BY DESIGN : Creations Fit for a Queen--or Three

The Movie: “The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert.”

The Setup: On a drag version of a road trip, three queens of diverse fashion persuasions leave Sydney, Australia, and travel across the country to put on a show at a resort.

The Costume Designers: Lizzy Gardiner, who has worked on several Australian movies and television series, and Tim Chappel, a drag performer and designer for whom “Priscilla” marks his feature debut.

The Onstage Look: The trio of Bernadette (Terence Stamp), Adam/Felicia (Guy Pearce) and Tick/Mitzi (Hugo Weaving) don’t even attempt to portray traditional female impersonators, a performance style that’s quite old hat, in case you didn’t know. In the new (at least circa 1993, when the film was made), young drag culture, the look is a satire of female impersonators--cheap, tacky and wildly over the top.


The Offstage Look: Bernadette represents the older, elegant queen with over-blond, Beverly Hills hair, turbans and silky blouses and pants. Adam/Felicia epitomizes the young, body-conscious, big city queen, or “muscle poof,” in Australian terminology, who is mad for anything made from Gianni Versace prints (his “psychedelic Hermes stage” only, Chappel informs)--leggings, jeans and jackets. Tick/Mitzi, clearly confused about his sexual identity, is the least flamboyant in plain, loose shirts and trousers.

Details: Bernadette, a transsexual, required lifelike breasts. Indeed, queens desiring authentic-looking breasts often inflate their bra cups with balloons filled with yogurt. Because the intense heat on location in the desert ruled out yogurt, the designers experimented with other substances. “We made lentil soup for two weeks,” Gardiner attests. Finally, Stamp’s balloons were filled with water. But the water had to be changed after every take because the high temperatures heated the water and made the balloons expand to the breaking point.

Quoted: “The new sort of drag queens are gender illusionists. They’re like the court jesters of the gay scene. They’re not necessarily male or female; sometimes they’re both male and female. In some outfits, they’re not even wearing boobs,” Chappel says.

Budget: Goodby hand-sewn beads and hello hot glue guns! The total costume allowance was $15,000, which would just about cover doughnuts and coffee on a U.S. film. In this world, the polite term for made-on-a-budget costumes is “mock de crock,” Chappel says. “It means, ‘made from nothing.’ ”