Frontier Finery

THE MOVIE: "The Last of the Mohicans"

THE SET-UP: Love blooms on the American Frontier, in a story based on the James Fenimore Cooper novel. Key players are Hawkeye (Daniel Day-Lewis), the adopted son of a Mohican chief, and Cora Munro (Madeleine Stowe), the daughter of an English officer, who meet during the war between England and France in 1757 in Upstate New York.

THE DESIGNER: Screen credit goes to Elsa Zamparelli ("Dances With Wolves") who replaced Oscar-winner James Acheson ("The Last Emperor" and "Dangerous Liaisons") during production.

THE LOOK: Expect authenticity. Among the specialists working on the film were a "military costume adviser," an "18th-Century frontier consultant," and several American Indian craftspeople. But don't expect the familiar glitz. Pains were taken to create a portrait of Northeast American Indians as they would have appeared in their daily lives. Frills would have been virtually nonexistent, says frontier consultant Lee Teter, a Pennsylvania artist. Instead there are honestly drab-colored hunting shirts (of chamois and cotton), skin leggings and loincloths for Day-Lewis and the Mohicans and Hurons. Day-Lewis' gun strap of shell beads seems like a Hollywood affectation, put there for its chest-thumping effect. It works, but another special effect--Stowe's tattered bodice--reads like a cleavage cliche.

The redcoats are a striking bunch in their military finery. Particularly mesmerizing is the luxurious gold braid on officers' uniforms and tricorn hats.

THE OVERLOOKED: Because much of the film takes place at night, many details are lost in the darkness. Ten tattoo artists worked on the film, as tattoos were common to Northeastern Indian tribes. And Day-Lewis' forearms are covered with geometric patterns only visible in press photos. Thankfully, the two thunderbirds on his chest are clearly seen.

QUOTED: "I wanted to use turbans, but if you get too bizarre, even if it's true the audience won't relate," Zamparelli says of the feathered turban-like headdresses the Northeast American Indians wore.

TRY THIS AT HOME: Maybe they're extensions, maybe not. Either way, Day-Lewis's shoulder-length hair looks natural and truly heroic.

THE RESEARCH: Period clothing, documents and paintings were studied from many sources, including collections at the British Museum in London, the McCord Museum in Montreal, the Museum of Civilization in Ottowa and the Museum of American Indian/Heye Foundation in New York City.

THE SOURCES: Almost every garment was made in the production's wardrobe department in North Carolina. Many items such as moccasins, officer's riding boots, and Day-Lewis' chamois shirt were made by hand. Some deer, elk and split cow hides were actually "brain-tanned" (the animal's brain is rubbed into the hide) and smoked, according to Canadian Indian tradition. The British officers' gold braid was imported from England, and Cora's bonnets from Italy.

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