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LOS ANGELES — Long before red carpet-watching became a national pastime, fashion fans were inspired by big-screen style. And now, thankfully, the full-blown fashion film has made a comeback.The tail end of 2002 brought some of the...

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LOS ANGELES — Long before red carpet-watching became a national pastime, fashion fans were inspired by big-screen style. And now, thankfully, the full-blown fashion film has made a comeback.

The tail end of 2002 brought some of the best-costumed movies Hollywood has seen in years, including "The Hours," "Chicago," "Far From Heaven" and "Gangs of New York," and the outlook for 2003 is just as promising. A miniskirted Reese Witherspoon will lend political activism a shot of chic in "Legally Blonde 2: Red, White and Blonde." Gwyneth Paltrow plays a stylish stewardess in "View From the Top." That fabulous — and ferocious — fashion threesome will return to the screen with "Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle." And Renée Zellweger and Ewan McGregor go over-the-top in April’s high-camp, high-fashion "Down With Love" as a Sixties- style Doris Day-Rock Hudson duo.

While most costume designers claim their job is to serve the film, not to make clothes that people notice, Daniel Orlandi’s costumes for "Down With Love" break the rule. The film celebrates Day-Hudson films like "Pillow Talk" with innuendo-filled banter, outrageous sets and Orlandi’s splashy retro fare.

"What more could you ask for?" says Orlandi, who’s been a fan of the genre since he was six years old. "We got to make all the clothes, hats and bags — about 100 costumes, total." The film is full of grand entrances and exits, with actresses turning to reveal a bare back or dropping a coat to uncover a contrasting dress, most made from vintage fabrics. There are even mini fashion shows of sorts, when the music stops and the actresses strut around to show off their clothes. For her part, Zellweger, had 39 costume changes, each with its own hat, shoes and bag.

"The actors were really tickled to get into their clothes every day," Orlandi says. "They’d see each other for the first time and just go crazy."

Julianne Moore, who won critical praise for her turn as a Fifties-era housewife in "Far From Heaven," is one actress who is glad for a return to fashionable films. "People in fashion go to movies to get inspired and people in movies look to fashion to know how to dress," she says. "It’s a very symbiotic relationship. Sandy Powell ["Far From Heaven," "Gangs of New York"] and Ann Roth, in particular, have extraordinary taste."
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