Jennifer Saunders and Joanna Lumley have already turned the red carpet gold at the world premiere of “Absolutely Fabulous: The Movie” last month, and now they’re ready to work some more of their wacky magic in the U.S., when the film — which has received great reviews here — is released on Friday. WWD sat down with Saunders, who plays public-relations queen Edina Monsoon, and Lumley, who reprises her role as the hard-living magazine editor Patsy Stone, to talk about fashion and how it’s changed since the TV show first screened in the early Nineties.
WWD: What were some of your favorite looks from the film?
Jennifer Saunders: The weird thing is, what I loved about Edina’s looks in the film is that they are largely Vivienne Westwood, and her makers made them especially. You go through the look book and you say, “I like that, that’s good, that is good.” The thing about Viv’s stuff is it can look completely normal from the front, but from the back you go: “Hang out a minute, my a–– is hanging out.” You know what I mean? They are just extreme and funny and witty. Edina always has them six sizes too small. It is always uncomfortable being Edina. I was so glad when we got to the South of France and I could get into a caftan, to be honest.
Joanna Lumley: Edina even puts on shoes which are fashionable in that they’ve got 6-inch heels but she can’t walk in them. She forgets this, the pain.
J.S.: Yeah, her clothes hurt her and her shoes hurt her. Whereas Patsy always looks utterly immaculate.
J.L.: Patsy dresses well, she wears Lanvin.
J.L.: Good, cool things — Alexander McQueen, occasionally high street, but she’s OK. She’s a fashion editor.
J.S.: Yeah, she can get whatever she wants to wear and in the right size.
WWD: How much has fashion changed since the TV show?
J.S.: Fashion is universal now; I think when we started there was the bible which was Vogue, and it was about this elite idea of the Pradas, the Guccis, and there was this kind of cool Brit look that came in. But it wasn’t as well-known as it is now. Now, because of online, because of Net-a-porter everyone can buy it; you don’t even have to go to the shop. Everyone is aware of the big fashion labels, but what people do now, I think, is they find a little label that is their identity, whether it is Shrimps — or whatever — so different age groups have their own little places that they buy. I think it is quite good, but like you said you miss the idea that you open a magazine and it’s the fall issue — “This is what we’re wearing now” — it doesn’t happen like that. You sort of flick through Net-a-porter and go “What? What are we wearing? It’s everything.”
J.L.: It’s wide palazzo pants, or is it tiny skinny things? Is it short? Is it long? Is it heavy shoes? There used to be a look in the shoe or the shirt or something that was “the look” and that is kind of gone now, and now you have to do it yourself. I think it’s both good and, in a funny way, sad because you will never see someone that looks the height of fashion in the street. You can think they look great but not “in fashion.”
J.S.: That I think is a shame; you could look at the Seventies and go, “That is the Seventies.” I think you probably could buy a certain pair of trousers or a certain shoe, “That is the Chloe shoe of 2011” or something; you’d know that, but I don’t think you can buy an actual look. I think only street gear gives it away. It would be like the Pharrell Williams or something like that, the oversized hat. Apart from that I think you wouldn’t really know.
WWD: How much do you follow fashion today and what do you like to wear?
J.L.: Rigorously, every day! (laughs) So lazy, so shockingly lazy. At home, I just wear really, really old — not charming old clothes, but tragic old clothes. But for things that we have to do, we look great and the truth is we have people to help us look great. In this film we’ve got Rebecca Hale who is “ears to the ground,” which is great for our characters. The film needs a great hit of glamour; people watching it want to be taken to the Absolutely Fabulous world where cars are great and parties are mad fun and extreme.
J.S.: We got a lot of help from fashion colleges. My daughter just graduated from Kingston so I’d been to see a lot of the graduate shows and suddenly you go, “Oh my God.” Because you could look through Net-a-porter, Matches for forever and you wouldn’t find an extreme look. So certainly for Bubble and some of Eddie’s more extreme stuff it is that kind of graduate thing where suddenly you’ve got something that is a bit directional or a bit weird.
WWD: Did anything interesting happen during filming?
J.L.: I like the way that Bubble’s yellow pants paid tribute to Kim Kardashian. An enormous padded bottom appears. In the old days you would have done anything to smooth or diminish your bottom. There were exercises, you’d have rubber things to go around your bottom or the diets were about how to make your bottom little and suddenly Kardashian — I mean, give credit to that girl. She’s had a bottom made and she’s awesome.
J.S.: Curves are OK.
J.L.: They are not curves, darling; they are countries.
WWD: Do you think the fashion world has lost its sense of humor?
J.S.: I think there is probably less fun in the clothes. Gaultier and Westwood are the two that still look like they’re playing, they’re having fun, they’re doing something extreme. You look at the catwalk and you go, “Oh what is that?” They’ve got a bit of theater about them. I think it could just get a bit ordinary and a bit commercial, to be honest. People pay so much money for a handbag! I find it extraordinary, the love of the Birkin, but it’s a bag, it’s a handbag. It’s not a Rolls-Royce, but it costs the same.
J.L.: And also the shops knock them off so fast; you go into Zara and you find what looks like the best shoulder bag, 29 quid. Why would you spend 4 grand?
WWD: What was it like filming all the celebrity cameos?
J.L.: It was like a party. They were charming and they all wanted to be there; no one was trying to push themselves forward to be a star — they were quite happy. People like Jon Hamm showing up with a mustache and someone was like, “Can you just shave it off?” So he just shaves it off, comes in a track suit, all on his own, just divine!
J.S.: Everyone was so chatty and happy and when we weren’t filming, people were going down to the pub for a drink. There were no cliques; everyone sat around in a room like this, sort of 12 people going, “Oh I’ll just have a sandwich or a cup of coffee” — or whatever — and everyone was very low-key and happy to muck in, really. They knew they were helping us out, too, because they knew if someone went, “OK I can do it but my people will have to come and you’ll have to get me a car here and a car there” — we can’t afford it, mate; it’s literally come along, muck in, have a nice day.