the characters while still managing to be sensually stimulating or breathtakingly elegant.

One of my favorite examples is in the Agatha Christie whodunit Evil Under the Sun, which has costumes designed by three-time Oscar winner Anthony Powell. The denouement of the film comes when sleuth Hercule Poirot unmasks Jane Birkin, seemingly a whimpering wallflower, as the mastermind behind the murder. Throughout the movie Birkin has worn frumpy frocks, but as she descends the hotel staircase in the final scene, she is transformed by a stunning black-and-white suit and hat into the person she really is, a devastating vixen. It's one of the wittiest, most revelatory costumes in movies: character crystallized through a wardrobe change.

Of course, there are many other memorable costumes. In this survey I asked Hollywood professionals to talk about a woman's costume that had made a lasting impression on them. Their answers attest to the many diverse enticements that movies offer.

1. Theadora Van Runkle (costume designer, Bonnie and Clyde) "I loved Marlene Dietrich's first outfit as Shanghai Lily in Shanghai Express. She's in a feather hat, and she goes to the back of the train, stands on the platform, and the wind ruffles her veil and feathers."

2. Bo Welch (production designer, Batman Returns) "When I was working on Batman Returns, the first time I saw Michelle Pfeiffer in her Catwoman outfit, it was startling-- like a live visual effect. And then, from my adolescence I remember Raquel Welch in that fur bikini from One Million Years B.C. That was a pretty striking costume."

3. John Waters (director, Serial Mom) "The first thing that comes to mind is the sparkling red sequined evening dress that Marguax Hemingway wears at the end of Lipstick when she goes out to kill the man who raped her. Now that's a gown to wear for rape revenge."

4. Drew Barrymore (actress, Mad Love) "I loved Diane Keaton's wardrobe in Annie Hall because her style was androgynous and unique--very indicative of the character she created."

5. Gillian Armstrong (director, Little Women) "The costumes in Orlando were extraordinary, like sculptured pieces. Right after the character becomes a woman, there's a scene where she walks through a huge room in this huge white dress, and her dress mirrored the shape of the objects in the room. But maybe the best costumes arc the ones you don't notice. In Visconti's The Leopard, in the big ballroom scene, everyone was in a shade of pink, but you weren't conscious of it. You just had a subliminal sense that there were many shades of rose petals in the background. In the ball scene in Little Women, we used every shade of peach and gold as an homage to Visconti."

6. Jean-Claude Van Damme (actor, Timecop) "The beautiful Elizabeth Taylor, with that deep cleavage, in her all-gold gown when she enters Rome in Cleopatra. Why? You have to ask why?"

7. Lily Tomlin (actress, Short Cuts) "I have a special affection for Beverly Michaels in The Wicked Woman, a movie of the '50s. She wore a white suit with a white angora tarn and white wedgies. That was such a definitive outfit."

8. Kate Capshaw (actress, Just Cause) "My pick is what Audrey Hepburn wore in Wait Until Dark--a tight black turtleneck pullover with a miniskirt and opaque stockings with loafers. It has influenced my wardrobe choices ever since. It was never the glamorous movie star clothes or the sexy stuff I loved, but that Hepburn outfit left the greatest influence."

9. Angie Dickinson (actress, Dressed to Kill) "Lana Turner in her white turban in The Postman Always Rings Twice. I must have been 10 or 12 when I first saw that, and to this day I can't wrap a towel around my head without thinking about her. My favorite costume that I wore was in The Art of Love with James Garner. Ray Aghayan and Bob Mackie designed for me a gold pantsuit with beads on chiffon that was to die for. It was really the first costume of its kind, the first time that a pantsuit became total glamour. People may not realize today how revolutionary that was. But I remember as late as the '60s, I was not allowed in the clubhouse at Dodger Stadium because I was wearing pants."

10. Joel Schumacher (director, Batman Forever) "I thought the costumes in Queen Margot were particularly beautiful. At the end, when Isabelle Adjani comes to plead with the king for her lover's life, she's wearing this white dress. The King is sick, and he's sweating blood, and when she holds him, red blood stains appear on this white dress. I love that scene because it's costume used as a part of storytelling--not just to cre¬ate period and atmosphere, but also to build an emotional response."

11. Chris Eigeman (actor, Kicking and Screaming) "I immediately think of Marlene Dietrich in Morocco--the only time a tuxedo ever looked sexy to me."

12. Nora Ephron (writer-director, Sleepless in Seattle) "I still remember the little black sweater and beige vest that Audrey Hepburn wore in the bookstore in Funny Face. It was the perfect outfit of the mouse who was actually beautiful. And it was such a perfect Hollywood idea of what a person working in a bookstore would wear."

13. Jon Stewart (host, "The Jon Stewart Show") "Jane Fonda's costumes in Barbarella blew my mind-- I was 11, for God's sake! You know, even when I blink I still see her."

14. Lowell Ganz (screenwriter, Forget Paris) "In Some Like It Hot, there's a scene at the end where Marilyn Monroe is singing a slow song. It's shot close, and her dress has a sparkling quality that gives almost an illusion of nudity. That stunned me, no doubt augmented by the fact that I saw it when I was 13 and slightly out of my mind,"

15. Albert Wolsky (costume designer, Bugsy) "I remember Marlene Dietrich's first appearance in Shanghai Express, wearing black feathers and a veil and gloves. Then there's the scene in Some Like It Hot where Marilyn Monroe is singing, and the way the light comes down on her, it appears she is almost naked. It's the most startling effect. Those were very theatrical costumes. Unfortunately, we're not so theatrical today. For the last 20 years, we've been into realism."

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