BY DESIGN : Fab Duo Is, Well, Fabulous : Britain's Edina and Patsy Are the Fashion World's Newest Sweetie Darlings


Cave dwellers and the cable-challenged might have missed the premiere of "Absolutely Fabulous" on Comedy Central on Sunday, but the fashion watchers didn't. Their fingers were poised on the record buttons of their VCRs to tape the daylong British sitcom's orgy of sex, drugs, dysfunctional families and eye-jarring fashion statements.

They were only too thrilled to vicariously roll in the gutter with Edina (Jennifer Saunders)--the rebirthed, channeled, crystallized, "I'm-chanting-as-we-speak" Buddhist publicist and her best friend, Patsy (Joanna Lumley), a magazine fashion director whose talents include procuring casual sex, cocaine and champagne.

"All the drugs and stuff reminded me of the way past," Los Angeles fashion designer Gregory Poe says. "There was a time when I actually was in a trance-like state. The show had that same sort of a trance-like quality. The head trips reminded me of the fashion world, the ones people don't want to admit--stuff like 'reschedule my rebirth for next Thursday.' "

"The people who are talking about it are the ones lampooned by the show," notes fashion writer and Newsday columnist Frank DeCaro. "Not only are we the target audience but we're also the target."

The "Absolutely Fabulous" gals smoke, they swear, they have serious substance-abuse problems. Edina is an unfit mother and Patsy is your mother's worst nightmare. Her anti-grav tower of blond hair, Chanel suits and garishly lipsticked leer have elevated her to the style pantheon: She is the latest specialty among drag queens.

And even though the pair's bad influence wasn't felt in this country until this week, they already had loyalists.

"It's taken over my life," DeCaro admits. No kidding. He has all 12 shows on tape, a book that includes scripts and photographs, the "Absolutely Fabulous Sweetie Darling" T-shirt, the Pet Shop Boys' single "Absolutely Fabulous"--which contains lines from the show--and photographs of himself with Lumley and Saunders taken at a recent New York taping.

Was he circumspect when he met the divine duo? "Of course. I'm not a complete geek," he says.

Cynthia Hall, a Dallas stylist turned independent film producer, was desperate to see the show, even though her cable system deemed it too racy. "Two drunken women doing drugs? It's right up my alley.

"It reminded me of the first time I saw 'All in the Family'--I was spellbound but sort of embarrassed. I kept looking around the room to see who was laughing. It's kind of like giggling in church. You know you shouldn't, but the harder you try to stifle, the worse it gets," she says.

References to the show are turning up in fashionable places. DeCaro reports overhearing them this week in New York at the menswear shows.

"Everyone is calling everyone else 'sweetie darling.' I've heard 'Lacroix sweetie, Lacroix,' and 'I'm chanting as we speak.' "

"AbFab," as it's called by fans, appeals to the true fashion insider. " 'Models Inc.' hasn't got a clue about fashion," DeCaro says. "With 'AbFab,' accuracy is its best feature."

Janet Orsi, a Los Angeles publicist, definitely recognized Edina as a member of the flack sisterhood. "Oh, Edina, she's one of us. I loved the part where she's given a present and she says, 'Is it Lacroix, I love it--if it's Lacroix. Is it Lacroix, sweetie?' That is right on the money. Only in the fashion world will you hear people say, 'Love your jacket, whose is it?' Any sane person would say, 'It's mine.' In the fashion world, you have to give its lineage."

Which brings us to the clothes, sweetie darling.

"I thought design-wise, they had it spot on," says British expatriate David Stamper, public relations director of the California Mart.

"Edina was amazing, she was so badly dressed," gasps Tim Flannery, art director for a large national specialty store. "Oh, my God, that fake fur coat with Versace bell-bottoms and a brocade Lacroix vest."

Edina's ghastly, one-size-too-small, multilayered, designer-labeled get-ups impede her ability to walk a sidewalk, drive a car and sit in a chair. They also are a constant source of comment both on the show and in the audience.

"What's that you're wearing?" Patsy sniffs.


"Oh, Lacroix--it's fabulous."

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