This fashion world exists only in the movies

Times Staff Writer

THE devil wears Prada, Donna Karan and Bill Blass, and her second assistant wears Chanel, Calvin Klein, Moschino and ... a toe ring?

In a film full of serious fashion, the camera lingers on Andy's toe ring on the rumpled sheets, the morning after a Paris fling. Was the shot meant to imply that her transformation from bohemian to label whore was never complete? Who knows? One thing's for sure, though, no fashion magazine assistant or editor would don a toe ring. Ever.

But beyond this insular, self-obsessed industry, toe rings are everywhere, which may be the point. "The Devil Wears Prada" is a film about insiders that has been costumed for outsiders. Rather than trying to capture the eclectic way editors really put together their looks, dressing in the high end and the low, famous designers and new discoveries, costume designer Patricia Field dumbed down the entire fashion language to appeal to the everywoman. What's left is a fine fashion fantasy with little to do with reality.

A second assistant at any magazine would not be dressed as well as her boss, and she would sooner eat an ice cream sundae at her desk than raid the wardrobe closet -- even if she did come to work in Steve Madden clodhoppers. And the bow-tied Valentino gown Miranda wears to host the costume gala at the museum makes her look like the mother of the bride, not the queen bee with the pick of any designer in the hive.

And where were the cult labels, such as Chloe, Rochas, Lanvin and Proenza Schouler, the little-known designers that editors champion? Because in the real fashion world, the biggest coup is wearing a designer no one has heard of, and finding that item at the end of the earth that nobody else can get.

Miranda's silver sweep of hair was a chic signature similar to Anna Wintour's razor-sharp bob. But the heavy-handed eye shadow was jarring, because the absence of makeup -- or at least looking that way -- is more of a status symbol. (It means your skin is just that good.) Then again, there was a commercial motivation to have the makeup in the film stand out. Sephora, Prada, Dior and other companies are producing beauty products tied to the film.

The film is littered with "it" bags, from the dove-gray Prada frame bag Miranda first stomps into the office carrying, to the freebie Marc Jacobs multi-pocket hobo Andy passes off on a best friend. And, like all good fashionistas, Andy waits until her trip to Paris to feast on the French, namely a Balenciaga motorcycle bag. True, "it" bags are the engine that drives sales in the designer market, but they are also the lowest common denominator. They're just too obvious, too easy.

Field is best known for "Sex and the City," and her offbeat costumes for the HBO series started such popular trends as flower brooches and nameplate necklaces. But the clothes in this film were not nearly so inspiring. The first assistant, Emily, comes closest to looking like the real thing in her squared off, studded bolero, thready necklace and belt worn off to the side.

But mostly, Field hits us over the head with crowd-pleasing Chanel, including the outfit Andy steps out in after her makeover, a nautical jacket from a resort collection a few years back and a pair of thigh-high dominatrix boots. The head-to-toe designer look may look hot on her, especially with her gamine-like bangs, but it is not authentic to the fashion world, where editors pride themselves on being able to mix it up -- say, wearing an H&M; jacket with Chloe jeans, a Hanes ribbed tank top, Thomas Wylde studded hobo bag and Christian Louboutin boots.

One thing Field did get right was fashion's fetish for fur. Like Vogue's Wintour, Miranda never met a woodland animal she didn't want to wear, and the montage of her slapping fur after fur on her assistant's desk is priceless. So is seeing her dressed in a cartoonish coat with a tiger-striped collar and cuffs, right after the magazine's animal print photo shoot in Central Park. It was the perfect commentary on fashion's pack mentality.

For aficionados, there was the occasional name-drop -- photographer Patrick Demarchelier, designers Narciso Rodriguez, Zac Posen and Stefano Gabbana. That's G-a-b-b-a-n-a. (And really, Andy should have known how to spell it.)

But she gets her comeuppance in my favorite scene in the whole film, when Miranda comes to the defense of the multibillion-dollar fashion industry, which turns out not to be so shallow after all. She explains to Andy the underling that the lumpy cable-knit sweater she is wearing is not blue but cerulean blue, a color picked out for her by fashion prognosticators seasons ago, when Michael Kors sent an entire collection of cerulean gowns down the runway. Go devil go!

And incidentally, in 1999, Pantone did declare cerulean blue the color of the millennium.

'Prada' pieces for sale

For those who can't get enough of "The Devil Wears Prada" clothes, Amazon.com has an online boutique selling pieces created by Field for the film, including an oddly shaped distressed leather handbag ($79.95) and T-shirts with such memorable lines as "I'm just a stomach flu away from my goal weight."

EBay will auction costumes from the film, including a Prada dress, with 50% of the proceeds to benefit Dress for Success, a nonprofit that offers interview suits and career development to low-income women.

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