The beloved British television series "Absolutely Fabulous" hits the big screen this Friday, July 22 to bring its legendary brand of un-PC humor — and outrageous fashion — to an American movie theater near you. ("Absolutely Fabulous: The Movie" premiered in the U.K. on July 1, enjoying the biggest opening for a British film since last year's James Bond outing, "Spectre.")
"Ab Fab," which debuted in 1992, centered around alcohol-dependent PR exec Edina Monsoon (Jennifer Saunders, also the writer and creator) and her BFF-enabler and fashion director/stylist Patsy Stone (Joanna Lumley) and their drunken, self-centered antics. Eddy and Patsy have been slinging so-offensive-it's-funny witticisms (many of them involving sartorial references) since Amy Schumer was still in grade school, and they haven't really evolved in nearly 25 years.
"They’re growing old disgracefully," says the movie's costume designer Rebecca Hale, who also worked on the TV series. For the film installment, the duo's escapades are more ambitious than ever. During a botched attempt to land Kate Moss as a new client, an overzealous (and probably sloppy drunk) Edina accidentally knocks the supermodel into the freezing Thames. Running from public humiliation and the law, the partners in debauchery and crime flee to the south of France, "where everyone's a criminal."
But it's just not in their nature to stay incognito, especially considering Edina's penchant for editorial designers like Christian Lacroix, intentionally (or unintentionally?) mismatching.
For the movie, Hale kept to the characters' signature aesthetics, but updated the looks for the social media- and street style-savvy audiences of today. Interestingly though, in the age of Man Repeller, she decided to take Edina's trademark overdone flair in a different direction. "I decided to tone Jennifer [Edina] down, rather than make her even more outrageous," Hale says. "Because nowadays, one's style is very free." Hale also took the opportunity to "champion British fashion" by showcasing pieces from homegrown designers.
"I chose carefully the designers that I thought would still be anarchic, but have a slightly more pared down style," Hale explains. "But there was always a twist." The designers that jumped on board included Stella McCartney (Edina's new Lacroix), Giles Deacon and Vivienne Westwood. "[Westwood has] always got a social message going on and that's one of Edina's things: She wants to always be talking about what the new buzzword could be about," the costume designer laughs. So look out for statement T-shirts and caps saying things like "Don't Frack Me" and "I'm Not a Terrorist."
Hale also custom-made costumes, including the patched-out military parka (seen in the trailer above) that Edina wears as she and Patsy go on the lam. In a move that a perpetual fashion victim like Edina would have appreciated, the costume team reworked a jacket from the hottest, most anarchic label of the year — Vetements — as a base and sewed on newly sourced patches and old ones taken off a coat from the original series. "I always like [to dress Edina in looks] that would be worn by people a lot younger than her because she thinks she can get away with anything," Hale laughs.
"With Patsy, it's more the same," the costume designer says. Seems the chain-smoking, Betty Jackson power suit-wearing editrix has embraced today's high-low aesthetic with Mulberry, Ashish and Topshop. For a wedding scene in the south of France, she wears a suit inspired by the Yves Saint Laurent Le Smoking number that Bianca Jagger wore to wed Mick.
As with "Zoolander 2," "Ab Fab" gave members the fashion industry a platform to refreshingly poke fun at themselves and show off their comedic chops. Aside from Moss and McCartney, cameos include Jean Paul Gaultier and so many models: Jourdan Dunn, Suki Waterhouse, Lara Stone, Lily Cole and Alexa Chung. Due to budget constraints, the guest stars were originally tasked with supplying outfits from their own wardrobes. "I thought, 'god that's a bit rich, but I understood it," Hale says. But then she called in additional favors — or rather, "I begged, borrowed and stole things" — and more designers, such as, Erdem, Chloe, Saint Laurent and Miu Miu, plus Net-a-Porter, provided pieces from their racks and archives.
As for the film's presumptive on-screen manslaughter victim, Hale wanted her to really "remain as Kate" through her costumes, so the two of them had a try-on session at the supermodel's home. For the climactic scene pictured above, Moss suggested a green mock-turtleneck sequin dress, a 21st birthday gift from her ex, Johnny Depp. "[Moss] goes, 'well, I really like this because it's a simple silhouette," explains Hale of the vintage gown from Hollywood's Western Costume Company. However, her team had to make five copies of the dress to account for the water damage and wet suit that Moss had to wear in the freezing Thames.
Hale didn't just celebrate established British designers in the movie. She also enlisted design students from the University of East London to create the faux runway looks for Yayoi Kusama-esque fashion designer Huki Muki (played by Scottish comedian Janette Tough, in a casting move rightfully accused of yellow face.) For the fashion gag ensembles worn by Edina's long-suffering assistant Bubble (Jane Horrocks), the costume designer scoped out the graduation shows at London's fashion colleges. "There was this young designer called Yasmeen Uddin whose work really appealed to me," says Dale, who pulled a caftan-like dress featuring a cartoon drawing of Anna Wintour's face accessorized with a massive sunglasses necklace.
To acknowledge the evolution of social media and the Internet since the debut of "AbFab," Hale also enlisted avant-garde Brit designers Vin + Omi to create custom outfits for Bubble, including an emoji plushie-covered top and skirt ensemble and a head-to-toe hashtag pillow-embellished outfit that wouldn't look out of place in a Jeremy Scott-designed Moschino collection.
For the hashtag look, Hale also looked to another millennial phenomenon: the Kardashians. "Last year, there seemed to be a permanent obsession [with Kim's] bottom," she explains. "So I thought, 'let's put a really big bum into a costume somewhere.'" Obviously, Bubble's yellow hot pants with the winking emoji on the ass made the most sense for the extra padding. While Lumley and Saunders were opposed to including Kim as one of the 60-plus celeb cameos in the movie, the infamous family is mentioned — as punchlines — in the script.
As "Ab Fab" pushed (and broke) the boundaries of political correctness back in the early '90s and aughts, a significant chunk of the joke repertoire included fat-shaming Edina and mocking her body dysmorphia. While playing Edina, Saunders consistently wore clothes at least two sizes too small to communicate the character's body image issues and serve as fat-joke reference points. So how does that aspect play out in today's more body-positive environment?
"It's a bit of a delicate matter," Hale says. "It will always be an issue with Edina because inside she thinks she's fat, but she's not really fat in reality. But she's longing to be thin and it's a quest that she can't quite ever reach." So, yes, her clothes are still ill-fitting and her weight continues to be discussed (and mocked), as seen in the trailer. "But it's right for [Edina]," Hale explains. "And the trousers will always have a camel hoof." (Or camel toe in American.)
In fact, the costume team almost took the accentuated labia majora a step too far and — surprise — we have a Kardashian to thank for that. "We were thinking of building a fourth camel hoof and then I thought, 'that's just too disgusting really.' It's just not a good look," Hale laughs.
"Yet again, that was something that Khloe Kardashian talked about," she adds. "There was a part [on a 2013 episode of 'Keeping Up With the Kardashians'] where they were talking about a flabby camel hoof and that's just the kind of thing that Edina would think about."