LONDON — For Janty Yates, teaming up with Giorgio Armani on the costumes for the new Cole Porter bio-pic, “De-Lovely,” was delicious, delightful and delectable.

“It was extraordinary. Armani is the Twenties,” says Yates. “In tandem, we seemed to channel the essence of Cole.”

This story first appeared in the April 15, 2004 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

Irwin Winkler, who directed the film — which stars Kevin Kline as Porter and Ashley Judd as his wife, Linda — wanted to work with a contemporary design house and chose Armani for the project. The designer was only too happy to oblige.

“It’s a time period and a world that I love,” Armani says one afternoon last summer on the set at Ealing Studios in north London. “The key for me was not to overdo anything, to keep things simple and understated. I realize that costumes are there to help the characters, so I didn’t want them to scream.”

Armani, who rocketed to popularity after supplying Richard Gere with his seductive suits in “American Gigolo,” made Kline’s wardrobe, with the exception of knits that were pulled from stock in Milan. Kline appears on-screen in double-breasted tuxedos; padded-shoulder blazers paired with wide cream trousers and suspenders, and tweed suits worn with ascots.

“The clothes evoke Cole Porter’s style, wit, sophistication and love of beauty,” says Kline, who sings, plays the piano and dances around in big duck feet in the film. “Putting them on took me leaps and bounds closer to understanding and embodying the man than months of research ever could.”

Yates, who won an Oscar for “Gladiator,” says she found much of what she needed to dress Judd after stalking Armani’s warehouse, his archives — and even his shop floors. Though she may have had a relatively easy job choosing the pieces, she was forced to adapt some of them to the more demure times. She put sleeves and side panels onto a strappy and revealing sequined dress, and she draped chiffon over a black-and-white beaded strapless gown. “You couldn’t really do strapless in the Thirties,” she says.

Armani designed a cream satin wedding dress for Judd’s character, with a draping train and tiny buttons down the back, and a dark green linen day suit. Other designs Judd wears include a floor-length, bead- and crystal-covered evening coat and a diamante-embroidered gown with an attached one-shoulder organza shawl.

Judd thinks Armani’s “the top,” as Porter would say. She had asked him to make her wedding gown when she married Dario Franchitti in 2001. “Giorgio Armani is a fairy godfather to me, and he just has a knack for making clothes that can look period and modern at the same time,” the actress says.

On the set, Judd chats in French with the designer, who is dressed in his uniform of navy blue trousers, blue T-shirt and white sneakers. Both agree it was unfortunate that the Venice scenes in the film had to be shot on a three-acre lot in Luxembourg, rather than in La Serenissima. “Too bad you missed out on the Cipriani,” Armani tells her.

Later in the day, he fusses over Kline’s wardrobe. “Are these sleeves too short? Is this jacket too tight?” says Armani to no one in particular, as he fiddles with the actor’s dark brown jacket while the film crew buzzes around him.

Rob Cowan, one of the producers, says “De-Lovely,” which will close the Cannes Film Festival on May 22 and opens in the U.S. on June 25, was conceived long before the musical craze tore through Hollywood. “This is a story about a fascinating and complex person who didn’t always fit in, and who was able to come through hard times,” he says. “It’s a success story and a love story about people whose lives were about popular music.”

— Samantha Conti

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