BetteBack October 8, 1996: Designer balances star egos with costumes for ‘First Wives’

Daily Herald Suburban Chicago
October 8, 1996


The movie: “The First Wives Club” The setup : Brenda (Bette Midler), Elise (Goldie Hawn) and Annie (Diane Keaton) – three Manhattan former college pals all dumped by their husbands – declare war against their exes.

The costume designer: Theoni V. Aldredge, who won an Academy Award for “The Great Gatsby,” and whose other film credits include ‘Rich and Famous,” “The Rose” and “Network.” On Broadway, her work includes “A Chorus Line” and “ Dream girls” ; she won Tony Awards for “La Cage aux Folles,” “Barnum” and “Annie.”

The challenge: Dressing three big stars, each with her own distinct fashion identity. The solution? To a large extent, it meant respecting their looks as well as their sense of what is flattering. “It happens that their taste is very close to the characters, so it was no problem,” Aldredge said. “We were all lucky with that. Thank God whatever they asked for was not out of line.

“But when the chips are down, and you say that their character would require something against their personal taste, they went for it.” For example, Keaton prefers her skirts knee-length, but Annie needed a bit more oomph, so Aldredge wanted to hike them up to
just above the knee. Keaton objected until Aldredge pinned a hem and shot a Polaroid as evidence. Then Keaton agreed.

It’s no wonder that all three actresses fell in love with their wardrobes.

After filming wrapped, Aldredge said she “marched myself to the producers and said, You want to deal with these ladies?’ I think Diane took most of the stuff.”

The looks: Hawn’s Elise, playing an aging, sexy movie star, wears youthful clothes on a still-fabulous body. Think leather mini skirts, leather slacks, cropped blazers (much of them made for her) and leggings and bodysuits (Reebok).

Aldredge’s take – “Goldie loves sexy clothes … She has a great body. She’s tall, lanky. She works out. She literally doesn’t object to anything because she knows she can carry it.” Since Hawn doesn’t like to “cut up her body,” preferring one continuous line, she leans toward short ja c k e ts and slim trousers, and sweaters that are either tunic length or cropped (as in a Barneys label black and white stripe).

Keaton’s Annie, a wealthy housewife, is, well, an uptown version of that other Annie she once played: Annie Hall. “ Since ”˜Annie Hall’ (Keaton) developed a look and it suited her and she kind of hung onto it. She’s very angular She has very good bones,” Aldredge said of Keaton ’s affinity for tailored clothes. “I said, however, we were going to make it softer, and she did not object.”

Most of her clothes, including leath er blazers and cashmere cardigans, were by Calvin Klein and Giorgio Armani. (Besides his knack for making glamorous dresses for the Academy Awards, there’s another reason why Armani is favored in Hollywood. “ Armani understands proportion. You put an Armani suit on any actress and it just fits,” Aldredge said of her choice for many of Keaton’s jackets and coats, including an of-the moment long, bathrobe-style camel overcoat.)

Midler, transforming from a dumpy matron to a saucier type, finds her look in variations of fitted suits with tulip shaped skirts in a range of colors from brown to red.

(Personally, Midler prefers strong colors.) As for shape, “Bette is a bit more particular because she is smaller and full-bosomed. She knows her body.” Indeed. The flared skirts, Aldredge explained, balance out the bust line. Most of her Midler’s suits were purchased at Barneys, Saks and other New York department stores and then restyled.

Quoted: “ In a contemporary movie, the body pretty much dictates what you wear,” the designer said of creating a movie’s wardrobe, adding later: “Obviously, you want to make them (the stars) happy – they shouldn’t worry about the shoe or the skirt or the jacket. And you play mother a lot.”

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