x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Sheila take a bow

Fashion With its sumptuous 1930s wardrobe, Baz Luhrmann's epic movie, Australia, has turned Nicole Kidman into a fashion icon again.

Catherine Martin, the costume designer and wife of the director Baz Luhrmann, created nearly 2,000 uniquely detailed period outfits for Nicole Kidman to wear in <i>Australia</i>.
Catherine Martin, the costume designer and wife of the director Baz Luhrmann, created nearly 2,000 uniquely detailed period outfits for Nicole Kidman to wear in Australia.

Every so often a film comes along that will define the fashion agenda for seasons to come, changing the way we dress and they way we think about clothes. Take Audrey Hepburn's Givenchy costumes in Breakfast at Tiffany's, which established the standard for the little black dress, or Diane Keaton's masculine Ralph Lauren ensembles in Annie Hall, which spawned a whole generation of kooky, baggy-chino-and-waistcoat-wearing women (indeed, Keaton wheels this look out on the red carpet even now).

These days, though, while specific outfits in recent movies have certainly sparked imitations - take Keira Knightley's green evening dress in Atonement, for example - fashion moves so fast that it takes something really special to have that kind of effect. However, it looks as though Australia, Baz Luhrmann's new epic starring Nicole Kidman and Hugh Jackman, might be just such a seminal celluloid moment. Now doing the premiere rounds, it will play at the Dubai International Film Festival on Friday, before going on general release at the end of the month. The film is being followed around the world by a wave of excitement at the exquisite costumes worn by Kidman.

The costume designer Catherine Martin (Luhrmann's wife) has turned out nearly 2,000 outfits for this huge production, but the pieces achieving the most coverage are, of course, Kidman's beautiful 1930s suits, hats, gloves and shoes. Her luggage was specially designed by Prada, her pearls are by the Australian jeweller Paspaley and her shoes and gloves are by Salvatore Ferragamo (in fact, her red-velvet evening shoes are available to buy - though not, unfortunately, in the Emirates).

As Lady Sarah Ashley (Kidman) embarks on a voyage from prim and proper Britain to rough and ready Australia, her wardrobe develops to include some of the key looks that appeared on this spring's catwalks, from the jaunty, chic hats and sporty colours of Marc Jacobs and Nicole Farhi to the soft khakis and battered fedoras that Ralph Lauren showed. That means that this look is easy to replicate. And it's not the only one: the styles of several 2008 costume dramas have been echoed in next season's collections, including the 1920s-set films Changeling and Brideshead Revisited, and the rococo glamour of Keira Knightley in The Duchess.

Actually, "replicating" the looks is probably the wrong approach: one of the most important rules of adopting period style is to only appropriate one or two details - a hat, a colour scheme, a silhouette - rather than taking the look wholesale. Of course, it's always nice to be told you look like Keira Knightley, but the full corset-and-wig look is not entirely practical. Knightley's wigs were so heavy that she had a platform to rest her head on between takes, while she found some of her made-to-measure corsets almost impossible to breathe in.

For Kidman's look in Australia, the elements that define the 1930s can be applied across fabrics and styles, from figure-hugging work suits to relaxed weekend clothes, because this was an era that was all about silhouette. Go for a nipped-in waist and body-conscious garments - but remember that this look is nowhere near as tight and icy as the restrictive 1950s-style sheaths that the last few seasons have seen.

Sporty fabrics help to relax the look - think Coco Chanel's jersey and school-style piping or stripes - but because the skirts come to a few inches below the knee, high, round-toed heels are essential. If you're going for a hat, keep it dainty and remember to slant it to an angle, so that it covers one eye. It's not all about the clothes, either. For make-up, you can go one of two ways: immaculately groomed, with perfect eyebrows and porcelain skin; or immaculately groomed with a natural, dewy tan. The make-up for Australia was put together by MAC's make-up artist, Lesley Vandervalt. "The 1930s had a very white, waxen foundation with a faint hint of raspberry applied high on the cheeks," she says. "Eyebrows were slim and high - sometimes shaved completely - and reapplied with pencil, then dressed with petroleum jelly for a shine, while eyelids were heavy and shiny, with more petroleum jelly applied to make them gleam. Meanwhile, lips were full and red, with an exaggerated bow."

While it's probably better to keep your own eyebrows these days, the matt foundation, glossy eyelids and full lips are easy to achieve with today's formulations - certainly more so than for the original pioneers, who had to rely on primitive pastes and Vaseline. The great thing about these vintage looks, especially if you're tightening your belt a little, is that while they may have moments of modishness, they are styles that have already stood the test of time, which means they're not in danger of looking hideously dowdy a couple of seasons down the line. Even the more extreme examples, such as the 18th century looks from The Duchess, appear on at least one catwalk every season, and have been staples at Vivienne Westwood and John Galliano year after year. Retro styles are a perennial inspiration, coming back year after year - unlike those eyebrows.

Brideshead Revisited This adaptation of Evelyn Waugh's 1920s-set novel may have left the movie critics cold, but if you're looking for pretty clothes and glorious design ­details it's worth watching - ­especially with the flapper look making such a strong showing both this season and next season. For spring/summer 2009, Alberta Ferretti showed myriad delicate, floaty, silken, drop-waisted dresses, with ­fringes, art-deco patterns and soft, aged colours. To avoid looking like you're going to a costume party, do not - repeat do not - wear a flapper dress with a bob. If you like the shape and ­extravagance but want a slightly less ­literal ­interpretation, try Balenciaga's ­iridescent ruffled dresses over thick tights and boots.
Changeling Another 1920s epic, Clint ­Eastwood's Changeling, starring Angelina Jolie, has a much more low-key look than Brideshead ­Revisited, which makes it a little more easy to adapt for everyday ­dressing. The dingy browns of hard-working Chicago may not have the flamboyance of those flapper silks and velvets, but they're far more wearable - and somewhat fitting in these dour times. While Christian Dior's couture showing for autumn/winter 2008/09 picked up on the cloche hat, it is Burberry's rainy-day ­collection for spring/summer 2009 that works here, teaming droopy sack dresses with close-fitting rain hats and drab raincoats for a sweetly cosy look - ideal if you're travelling to Europe this spring.
The Duchess In a slightly more sophisticated ­reprise of her Pirates of the Caribbean wardrobe, Keira Knightley dons corset and panniers for this melodramatic tale of Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire, whose ­extravagant life was marred by the cruelty of her husband and the ­expectations of society. While it's probably best to avoid the foot-high updos, the pretty beribboned ­bodices, lace-trimmed three-quarter-length sleeves and ­voluminous, extravagantly ruched skirts are all fun - in small doses. Take a tip from Yohji Yamamoto and, when using huge lengths of crumpled fabric to create long dresses, go for simple ivory. This is an excellent wedding look, but those big hats will also have some mileage at the Dubai World Cup next spring.
gchamp@thenational.ae