Costuming Angels Was a Little Slice of Heaven for Designer

From Baltimore Sun

Sure, “Charlie’s Angels” is about karate-kicking, sassy sleuthing and all that girl-power yada yada. But, let’s face it, what makes this new movie work isn’t Drew Barrymore’s Oscar-unworthy performance or Lucy Liu’s “Matrix"-like kick moves.

It’s the clothes.

And for proof, you don’t have to look much further than Cameron Diaz’s plunging neckline as she wades out of the ocean in a sleeveless black wetsuit that’s unzipped to the navel.

The 1970s “Charlie’s Angels” television show about the Townsend Detective Agency and its three comely private investigators might have created fashion icons of Farrah, Jaclyn and Kate. But in the new movie that’s set in the present day, producers have upped the bombshell ante and created an Angel style that is hip, contemporary and definitely va-va-voom enough to start some fashion trends.


“This show was a designer’s dream,” Joseph Aulisi, the movie’s costume designer said recently in Los Angeles. “We got to do not only high-fashion and action clothes, but there were so many costumey, fun elements too. We gave a definite nod to the ‘70s, ‘80s and 1940s, but we wanted to make it accessible for the modern audience so they felt that they were looking at a contemporary period.”

And so, even though Aulisi’s Angels wear jumpsuits reminiscent of the 1970s and off-one-shoulder blouses that reek of the early ‘80s, their overall wardrobe is a fluid combination that melds the decades into a modern yet retro look.

Aulisi, whose screen credits include “Bowfinger” and “Stepmom,” had three weeks to design 3,000 outfits for the entire “Angels” cast, including 50 outfits each for Liu, Diaz and Barrymore. He said he worked closely with the script and each actress to come up with the characters’ individual looks.

For Cameron Diaz’s gushy and giggly Angel--Natalie--Aulisi aimed to create a vivacious, all-American girl. So her outfits included hippie denim pants and an off-the-shoulder bright-red blouse in a disco scene and a baby T-shirt and Spider-Man briefs in another. Aulisi said he put Diaz in outfits such as shorts to accentuate her long, slender legs and dressed her in halter tops to bring attention to her shoulders.

Lucy Liu’s sultry and sophisticated Alex is the brain among the Angels, and Aulisi dressed her in leather and lots of black and red. And her clothes are always form-fitting. Particularly memorable is a black leather bustier Alex wears while baking blueberry muffins in her trailer home.

“Lucy has this beautiful, long neck, great shoulders, beautiful arms and a small waist,” Aulisi said. “So she wears quite a few bustiers.”

As for Drew Barrymore’s fun reformed-rebel character, Dylan, Aulisi said he incorporated the actress’ real-life “neo-flower-power fondness for vintage clothes” into the wardrobe. And Aulisi said he believes Barrymore’s best attributes are her shoulders and neckline. So he put her in clothes with deep, plunging necklines.

In one scene, which is bound to set male teenage hearts aflutter, Dylan goes undercover as a race-car driver and dons a blue jumpsuit that is unzipped to the waist.

Aulisi said one of the biggest challenges of dressing the Angels was creating clothes that not only looked great but also withstood rigorous fight scenes. And he made sure not to have them wear earrings or bracelets that might get in the way of martial arts moves.

“They had to be able to do high kicks and back flips and wear a harness,” Aulisi said. “So we made the clothes like stretchy dance clothes.”

The designer took the opportunity to be creative with costumes in scenes where the Angels go undercover. In the movie, the Angels’ disguises include belly dancers, Asian masseuses and a German yodeling group--which Aulisi said was his favorite costume. In the scene, Diaz dons skimpy German lederhosen; Liu and Barrymore are in miniskirts with full lace petticoats and corseted tops.

A big difference between the ‘70s television show and the new movie is that while Farrah Fawcett’s feathered hair sent women stampeding to salons to re-create the look, Barrymore, Liu and Diaz don’t have distinctive cuts that probably will set any trends. In some scenes, however, Barrymore sports a toned-down version of Fawcett’s feathered coif in homage to the television series.

Aulisi’s costuming has won rave reviews so far. Phillip Bloch, Los Angeles’ uber-celebrity stylist, whose clients include Halle Berry and Lauren Holly, said he loves the clothes the Angels have in the movie, which reflect current fashion trends. He predicts that the movie will take the ‘80s revival one step further and popularize items such as the jumpsuit and the one-shoulder top.

“You don’t have to be masculine-looking to be in control,” said Bloch, who also sells a line of jewelry on QVC.

“The wild thing about the show is that if you watch the reruns, they weren’t dressed that sexy, really,” added Bloch, who said he decided to go into the fashion business partly because he was fascinated with the “Charlie’s Angels” outfits. “They were sexy and they were beautiful, but it was really more about the hair and more about the face. I saw one of the shows the other day, and Cheryl Ladd’s wearing a coral-colored shirt and a peasant skirt. There’s nothing sexy about that!”

But Bloch might be right about the movie setting fashion trends. Jennifer Palchinsky, supervising producer of MTV’s “Mission: Makeover,” not only made over three New York University sophomores into Angels last month, but she recently bought some pants because they resembled the hippie denim ones Cameron Diaz wore in the movie.

“I loved all their costumes,” Palchinsky said. “It’s something fun that girls can actually duplicate. They look sexy and young, and you can mix and match things bought in Target or a department store to create their looks.”

Aulisi said he’s not focusing on whether he’s going to create any fashion ripples.

“I’m just pleased with the film because it’s great fun to watch, and it works visually on so many levels,” he said. “But it’s always nice if things are picked up.”