Fifteen years after male model extraordinaire Derek Zoolander (Ben Stiller) thwarted a political assassination with his "Magnum" super-gaze, and retired from the fashion industry to start "The Derek Zoolander Center for Kids Who Can't Read Good and Wanna Learn to Do Other Stuff Good Too," he returns for another fashion and celebrity cameo-filled adventure. Alongside his catwalk rival-turned-sidekick Hansel (Owen Wilson), Derek is back on the fashion-slash-sleuthing scene to help solve the mysterious murders of beautiful celebrities who breathe their last breaths with the famous Zoolander "Blue Steel" gaze on their faces. While his early aughts-coined Blue Steel was made for the now ubiquitous selfie, Derek finds himself in a vastly different fashion world in 2016, which created the perfect opportunity to follow a new vision for the sequel — and the costumes.
"The thing that I wanted to do with the second film was embrace fashion, even more so than they did in the first film," says costume designer Leesa Evans. "I had the idea that if I could do something that was 50 percent couture fashion and 50 percent comedy, then I would feel a sense of accomplishment that I was really making the original fans happy and hopefully exciting the fashion world as well." Considering how Derek and Hansel (er, Stiller and Wilson) practically broke the Internet after crashing the Valentino Paris Fashion Week runway nearly a year ago, we'll go out on a limb and say the fashion world is pretty stoked for "Zoolander 2."
And Evans, who is also Judd Apatow's go-to costume designer and Amy Schumer's stylist, enjoyed the enthusiastic support of the fashion community while making the film. "Zoolander 2" conveniently filmed in Rome, also home to the Valentino atelier. "We really were able to collaborate with [creative directors Maria Grazia Chiuri and Pierpaolo Piccioli] and do something really special when the opportunity arose because of their close proximity to where we were filming," Evans says. Designers like Alexander Wang couldn't resist stopping by the Italian set for a sneak peek, too.
Along with taking direct input from industry players, Evans also referenced the fashion week runways to ensure "an authentic take on the real artistry of the fashion business." Pieces from high-end international designers, including Saint Laurent, Balmain, Kenzo and Opening Ceremony are peppered throughout the movie, but don't expect off-the-rack looks. "We got a lot of special things made that weren’t initially manufactured for the designers’ line," Evans says. "We played with, 'Well, what what can we do with silver leather because that makes so much sense for Derek’s character?'"
For Derek Zoolander's matured style 15 years later, Evans took a deep dive into the psyche of the former biggest male model in the world. "We just were playing with different ideas of how Derek would be dressed [and how he] would be influenced by things that he considers 'iconic,'" she says. She looked to various outlets for inspiration, including runways from the '70s, fine art and her own favorite iconic designers, including Yves Saint Laurent and Paco Rabanne. Hansel continues his Gucci-on-a-surfing-tour aesthetic with labels like Dries Van Noten and Haider Ackermann. Evans also accessorized Hansel's outfits with "a really great mix of multicultural jewelry and scarves and textures" to express the character's interest in "different ethnic cultures," which last we saw involved pukka beads, steaming herbal beverages in Moroccan glasses and an orgy involving a Maori-tattooed bald man.
But even more fashion-y than the longtime male models: Youth Milk peddler Alexanya Atoz, played with zest by a near unrecognizable Kristin Wiig. "Kristin’s character is meant to be a woman who's the head of a fashion empire, so she can push the envelope of being dressed in extreme couture at all times," laughs Evans, who worked directly with Zac Posen to reimagine some of his sample gowns. "We would build on top of them and create things that became the 50 percent comedy of his 50 percent couture," she adds.
A fresh out of prison Jacobim Mugatu, played by Will Ferrell in a breakaway tatted out muscle suit, also sits on the more avant-garde end of the style spectrum. "Will, he's so game to do anything for a laugh, so we could just be so extreme with the costumes. Will himself is six foot four — he just wears clothes well," says Evans. "So it was just so much fun to play around with where Mugatu has gotten and what was stifled during the time he was in prison."
Speaking of, Mugatu and Alexanya are clearly each other's spirit animals — at one point trying to unite, but literally blocked from doing so by a cage-globe skirt on her updated Zac Posen dress. "Sometimes fashion is meant to be comedic and we're meant to laugh at it and we're meant to see the ridiculous part of it that's not wearable. It's art."
The movie touches in another discussion point within today's fashion world in Benedict Cumberbatch's androgynous model character, All, whose depiction in a clip released from the film was seen by some as transphobic. But Evans sees the character as an expression of the positive, welcoming spirit of fashion. "Benedict, from the moment we started the fitting process, just so much wanted to embrace someone that lived and breathed fashion," she explains. To create the costumes for All, Evans and Cumberbatch researched men's and womenswear runway images from favorite collections past.
"I think that androgyny, just as an idea, has been something that has been in fashion for quite a long time now," Evans adds. "I hope in this day and age that we embrace all people of all kinds, as we embrace anyone and everyone as individuals. And individuality to me is the key to what this world is and what should be. So I hope that it was perceived — and will be perceived — in that way because he was just someone that loved it all. And hence his name is All."
Along with the Oscar-nominated Cumberbatch, a number of A-list celebrities were more than happy to add a cameo in "Zoolander 2" to their IMDB credits. As we've seen in the trailer, Penelope Cruz wears a custom Costume National red leather moto-suit as Interpol agent Valentina and Justin Bieber gamely joins the body count of assassinated "world's most beautiful people," while Katy Perry, Kimye and Ariana Grande are rumored to appear. But despite the gawk-worthy lineup, Evans was more starstruck by the behind-the-scenes appearances.
"I probably got more excited about meeting fashion designers that I've always admired and respected than the music industry cameos or the actor cameos," she admits.
But the burning question we hope the sequel will reveal: Have Derek and Hansel learned how to use a computer yet?
Follow Leesa Evans on Twitter @leesaevansstyle. "Zoolander 2" premieres on Friday, Feb. 12.