IT'S BEEN 23 years and Molly Ringwald still has a regret about her "Breakfast Club" days. Her off-screen romance with Anthony Michael Hall? Hardly. The fact that she originally wanted to play Ally Sheedy's quirky role? Over it. She bites her lower lip ruefully and shakes her rusty auburn curls.
"Now, I wish that I kept those boots," she says. "I loved those boots."
Who didn't? The lace-up Ralph Lauren equestrian boots that grazed her freckled knees in the film became every teen girl's tantrum-inducing must-have in 1985. (Just ask my mom.) As did her other unique looks, from the fedoras and chunky bangles in "Sixteen Candles" to the lacy flapper dresses and crimson pout of "Pretty in Pink."
Ringwald's style goosed fashion circles and high school social cliques alike. She was an antidote to '80s "power dressing" and empowered the eccentric social underdog. Bypassing the mall for a musty Salvation Army became de rigueur and certified vintage as cool. Preppies traded their Tretorns for high tops; cheerleaders ratted their bangs.
Even today's style mavericks -- think Agyness Deyn and Chloe Sevigny -- nod to Ringwald's on-screen style as inspiration. Entertainment Weekly just named the Picasso-esque prom dress she wore in "Pretty in Pink" as one of the 50 pop culture moments that "rocked fashion." Last year, New York magazine announced, "Ellen Page is the new Molly Ringwald."
"I never thought of myself as a style icon," says Ringwald, who still peppers her dialogue with sighs and thoughtful "ums." "I wore all that vintage because my parents kept me on an allowance, and so I shopped on Melrose. My style was based on necessity."
Now -- like it or not -- the shocking neons and tank dresses and graphic prints of the go-go decade are back. And so is Ringwald, 40, who just returned to L.A. to costar as a mom -- egad! -- on "The Secret Life of the American Teenager," a new ABC Family show that debuts Tuesday from the creator of "7th Heaven." It's been 17 years since she sold her house on Mulholland Drive, packed seven suitcases and high-tailed it to Paris.
"Not to be sappy, but people have been so warm and embracing that I feel like this prodigal daughter," she says, sipping green tea at Jin Patisserie in Venice, where she has settled with her husband, Panio Gianopoulos, an author and journalist, and their 4-year-old daughter, Mathilda. "I went and took pictures of my old family house in the Valley and it's fun to go by the old dry cleaners and the diners."
Growing up, moving on
Ah, THE storied past. In 1986, Ringwald -- then 18 with Cheetos-hued hair -- beamed on the cover of Time magazine. A reporter trailed her to the Galleria and to Melrose Avenue to document her whirlwind retail whims. She tried on $49 suede granny boots at Comme des Garcons, which probably caused seismic style waves. Back then, a crop of young girls copied her signature look -- think Madonna meets Diane Keaton -- and called themselves "Ringlets."
Her quiet exodus from L.A. came five years later. Though she turned down the lead roles in box-office bonanzas ("Ghost" and "Pretty Woman"), she says that she wasn't thrilled with the material that came her way and wanted to goof off. "I never felt that I could make mistakes and be ridiculous here," she says. "I went to Paris to do that." There, she also learned French, got married to her first husband, Valery Lameignere, and starred in a few not-so-memorable American films and dabbled in French cinema. She later divorced and migrated in 2002 to Manhattan, where she headlined in stage productions of "Modern Orthodox," "Cabaret" and most recently, "Sweet Charity."
On this afternoon, Ringwald decides to browse the shops on Abbot Kinney Boulevard. She fits right in, looking casual in jeans, a floral Nolita de Nimes blouse and Sigerson Morrison wedges. Her own style icons are unusual picks: the avant-garde artist Cindy Sherman, who directed her in 1997's "Office Killer," and Charlotte Rampling.
"My own personal style is pretty eclectic," she says, name-checking Marni, Mayle, Pucci and edgier New Yorkers including Todd Thomas and Rachel Comey as favorite designers. "I used to wear so much vintage. Now, I am more streamlined with my look."
Don't expect to spot her in lace gloves or fuchsia frocks on her new TV show either. "Her look has some retro flair, but we stayed away from pink on purpose," costume designer Sherry Thompson says. "She's current and wears feminine looks in a colorful palette of blues and greens."
'Is that . . . ?'
To SAUNTER down the sidewalk alongside Ringwald is a trip. Some passersby squint -- "Is that really her?" -- whereas others smile dreamily, awash in their own nostalgia. She's like a Proustian Madeleine. Paramount Vantage recently capitalized on this Molly Ringwald effect by marketing its new documentary "American Teen" with a movie poster that mimics "The Breakfast Club" poster, right down to those Ralph Lauren boots.
And though teen angst may be timeless, Ringwald doesn't think a modern-day meringue of a movie like "Sixteen Candles" would resonate today. "The fashion and insecurities aren't different, but I think that AIDS and Columbine really changed the teen experience," she says. "I can't say that I have seen the latest teen movies. I don't really have any interest."
Ringwald pauses to admire a ruffled, fuchsia Shulami minidress at the boutique, Principessa. She still favors pink, a color that makes most red heads cower. "Makeup artists always said I shouldn't wear red lipstick because it would clash with my hair," she recalls. "So I wore bright red lipstick all the time." Down the block at Equator books, she picks up two vintage-art books, one on Juan Gris and the other about Fernand Leger, for her husband.
For now, the family is renting a modest house near the beach. Ringwald furnished it herself, relying on EBay and Craigslist for mostly Danish and midcentury modern decor. "You should see people's faces when I show up in Buena Park to look at some furniture. I just drive around, freaking people out," she says, laughing. She lingers for a moment to eye a plaid pinafore dress in the window of a children's store.
"I put all my vintage, beaded dresses from the '80s in a storage space for my daughter," she says, gleefully. "Of course, she will probably only want to wear jeans. But she's going to have these amazing clothes -- if she wants them."
But, alas, not those boots.