NEW YORK — In a galaxy not so far away, in fact one on West 54th Street, George Lucas will be moonlighting Thursday night as fashion show producer for the first "Star Wars" fashion show.
Leave it to the legendary director to orchestrate an extravaganza that will blend film and theater to showcase 35 of the extravagant designs created by Trisha Biggar, an unsung costume designer in Lucas' eyes. He plans to shine the spotlight on her work in the prequel trilogy, the three most recent "Star Wars" films. Hayden Christensen will be among the more than 1,000 "Star Wars" loyalists and fashion fans expected to pour into the Ziegfeld Theater's aptly egg-shaped auditorium.
During an interview, Lucas said, "I hope people will look at the costumes more like high fashion and possibly some designers will be inspired. There is a high amount of embroidery, unique fabrics and many things a lot of designers would want to see up close. Maybe they will say, 'Wow! I never thought of that.'"
The behind-the-scenes hustle and bustle required for fashion shows is something he relates to all too well. While filming his trilogy in Tunisia, a huge storm knocked over all the wardrobe tents and drenched all the costumes. But everything was cleaned and repaired in time for the next day's shooting.
"It's the same kind of comedy that happens backstage at a fashion show. The only difference is it goes on for days, weeks and months," said Lucas.
Then there was the time Ewan McGregor's cloak, made from World War II wool, unexpectedly shrank during filming from ankle-length to knee-length in three minutes. "Now it's funny," Biggar laughed.
Another scene called for an alien beach creature covered in latex and pebbles, but under the set's bright lights, the pebbles shot off, nailing the unsuspecting actors and crew.
All laughs aside, Biggar spent most of her time painstakingly preparing for the epic films, which called for "several hundred principal costumes and thousands of crowd costumes."
She made more than 50 costumes for the roles played by Natalie Portman, who demonstrated "immense patience and managed to stand perfectly still" for their innumerable fittings and often read to pass the time."The whole project was a challenge in terms of its scale. These are films loved by so many people and we had to take the character from previous films to show them in earlier parts of life," said Biggar, who first worked with Lucas on the "Young Indiana Jones Chronicles" made-for-TV series in the Nineties.
They share a healthy interest in fashion and history. In the extensive library in Lucas' Skywalker Ranch, she pored over books about art, costumes and cultures, occasionally discovering that a few of her selections were stamped with Edith Head's name since they were once part of the Paramount Film Library. That is one of the film libraries Lucas has purchased.
"George has amassed a great collection of art and reference books," said Biggar. "I would be inspired by them and might use an aspect of them to create another look — very much in the same way fashion designers would use historical costumes and be inspired by some embroidery or some other kind of design."
Considering Vionnet, Christian Dior and Fortuny are some of Biggar's personal favorites, it's no surprise she enjoys seeking out couture-level talent such as Lesage-trained, Paris-based beaders. "So many of those fashion and costume techniques have really died out now. It's a great thing to be able to still use those craft people."
As one might imagine, Lucas wasn't about to show Biggar's intricate creations in a still-life presentation. "We thought we would do something during fashion week to show the costumes in motion, as fashion is presented in that kind of format," he said. "I am interested in fashion. It is an art in and of itself."
Lucas, who has two fashion-savvy daughters, has in the past caught Versace and Giorgio Armani fashion shows. But he is not about to single out any favorites and run the risk of offending any of his designer friends. The purpose of this event, after all, is a celebration of Biggar's work in the prequel trilogy.
"The costumes in movies don't get much recognition. Trisha had done such an amazing job with a vast array of costumes. It's sad that no one recognized how much work went into it," he said. "She has never been nominated for an Academy Award. The first film [in 1977] won an Academy Award and I very purposefully kept it unfashionable and very simplistic so the clothes would not stand out at all. Trisha's challenge was 100 times harder than the first one was, but the Academy doesn't see it that way."Filming the prequel trilogy in Australia and England may have had something to do with it. "We make films overseas and Trisha is not a well-known designer in film, so I think they forget about her," Lucas said. "Making films in Sydney and London puts us off people's radar."
Like Biggar, who has homes in Scotland and Italy, Lucas prefers to live away from the Hollywood scene, and New York's media and design epicenter. He lives in San Francisco, has another home base in London and a new facility in Singapore. The "Star Wars" films took him to Australia and London for long stretches, which allowed for side trips to the Far East, Paris and Italy. "Obviously, I am very influenced by travel. I was fortunate to spend a lot of time in Italy and Europe when the design movement took place," Lucas said.
"I am more of a history buff. I like good design and appreciate when it is a good idea for something. That doesn't happen often. It's really difficult to create something that is new and interesting and actually works, that will create an entire, cultural movement," Lucas said.
Given that, it is understandable that he loves Mongolian fashion. He also pointed to Coco Chanel for having such a big impact on the Fifties and Sixties that he "can't think of that period without thinking of that design."
As for his own creations, the greatest challenge is coming up with an undefined culture and characters. He works with seven designers — including two focused on costumes — who help design everything, including buildings, spoons, tables and headgear. But Lucas is no longer sketching. "I used to when I was younger, but now I work with so many talented artists, I'd be embarrassed to," he said.
Movies, comic books, art and history are some of the pools he fishes in for new ideas. "There are a lot of ways to be inspired. The thing about fashion is it comes and goes," he said. "Being in the movie business and a history buff, I know there is a lot of old, really marvelous stuff that we don't see anymore. One of the fun things is that we are able to resurrect some of that and modify it."On the flip side, "One of the demands that movies put on you includes telling a story. The costumes have to tell that story, too, and in this case, it is a story that is vast and complicated.
"We're now living in an age of realism instead of fantasy," he continued. "The movies used to be a springboard for high fashion. Now, with TV and magazines, fashion gets a lot of exposure. [Costume] designers aren't really working with high fashion. It's hard to have a Rock Hudson-Doris Day film where everyone looks fashionable."
For now, he and Biggar are consumed with Thursday's extravaganza. Biggar said, "The thing that is different between a runway show and preparing for a film is that you have no opportunity to go again if you have a problem. That's the frightening thing about it. With films, you can look at something and make sure it works before you commit to it."
Once the show is over, Lucas will have more time to work on his other projects, including a live action show to be called "Clone Wars," the animated TV movie "Indiana Jones IV," a film about African-American fighter pilots in World War II and "artsy movies."
"I won't work on something unless I am 100 percent committed to it," said Lucas. "I don't do things and drop them. It usually takes years and a lot of work."
In terms of everyday people, Lucas said most move toward the type of clothing that says, "'This is the kind of person I am.' Kids always gravitate to a type of fashion that moves fast. Ordinary people are very slow to change and the fashion elite will be doing something more esoteric. But people go back to clothes that feel comfortable. Most people just want to feel good," he said. "Some people are rather quietly saying who they are. Of course, a few are shouting it. There are a lot [of those] in New York, but you don't find them in the rest of the world."
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