Dressing for an 'Affair"

TIMES FASHION WRITER

Kate Harrington checks her purse, the bed, a suitcase, under a magazine, the top of a coffee table. Finally, she surveys a corner desk in her room at the Four Seasons Hotel in Beverly Hills. Out of luck, she phones downstairs. Could someone kindly buy her a pack of cigarettes?

Within minutes, her request is delivered. Such is the way of the world these days. Need something? Send someone to shop for it.

In fact, not too long ago Harrington--a former model turned magazine fashion stylist turned costume designer--needed closets full of high-fashion clothes for the remake of "The Thomas Crown Affair," directed by John McTiernan and starring Pierce Brosnan and Rene Russo.

"I went shopping," says Harrington, 38, who makes her debut as a costume designer when the film opens next Friday. With only two months "to pull the clothes together," that left no room to create anything from scratch: not a sketch, a pattern, a garment.

Harrington settled on a wardrobe for Russo selected from the 1997 Celine collection by Michael Kors (one of Russo's suggestions) and a few Halston creations.

For Brosnan's many suits befitting the self-made billionaire Thomas Crown, Harrington passed on Prada and Gucci and went with the hand-tailored detailing of Gianni Campagna, a shy, rotund Italian with a business in Milan and an eye toward opening a showroom in Los Angeles.

Harrington, a Long Island native--and former Los Angeles resident--has always been surrounded by great style makers, models, actors, writers and the world's most famous shooters: Herb Ritts, Bruce Weber, Matthew Rolston, Greg Gorman. Indeed, her life is an open book, she says, adding that her boyfriend is McTiernan, who is in the process of getting a divorce.

At the age of 12, after her parents, Peg Harrington (who died two years ago of cancer) and Jack O'Shea divorced, she moved in with her father and his significant other, the late writer Truman Capote. Her father now lives in Florida.

"I'm grateful to my dad for bringing Truman into my life," she says, puffing on her cigarette. "Truman changed my life." And opened her eyes to fine style, fashion and freedom of expression.

She recalls when Capote once sent her, at age 15, to the legendary Halston, who needed a junior model--and fast.

" 'Get in a cab, and get over to Halston's right now,' Truman told me. 'And when you get there, stand on your tippy-toes,' " she says. Halston's fitting model, who had been released, was half an inch shorter.

Harrington laughs, recalling the storyin her best Capote impersonation. He told her, "That will be a comfortable, safe job, and I don't have to worry about you running all over the place."

That was Capote, she says, always concerned about her, always introducing her to photographers like Richard Avedon and Francesco Scavullo, "friends of ours I used to go visit," always teaching her how to be fashionably chic.

"Truman had great chic about him. I never even knew people had taste like that. He was such an elegant guy. I've come to realize that he taught me about aesthetics."

And then there was Andy Warhol, who hired Harrington to work at his magazine, Interview, located at his compound of creativity known as The Factory. Harrington met Warhol at a luncheon while working as secretary to the publisher of Town & Country.

"For six months, Andy invited me to The Factory," but Capote, she says, would have none of it. "But I met Andy anyway. And he said to me, 'Would you like to be a stylist at my magazine?' "

For five years she was Interview's fashion and photo editor. "It was a pretty exciting time. I learned how to be a stylist. I worked with all these great photographers. I got my schooling in terms of learning everything about fashion, lights, people."

In 1986, Harrington, bored and tired of the whole New York scene, moved to Los Angeles to work as fashion director for the now defunct L.A. Style magazine.

When American Express Publishing bought the publication--and took creative control--Harrington bailed. She took a full-time stylist job with photographer Ritts, creating looks--and pictorial stories of characters in costumes--for music videos, commercials and magazine covers for Tom Cruise, Nicole Kidman, Michelle Pfeiffer, Cindy Crawford and Arnold Schwarzenegger.

"That's when I got the bug. I thought it would be so neat if I could work in movies," she says. But instead of following her instincts, she returned to New York as Vanity Fair's style director.

A year later she was back in Los Angeles. Schwarzenegger rang up Ritts and asked for Harrington's help in creating a style for his character in the flick "Eraser."

"I said 'Arnold, I don't do movies. I don't think this is a good idea.' And he said, 'Just pretend it's one of our magazine shoots, and just think of an idea. I just need an idea.' "

Harrington says when the film's costume designer quit, she was hired to "rescue" or complete the job.

It was then that she met McTiernan, or "McT," as she calls him, who was writing "The 13th Warrior." He asked her if she'd give his movie a shot.

"Call me if you get in trouble," she told him. He did. She signed on to do the warrior movie, which will be released in mid-August. The two teamed up again to make "The Thomas Crown Affair." Their next project will be the remake of "Rollerball."

As for "The Thomas Crown Affair" Harrington says she was mostly concerned about the characters looking chic.

"McT kept saying the clothes should be strident. We all had to run to the dictionary. He said, 'When Pierce and Rene enter a room, I want for everybody to turn around and go, "Whoa, who's that?" ' "

Harrington's approach, not surprisingly, was like doing a magazine spread.

"That's how I saw it. I'd just act like I was doing an entire Vanity Fair issue, cover to cover, only with Pierce and Rene."

Because Harrington wanted Russo's character to have a varied wardrobe and to look like a modern working woman, she put her in Celine--one of Russo's many designer suggestions.

"I wanted her to have power as a businesswoman without wearing hideous power suits," she says. Harrington patterned the look after Anna Wintour, Vogue's editor in chief.

"That's what was so brilliant about Celine: It's chic but serious, clean lines that are sexy," she says.

As for Brosnan's rich man's duds, Harrington says Gucci and Prada suits, which have such a '60s bent to their designs, made the actor look "like we were trying to do Steve McQueen," who was the original Thomas Crown. Enter Italian men's clothier Campagna, whom Harrington flew to Paris to meet. He solved her problem as well as snagging himself a cameo role as a tailor in the flick.

"My job is to know about all the fashion out there and how to make things happen. That's why I think movies were an easy transition for me to make," she says.

Harrington realizes that some costume designers may not like the fact that she's a stylist making her way into films.

"I have to win over my crews because they resent that I'm not classically trained like them and yet I've sort of jumped, as they see it, to the top of the heap. They don't like that," she says, speculating coworkers probably sometimes think " 'Oh, geez, we're stuck with the director's girlfriend.' "

Her next big movie, "The 13th Warrior" could surprise them. For the period piece about 10th century Vikings, Harrington designed costumes and managed a staff of at least 100 seamstresses during the 27-day Vancouver shoot.

"I had sewing machines going, armor was being made, jewelry was being designed. Sometimes we had to outfit 400 extras in a day. And everything was handmade," she says.

Not trained or skilled as an artist, Harrington had two sketch artists working with her the entire time.

"I made these boards that are filled with cutouts, collages, images from art books, costume books from long ago and from old photographs because my background is in still photography," she says. "I'm very good at creating icons because of working with great photographers and learning so much from those experiences."

She tells her detractors that she deeply respects "everything they know," and if her life had gone differently she would have gone to art school and been classically trained in the craft of costuming.

But that just wasn't her fate.

"I wasn't wired that way," she says. "I tell people, 'This is what I am, and this is what I'm good at.' And you can say during the whole movie that I'm just a stylist and that I only know style, but I think movies--more and more--are about style. I'm just an open person. I put it right on the table."

Michael Quintanilla's e-mail is socalliving@latimes.com.

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