By Design : Q & A : "You Go Where You Have to Go for Inspiration" : RITA RYACK


Been there? Worn that? So has Rita Ryack, one of Hollywood's busiest costume designers and creator of such recent sartorial throwbacks as "Apollo 13," a bouquet to Banlon from the '60s, and "Casino," an homage to the gaudy '70s.

She spoke with freelance writer Betty Goodwin about the joys and perils of dipping into fashion's past, for work and for pleasure.


Question: What do you think of the rash of retro revivals?

Answer: I know designers borrow from vintage collections and copy them directly. I think you go where you have to go for inspiration. I was taught that fashion goes in 30-year cycles. You'll have padded shoulders for a while and then they'll be gone. The little shapeless chemise dress of the '20s was picked up as the shift in the '60s, so that's a 40-year cycle. The '40s shoulder pads came back again in the '80s.

Q: Which period do you most like to see revived?

A: Everything's out there now. [John] Galliano's doing '30s bias-cut gowns. So is Calvin Klein, with that really simple bias cut. I've seen a lot of evening wear lately because I've been fitting Rene Russo for the last few weeks for a film ['Ransom']. . . .

I always feel very strong wearing a '40s silhouette with a clean padded shoulder and a waist and heavy shoes too. It's feminine and no-nonsense, and it's been so glamorized in films. . . .

I also love the '50s. . . . The most popular thing I've come across after emerging from doing all these period films is a revival of that late '50s/early '60s Jackie Kennedy silhouette. Prada's doing the most beautiful sheaths and Jackie Kennedy suits with simple round collars and straight or A-line skirts.

Q: Any period we should avoid at all costs?

A: Well, the '70s were pretty awful, but we're seeing them again anyway. Some people look fantastic in it, and it depends on the reinterpretation. Gucci does some incredible '70s stuff, those wonderful low hip huggers. For me, the first time around they were a revelation. Now I wouldn't wear them. I was 16 then.

Q: If a woman likes a retro period, should she do the whole look from top to bottom?

A: I kind of do it head to toe, but I do have this compulsive streak. Armani suits look great with flat Armani shoes. [Norma] Kamali always shows a nice clunky shoe with her '40s stuff. What's interesting is that Mrs. Prada is doing that '60s sheath and with a collection of '30s and '40s retro shoes. Those '30s round-toe shoes are coming back--the Minnie Mouse--and they're adorable. You can mix, of course . . . but I think it's easy to fall into a Glamour 'don't' column.

Q: Which recent movies have had the biggest influence on revivals?

A: Actually, 'Casino' seems to have had a pretty big impact, although some of the '70s revival was happening during the editing of the film. I was hoping it would be seen in 'Casino' first, particularly the men's stuff--Robert De Niro's monochromatic shirt and tie thing. . . .

[But] I felt like Isaac Mizrahi did in 'Unzipped' when he was handed the Women's Wear Daily issue about [Jean Paul] Gaultier showing the same thing he was working on. While doing 'The Fan' [the film she worked on post-'Casino'], one of my co-designers came up to me with an article from GQ or Esquire all about the return of the solid tie.

Q: When costuming a contemporary film such as "Ransom," do you consider retro looks?

A: Yes. And I also I throw in some vintage, even though there are certain period looks in contemporary television shows and films that make me cringe. It's like 'Let's get some things from a thrift shop so the character will look eccentric.' . . .

I'm using some old '40s rayon plaid shirts that always look terrific for ['Ransom' co-star] Mel Gibson. Equipment makes that '40s two-pocket look shirt, and I'm using that for Mel. They're really sexy and moderately priced. . . .

Ralph Lauren's Double RL line . . . had me fooled into thinking it's real vintage. It's a lot of '30s and '40s denim looks and really great old '50s khakis. . . . I've already put Mel in the khakis. Lauren also does the best work shirt for women--plain, double pocket with a collar, not horsy, washed out. I think Rene will have one of those and some of his beautiful plaid shirts that look like the old '40s plaid shirts, nicely pre-aged. . . .

Q: What about all those gowns you've been looking at?

A: There's a party scene [in 'Ransom'] where Rene's wearing a lovely white eyelash kind of furry Audrey Hepburn sheath by an Italian designer I'm not really familiar with. We tried everything on her, and this looked magical. It makes her sympathetic. There's something about the white, the innocent shape and the softness. She's wearing a Prada almost-flat shoe with pointy toes and beautiful fresh-water pearls. She looks a little Alice in Wonderland. There's a wondrous quality about her.

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