Douglas, Paltrow Are Dressed to Kill

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

The movie: "A Perfect Murder"

The Setup: A "Dial M for Murder"-inspired tale about millionaire financier Steven Taylor (Michael Douglas), who plots to kill his unfaithful wife, Emily (Gwyneth Paltrow).

The Costume Designer: Ellen Mirojnick, whose credits include "Fatal Attraction," "Wall Street," "Basic Instinct" and "Chaplin."

The Look: The Taylors dress strictly upper crust, although there's an added fashion subtext. The chess moves of the plot are subtly played out in wardrobe choices. "For every positive, there's a negative," explains Mirojnick. "If you want one character to recede into the darkness, another must come forward." For example, a murder attempt occurs when Steven wears an ominous charcoal tone-on-tone ensemble, which is meant to overpower Emily, who wears a luminous, cream silk robe.

Her Look: Emily oozes elegance, class, money in leather, suede, cashmere, silk and shearling of purposefully indeterminate source, save for one fabled black Hermes "Kelly" handbag and several Hermes scarves. (Mirojnick designed most of the principals' wardrobes, except for Emily's Loro Piana cashmere sweaters, a Balenciaga gown and a brown shearling jacket by Maxfield in London.) Trousers, sweaters, skirts and coats are all cut simply, close to the body and without gimmicks. The point is that Emily doesn't need to announce her good taste with a recognizable label or logo. She is a woman of confidence who can "put on a white (cotton) shirt, a little skirt (black knit, just above the ankle) and a piece of jewelry around the neck (8 millimeter pearls, double strand) and look like a million dollars." You can also calculate into that Paltrow's own platinum and diamond Cartier watch.

His Look: Steven's dark-toned wardrobe of three-piece suits worn with murky shirts and ties, including one exceedingly creepy deep violet shirt and tie, clearly conveyed evil. But the cut of the clothes served another purpose. Jackets with high armholes; straight, not sloped, shoulders; and an exceptionally close fit forced the actor into a power pose. Douglas says vests were particularly important, allowing him to leave open his jackets and "expand in your mind." Douglas adds, "If something fits you smoothly, as opposed to rumpled, no wind comes over you. It fits aerodynamically as if this guy is a shark designed to cut through water."

The Paltrow Factor: It happens in every movie from "Great Expectations" to "Sliding Doors." Paltrow simply looks awesome in whatever she wears. How does she do it? "She has a kind of hanger body," Mirojnick reasons. "She's tall. She's thin. Her legs are longer than her torso. She has great stride and knows how to move in clothes. She knows how to sashay and how to be still. I'm sure she's been playing dress-up since she was a little girl."

Scarf Trick: Fussy neck scarves can doom the best fashion intentions. Emily's, on the other hand, were knotted with such nonchalance that they only add to her glamour quotient. Mirojnick says, "You fold it in a triangle, put it at your neck, double knot it, puff it out and leave it alone. The key is leaving it alone. I'm not joking about that one."

Trivia: An important plot point involves Emily's delicate, though impressive, diamond and platinum wedding band (by Los Angeles jewelry designer Cathy Waterman). It was Paltrow who initially introduced Mirojnick to Waterman's jewelry at Barneys New York in Beverly Hills, but Mirojnick feared it was too dainty to hold its own on camera. So Waterman agreed to put three of her rings together--one floral pattern sandwiched between two vines.

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