Pret-a-Reporter

'Absolutely Fabulous': First Look at the Film Reboot's Fashions

David Appleby/Fox Searchlight
'Absolutely Fabulous'

'Ab Fab' was serious '90s cult TV. Now, trainwrecks Patsy and Edina hit the big screen, still chic in Stella McCartney and Vivienne Westwood thanks to costumer Rebecca Hale.

When viewers last left Edina and Patsy, the middle-aged trainwreck heroines of the 1990s TV hit Absolutely Fabulous — played, respectively, by Jennifer Saunders and Joanna Lumley — the ladies were boozing it up and popping pills while keeping up the appearance of holding down fashionable careers. On the show, which aired on BBC America in the U.S., Edina ran her own PR agency and Patsy was an MIA fashion editor.

The London party girls were delinquent fashion victims of their time, a kind of English version of Sex and the City, except these ladies were far too self-obsessed to be worried about men. Frequently clad in their favorite designer, Christian Lacroix ("It's Lacroix, sweetie, Lacroix"), and other age- inappropriate outfits, they were designer eye candy long before the Internet invented street style. Now, 12 years later, the ladies are back, slightly older, hopefully wiser and tottering across a bigger screen, as Absolutely Fabulous: The Movie — scripted by Saunders, 57 - who created the original series with collaborator Dawn French — is set to open in the U.S. on July 22. Also returning for the Fox Searchlight film is one of the show's original costume designers (from 2001 to 2004), Rebecca Hale, a woman who very much understands the duo's hell-bent quest to be fabulous.


From left: Lulu, Christie, Saunders, Abbey Clancy, Lumley and Sadie Frost sit front row at a fashion show in the film.

"When Jennifer initially approached me about the film, I thought: 'Fashion has gotten so outrageous now. We can't have Edina walking around in pompoms like we used to. We have to be a bit more clever than that. On the show, I always wanted an essence of street — the hard-core roots of British fashion — but I was aware that now high fashions are more outrageous than Ab Fab ever was," says Hale, who had such U.K. designers as Vivienne Westwood and Giles Deacon create custom costumes for the movie. "The clothes in the film are not that outrageous — it's the acting that makes it outrageous. It's what Edina and Patsy have to say — it's all so ridiculous."

The costumer acknowledges that lead character Edina is having a midlife crisis, reevaluating her career and seeking more gravitas. "She wants to do something more important than go to parties. Edina can't be carried by the clothes anymore — she's going to have to carry herself," says Hale. "The best place to start was Westwood [in one scene, Saunders' character wears a tight purple Westwood skirt suit with a tie]. Westwood's anarchic, and her tailoring is beautiful — it's classic with a twist. And it works because Vivienne has a social message — and Ab Fab is all about a social message."

What social message is that? A complete send-up of the kind of middle- to late-aged urban women who act like teenagers, party all the time, rarely do any real work — and are utterly and completely materialistic, and concerned with only visuals and status. "The social message is definitely Jennifer Saunders' intention," says Hale. "But in the end, this film is a celebration of fashion, and it will attract a whole new generation of fans to Ab Fab."

Hale also used some young British designers, like Hannah Weiland, who designs the Shrimps line of colorful fake furs that's become wildly trendy in London and New York. "I also made a lot of the clothes for certain actors," she says. "I would find a picture, go to the fabric store, find some Pucci-esque fabric — and have things made that reminded me of boho London times.

On the other hand, Lumley, 69, carries off more of a high-low fashion mix. "In one scene, she wears a jacket by Lanvin and a skirt by H&M. That's the brilliant thing about Joanna: She looks great in high street," enthuses Hale. "Patsy was always more of a classic dresser — she was never as outrageous as Edina. Everything Joanna wears in the film harkens back to Patsy of the '90s: She's trying terribly hard to be chic and sort of pulling it off. But Joanna won't wear something she doesn't feel is right for Patsy." An example of high/low: Patsy/Joanna's pieces are by Isabel Marant — and Zara. "That's the way Patsy would shop," says Hale.


The ladies shop with Bunton.

Indeed, time has not wearied Lumley's passion for her fashion-icon alter ego. "Sometimes Patsy is a bit rock-chick, but until she unravels after too much celebrating she is pretty soigne: Her lipstick is red; her hair is in a beehive; her sunglasses are understated and expensive. Cigarettes are de rigueur, and champagne and vodka must be on tap. Patsy fears nothing," says Lumley.

Along with its scene-stealing leads, the film features a slew of stylish cameos. The ladies attend a runway show for Deacon, get into a scrape with Kate Moss, rub elbows with Stella McCartney and Jean Paul Gaultier and get chummy with Rebel Wilson and former Spice Girl Emma Bunton. "At the Giles Deacon show — staged for the movie — Edina is wearing a Giles outfit and Gwendoline Christie [who plays a warrior giantess on Game of Thrones] is in a Giles dress. I know — Brienne of Tarth at a fashion show!" says Hale. "Gwendoline is actually quite glamourous — and a great comedienne. And she's appeared in Vivienne Westwood's ads."

Does a designer as important as Stella McCartney mind being sent up by Ab Fab? "She's totally cool with it," says Hale. "She's thrilled to be in Ab Fab. And if you sign up as a fan of this show, you have to be willing to be ridiculed a bit. I think all of these designers in the film are actually honored to be part of it."

Another Brit designer whose wares turn up in the film is handbag creator Anya Hindmarch. "Edina carries this red one — she thinks of this funny red bag as a business bag! And another moment I really love is that Jennifer wears this pin on her purple Vivienne Westwood suit that reads 'Reality TV makes me sad.' Now it's sold out all over the world — just because people on the street saw her shoot that scene! I think the pin's her statement on the Kardashians."

Despite media reports to the contrary, Hale confirms Kim Kardashian does not make a cameo. "I think she wanted to, but Kim is not in it. She was never meant to be in it — she's definitely part of Jennifer's sendup of fashion society." Case in point: Pinned to Edina's Westwood suit is a sparkly oversized Alexis Bittar brooch that reads, "Reality TV Makes Me Sad."

In a scene from the movie, Moss (with Gaultier) emerges from the River Thames holding
 a champagne glass and a soggy cigarette.

A version of this story first appeared in the April 1 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.

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