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Charlie's Clotheshorses 

Thursday, Jun 19 2003
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Take a good look at the trailer for the upcoming Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle, and you’ll see that among the many fashions adorning Cameron Diaz, Drew Barrymore and Lucy Liu (a staggering 15 getups apiece, by a freeze-frame count), there is one particular ensemble that not only makes sophisticated use of color and silhouette, but is also redolent of a heady SoCal symbolism. It is the uniform of the Hot Dog on a Stick girl, that illustrious denizen of malls, fairs and seasides whom girls want to be and boys want to have. Throw the outfit onto ass-kicking beauties Barrymore and Liu, and its fetishistic value skyrockets. (Ten-to-one the scene opens with one of them humping away at the lemonade churn.) However you might feel about the Charlie’s Angels movies themselves, it must be said that the costuming is canny.

A movie costumer must worry about his designs working now, and 20 years on, but for Full Throttle designer Joseph G. Aulisi, mediating the past and present concerns not just tailoring, but the pop-culture phenomenon from which the movies spring. The original Charlie’s Angels gave viewers a TV-ready idea of post-feminist, tough-chick beauty (for the full-strength version, see Pam Grier’s blaxploitation flicks) and, in the process, created a fashion touchstone, as anyone who’s spent time in a Farrah flip can tell you. Fans wanted to feel that they, too, could manhandle a handsome criminal, make him fall in love with her, and look marvelous doing it.

The same idea drives the movies, but now the ante is upped. In a world where fashion has stalked off the catwalk and onto the red carpet, Aulisi must dress three of the Great Scarlet Way’s more prominent prowlers. There is a hierarchy: Diaz, who gets top billing, comes away with the more elaborate creations, including a knockout hooded cat suit made of what looks like liquid silver — onscreen it transforms her from a lanky California blond into some kind of fantastic superhero insect.

This may not quite jibe with the “outdoorsy” look that Aulisi designates for Diaz’s wardrobe in press notes, but elsewhere the costumes fall neatly into type: girl next door for Diaz, “rock star” for Barrymore and “cosmopolitan” for Liu. Here again, Aulisi accommodates a specialized movie need, dressing an angel to suit all tastes and, in the bargain, reinforcing the movie’s video-game aesthetic by offering the now-commonplace choice of avatar. (For the big motocross scene, bound to be one of the film’s gamiest, shiny jewel-toned jerseys, pants and chest plates were commissioned from racing-gear impresario Troy Lee.)

It’s Barrymore’s retro glam that most directly recalls the TV series, albeit if Aaron Spelling had set the show at the Whisky. Her ’70s look entails bell-bottoms and thrift-store tees (AC/DC, Union Jack), with high-style moments by way of updated Commie chic — a modified-Mandarin, brick-red chemise and olive-drab Mao cap — and a delirious Bowie homage. To essay a screaming roller-derby queen, Barrymore sports a spiked red Aladdin Sane wig-hat topping a full-face lightning bolt; the costume screams famous fan girl.

Meanwhile, Liu’s wardrobe plays on a naughty-and-nice, Asian-flower type, with demure daytime wear — pretty pink charmeuse, trim white turtleneck — giving way to on-assignment black leather that’s cut high and low. Her centerpiece ensemble is all well-heeled dominatrix, with tall, spiked boots, tight leather jacket and a shirt cunningly laced to make the most of Liu’s pert bosom.

Aulisi’s masterpiece, however, is reserved for Diaz. For a scene set in a rough-and-tumble Mongolian bar, he’s created a multilayered white confection that achieves everything it’s supposed to — timeless, up-to-the-minute and outlandish, it crystallizes the idea that form need not follow function if it’s fabulous enough. No one but an angel could brave the harsh Mongol terrain in a pearl shearling hoodie, pleated mini, lace-up shearling boots and thigh-high, cream-colored nubby-knit stockings — the sort of specialty legwear that on anyone but the impossibly skinny might more closely resemble a fancy condom forced over a weisswurst. God forbid it should start a trend — Dolphin shorts and satin jackets, anyone?

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