Dress-up in Taraji P. Henson's closet

Dress-up in Taraji P. Henson's closet
Taraji P. Henson in her walk-in closet. (Kirk McKoy / Los Angeles Times)

You wouldn't know it from her most noteworthy roles, such as the buttoned-up, warm-hearted caretaker in

"The Curious Case of Benjamin Button"

or the fragile and worn-looking prostitute in "Hustle and Flow," but

Taraji P. Henson

is a self-proclaimed "fashion and shoe" girl and she's got the contents of her newly built closet to prove it.

Dressed in a pair of body-hugging G Star jeans and an olive-green T-shirt with platinum-colored epaulets from Bebe, Henson bounds into her closet with a wide smile, loads of energy and what seems like endless excitement to show off her most coveted sartorial possessions. She can pinpoint the first time she wore most of them, how she felt and how many heads she turned. But no matter how many


boxes and Vuitton bags are perched around her, she is completely passionate about each and every piece.



Fashion timeline: In Sunday's Image section, a timeline of the history of wardrobes said that Princess Diana donated 79 dresses for a charity sale at Christie's in 1979. The year was 1997. —

Henson, 39, recently moved from a Spanish bungalow in Glendale to a newly built Moroccan-style home in the Hollywood Hills. Her closet space increased along with the overall square footage. "I now have space. I can see everything," she says. "I don't even know how I was fitting everything in my other house. Closet space was at the top of my list when looking for a new house, along with the view." She got what she was looking for: Besides unobstructed views from west to east, Henson gained a large closet in her master suite as well as one in her "glam room," where she get dolled up for appearances and houses her longer red-carpet gowns and fancier attire.

But it's her master closet that revs her up for getting creative with her clothes and letting her exuberant personality loose. "Even before I became an actress, I used to wake up and dress according to characters," she says. "It was all a theme to me. One day I'd have long


down to here with an exotic look, and the next day I may be ghetto Betty with big bamboo earrings, Converse and little shorts. I think that speaks to me as the kind of artist and actress I am. I'm very expressive and this helps me in developing characters. I ask myself, 'What does she look like? What would she wear?'"

The flow of her closet is a work in progress. Not everything is perfectly uniform, not all the hangers match and smell of cedar, nor is there a Jetsons'-style catalog system in place. But this seems to suit the actress who references her closet like a giant (and high-end) dress-up chest.

From stacks of skinny jeans to shoes in the original boxes (categorized by color and style), Henson's 7-by-12-foot walk-in closet, complete with a built-in vanity, is a girly girl's sanctuary. Among other things, it's stocked with sexy skirts, tokens from abroad (such as


, where she spent three months filming

"The Karate Kid"

) and numerous pairs of shoes in styles suitable for walking the red carpet or walking her dog, a silky terrier named Willie.

"These are my walk-the-dog shoes," she says, pulling out a pair of caramel-colored, fleece-lined boots festooned with two tiers of fringe that shimmy like a

Tina Turner

mini-dress. They are just one of many pairs of furry and cold-weather boots. "

Tom Hanks

gave me these," she says of some white, cable-knit boots with pompom tassels (the actress just wrapped the film "Larry Crowne," starring and directed by Hanks). "And I wear these [bubblegum-pink Timberland boots] if I go up to Big Bear. I have a ski suit with pink stitching, and my goggles are pink. See, everything is about fashion for me!"

Her collection of flat, furry boots are but a minor blip in the well-stocked closet. It's the heels, nay stilettos, tall supermodel-meets-superhero shoes that not only stand out like shiny little trophies, but that Henson is obviously the most jazzed about. Shoe boxes stacked according to style, color and print are marked with photographs of the box's contents. YSL, Guiseppe Zanotti, Louboutin and plenty of her favorite Gucci shoes fill up closet compartments to heights that would make any girl first drool, and then seethe with envy.

"Oh! I have to show you the shoes that go with the cage dress!" She is referring to a pair of black Gucci heels that she wore — with a Mandalay cocktail dress with a cage-like corset around the waist — when hosting this year's BET Awards after-party with

P. Diddy

. "Let me tell you something about these shoes," she says. "They are showstoppers." She is equally if not more excited to pull down a box containing shoes she calls "mad hunt" shoes, meaning she saw, she found, she bought, she conquered. Henson has more than a few pairs of mad hunt shoes.

"These Chloe booties were a mad hunt," she says. "I saw the runway show online and needed this color [a deep forest green suede]. They're like artwork, you can tie them up, slouch them down, they're so incredible. I'll really go nuts for some shoes and if you get good shoes, they are forever. I'll have these forever." She ensures that the structure of her shoes lasts as long as her adoration for them by reinforcing the soles and heels of every pair (even her sandals) before wearing them. "I have the bottoms put on all my shoes," she says "When you're spending that kind of money on shoes, you've got to take care of them and I do."

She fawns over a pair of thigh-high Guiseppe Zanotti boots with bondage-esque buckles and straps. "These are really my rock star boots," she says of the shoes that make her look as if she's about to get on stage and do a duet with


. "When I want to feel like a model, I put on these Gucci sandals," Henson says plucking a pair of metallic sandals with giant platforms out of their box. "These make me feel 10 feet tall and these just go with everything, like this new piece I just added [a leopard-print Dolce & Gabbana shift dress]. I talk to my clothes too! Hey girl! Who am I gonna wear today? I know I'm a nut," she says breaking into her characteristic whole-hearted laugh.

Besides her shoes, Henson's love of handbags shows in her collection. There is a black Gucci tote bag that she plans to pass on as an heirloom someday because, as she says while stroking the buttery leather, "this will just get better with age." A grapey purple Gucci hobo that "pops" any outfit, pairs well with some purple Gucci d'Orsay pumps that are stowed away in a shelf. And the piece de resistance — and here Henson cautions that an onlooker may want to sit down, because the bag is that good — a crimson Valentino shoulder bag with cascading ruffles. Henson can't help but give it a little smooch.

She moves on to a few sentimental items, such as the silk cheongsams she brought back from China, several pairs of shoes worn during press events surrounding her supporting actress Oscar nomination for "Benjamin Button" and her first pair of designer shoes as well as the first designer bag she purchased herself when she started gaining success as an actress in Hollywood. Henson says she was "woozy and sweating" while taking the plunge and purchasing such big-ticket items, but she is quick to add, "These are things I'll keep forever."

And since most days Henson is inspired to don a different look depending on her mood or destination, it's a good thing she has an ample closet with lots of "forever" items to fuel her fantasies.