ROSIE O’DONNELL: DAYTIME DIVA
Byline: Karen Parr
NEW YORK — Rosie O’Donnell jokes about her size.
“It’s good for a three-size swing,” she said of the CP Shades outfit she wore to the “Beautiful Girls” premiere. “It’s got an elastic waist.”
But dressing for “The Rosie O’Donnell Show” is no laughing matter. Since the show made its June 10 debut, O’Donnell has been steering the hottest daytime TV vehicle since Oprah Winfrey began laughing and crying with audiences.
Amid the comedy and show tunes, O’Donnell has to project the image of her newfound control. That means structure rather than soft suiting, according to her personal designer, Dale Richards, who is also the wardrobe head for “Saturday Night Live.”
“She does talk about it on the show, how there were no clothes out there for her,” Richards said. “Clothes for the plus-size girl are soft and flowy.”
Until Richards came on board Sept. 20, O’Donnell had a stylist, but unfortunately it was difficult to find the kind of structured suiting in quality lines necessary for the show.
“When you start getting into those sizes, the clothes out there are dreadful,” Richards said.
He noted that Salon Z at Saks Fifth Avenue had some of the best larger clothing, with lines by Dana Buchman and Ellen Tracy. In general, though, large sizes tend to be too unstructured, he said.
“To carry a TV show, you shouldn’t have soft swing coat things, especially with her personality,” Richards said. O’Donnell, who wisecracked her way through such movies as “A League of Their Own,” and “The Flintstones” and starred on Broadway as Rizzo in “Grease,” is not exactly the shy, retiring type.
Richards began his job with a single aim: to make O’Donnell look like a typical career woman.
“I did what I call her Donna Karan suit, and her Escada suit and her Gucci suit,” he said. “I wanted her to look like she shops and has moods.”
The suits feature the appointments of designer outfits — one modelled after a Chanel suit has four pockets and a front zipper, an Escada look-alike has satin-bound buttonholes and a Gucci-inspired number is red cotton velvet trimmed in silk faille — but Richards steered clear of too much detailing.
“I think that’s the problem with women’s clothing on TV,” he said. “Sometimes you focus on a detail and you don’t hear what they’re saying. With men, there is a uniform.”
To achieve a high-quality standard for O’Donnell’s suits, Richards works with tailor John Tudor, who used to do Jackie Gleason’s wardrobing.
Richards makes the initial design and gets the materials, then they get to work. Everything is hand-tailored, from the button holes to the hand-rolled collars.
“It all adds up to make something that looks more special on television,” Richards said.
Since the show is taped fairly early in the morning and it’s a bright set, Richards said O’Donnell’s looks best in a medium color range, including camel and olive. He declined to specify her size, but it is over 14 and fluctuates.
She’s not big on accessories, but Richards said she wears lots of Lisa Jenks earrings, usually matte surfaces with black inlays, and Donna Karan suede loafers. “She’s not going to wear stilettos,” he noted.
For evening wear, Richards is working mainly in velvet, with full-legged pants paired with shells and shirts.
Ultimately, he feels part of the O’Donnell allure is that she empowers women who aren’t among the slim and model-like.
“Larger men on TV have been accepted for years, like Al Roker, Willard Scott or Walter Cronkite,” he said. “But women have been held to a standard that’s unfair — and Rosie looks terrific.”