The Movie: “The Summer House.”
The Setup: Flamboyant and world-wise Lili (Jeanne Moreau, pictured at right with Julie Walters) storms into a suburban London town to save naive Margaret (Lena Headey) from a potentially wretched marriage--and to offer a bit of fashion wisdom--in the film based on Alice Thomas Ellis’ novel “The Clothes in the Wardrobe.”
The Costume Designer: Odile Dicks-Mireaux, who has worked on BBC television dramas, makes her motion-picture debut.
The Look: It would not be tough to out-dress the inhabitants of Croydon, where dull sweater sets and tweed skirts dominate. But Lili possesses true fashion flair, circa 1959.
A half-English, half-Egyptian Auntie Mame, she dresses with Technicolor brilliance (to match her fiery red mane) and commingles the latest French styles with enormous pieces of rattling Egyptian and Moroccan jewelry, high-heeled booties, short swirling coats and flirty feathered hats. One winning ensemble: a boxy, midnight-blue suit, Chanel emerald choker and leopard-fur muff.
Hit: Before there were face lifts, there was French fashion. The 60ish Lili is utterly enlivened by her zippy wardrobe and henna-colored wig. In contrast, her peer, Mrs. Monro (Joan Plowright), looks ancient in mismatched woolens and fuzzy hair tucked under a crocheted cap.
Quoted: “Jeanne (Moreau) loves clothes. She’s a very good friend of Azzedine Alaia, and knows Yves Saint Laurent and Issey Miyake. She wanted to wear some of her own things and brought jewelry and two huge bags of shoes from different designers (whom) she thought would be right,” Dicks-Mireaux said.
Trivia: The passage in the novel that prompts Lili to overhaul Margaret’s look begins when Margaret’s mother suggests that she wear a red jumper. Lili thinks otherwise. “No,” she says to the women. “How elegant you would look all in gray. She shall go all in gray and you shall lend her your seed pearls. Now pale lipstick and some powder, and she can slip into Bond Street without looking as if she comes from Croydon.”
Inspiration: Many of Lili’s suits, coats and dresses were copies of Balenciaga designs “because he had very clean lines that I thought would suit a flamboyant older lady,” explained Dicks-Mireaux, who also copied a Givenchy black sheath dress.
Sources: Most of Lili’s clothes were custom-made in London. Many of her necklaces and earrings were from Cairo. The Chanel choker and long African earrings belonged to Moreau, who also wore her own shoes. Fabrics for coat linings and scarves were made in Egypt. Cardigans, woolens and jumpers worn by other cast members were mostly vintage pieces.