Bassett's New Look Is Pearls, Not Power

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

The Movie: "How Stella Got Her Groove Back."

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The Setup: Life isn't going exactly the way the 40-year-old, high-powered stockbroker (Angela Bassett) wants, so she takes off for a vacation in Jamaica with her friend Delilah (Whoopi Goldberg).

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The Costume Designer: Ruth E. Carter, whose credits include "Amistad," "What's Love Got to Do With It," "Malcolm X," "Do the Right Thing" and "School Daze."

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The Plan: "The director and I wanted to bring a softer Angela to the screen, softer than 'What's Love Got to Do With It,' softer than 'Contact,' " says Carter. "She always plays these wonderful role models, but they're very tough and structured and suited and tailored. Any mention of Angela Bassett also included, 'She really works out doesn't she?' I thought it was time to reverse that. I wanted to do glamorous the whole time."

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The Look: The truth is, one look at Bassett in this parade of one- and two-piece bathing suits, midriff-baring workout wear, sarongs and body-sculpted dresses, and people are still going to ask if she works out. (She does, but not as heavily these days as in the past, according to Carter.) But, this time around, the audience won't be commenting on her biceps. "Her abs are completely fantastic," acknowledges Carter. In other words, you're going to want to run home and do sit-ups.

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Trade Secrets: Even though Bassett is in great shape (she wears a size 5 / 6), there is still a costume designer's artistry at work to emphasize the positive and downplay the negative. Carter determined that bikini bottoms needed to have full backs for coverage and highly cut thigh lines to elongate Bassett's legs. She needed low-cut under-wire bra tops for definition and support. For a romp on the beach, Carter designed an outfit--hot pink bra top and matching long tube skirt--that pulled all the flattering essentials together: bare stomach, demi bra and matching-color top and bottom. "Color carries your eyes up and down," so it appears to lengthen the body, says Carter. The same formula applied to workout clothes, matching crop tops and running pants by Nike.

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The Power Game: "Soft, soft, soft" was also Carter's mantra when she was dressing Bassett for work. Reversing Bassett's tough look meant dressing her in an array of professional-looking but not rigid suits and dresses, including a toffee-colored Valentino skirted suit with a jacket that ties on the side, as well as several outfits by Susan Lazar, who uses silk-like, body-conscious fabrics. Bassett wears one of Lazar's black turtleneck dresses underneath a black Moschino jacket that ties like a corset, definitely not your standard power-woman look. Her jewelry was also soft and feminine--delicate crystal and freshwater-pearl chokers by Wendy Brigode.

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You Should Know: Whoopi Goldberg never looked better on screen. Maybe it's because she instructed Carter to shop at the Harari boutique, Goldberg's favorite store. "She showed me some of the designs she felt comfortable in and told me pick anything I wanted," says Carter, who chose Shirin Guild's gauzy separates along with masses of Bakelite bracelets and earrings. Goldberg also wears a Gottex swimsuit and zebra-striped chiffon jacket. The wide-brimmed hats Goldberg and Bassett wear were designed by Carter and made by Lindi Z.

For the Record Los Angeles Times Thursday September 3, 1998 Home Edition Life & Style Part E Page 3 View Desk 1 inches; 25 words Type of Material: Correction Hat Designer--The hats worn by Angela Bassett and Whoopi Goldberg in their new film and described in Life & Style on Aug. 13 were created and designed by Melinda Grieger for Lindy Z.
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