Byline: Rose-Marie Turk

LOS ANGELES — It’s that time of year again — when couch potatoes and other sofa varieties hunker down with the freshly invented TV facts of life, about to give the all-important thumbs up or down.
Meanwhile, the costume designers continue to shop ’til they drop. For them, it’s not over until the season’s last zinger is delivered — hopefully by someone wearing a little something (think the Y-necklace and “Friends”) that influences the ratings — and coincidentally sends viewers storming into stores as well.
Most refer to “decent” budgets. But there are exceptions: One costumer is so strapped for funds she’s looking for loaners, while another can’t find enough goodies on which to spend her ample allowance.
Despite their differences, these wardrobe wunderkinds have latched on to a few of the same favorite things: dressy high boots; velvet and tie-dyed fabrics; opulent lingerie looks; suits, sweaters and sheaths; an array of unusual T-shirts; ethnic influences, most notably Moroccan and Chinese; chartreuse and jewel tones; animal prints; hip-hugger pants, and sleeker silhouettes.
With luck, any of the season’s accessories could bring an avalanche of Y-style telephone calls and letters. So far, the selection includes neckerchiefs and headwraps, a noticeable pair of two-inch stacked heels, an antique briefcase, a unique purse and, yes, more delicate stone-set earrings and necklaces.
In addition to “Friends” for NBC, Debra McGuire is the costume designer for three fashion-heavy newcomers: “Veronica’s Closet,” an NBC comedy starring Kirstie Alley as the owner-designer of a New York lingerie company whose marriage is on the rocks; “Jenny,” another NBC comedy, co-starring Jenny McCarthy and Heather Paige Kent as two pals from Utica, N.Y., who move into a Hollywood Hills bachelor pad, and WB’s “Alright Already,” created by and featuring Carol Leifer as a swinging single South Beach, Fla. optician with a quirky family and sexy gal-pal.
Given Alley’s statuesque figure, her fictitious business and the soft, sophisticated, elegant lighting of the show, McGuire’s rule of thumb is: “Show as much as you can.” She’s created a dressy wardrobe in tie-dye brown and black, chartreuse, hunter green, orange and red. And she’s taking the innerwear-as-outerwear concept to the max.
“I’m bringing it into the Nineties with some embellishments and changing the shapes. I’m putting some interesting things on top — some extraordinary coats and jackets and faux fur combined with drapy stretch velvets.”
So far, the mix includes McGuire’s own designs; made-to-order items from Trashy Lingerie in Los Angeles; “some dressy suitings” by Trina Turk; a Pamela Barrish chartreuse charmeuse dress; Cina’s Oriental-inspired embroidered coats; a gold-stamped, hunter-green velvet coat from Harari, and a pair of rented 100-year-old Chinese pajamas that Alley wears to the office.
Among the accessories are Patrick Cox’s red embroidered suede knee-high boots and red Gucci boots with metal-trimmed spiked-heels. McGuire’s favorite find at Lily, an upscale vintage store in Beverly Hills, is a little gold leather briefcase that her leading lady will carry as often as she can.
“It’s amazing. It’s the esthetic I’m dressing her in. It brought the whole thing together,” said McGuire.
For “Jenny’s” leading ladies, who have “the most incredible bodies,” McGuire is using “great little skirts and hip-hugger, body-forming pants. But not over the top.”
The formula includes short leopard-print skirts McGuire designed for Kent, a short Jill Stuart cut-velvet dress and “a lot of interesting pieces” from Cynthia Rowley, Tehen and Laundry.
Because “Alright Already” is “Miami-based, it’s a whole different palette,” McGuire explained. “It’s Pucci, Gucci. It’s going all over the place. It’s body-conscious, playful, ruffly.” Her eclectic finds range from sophisticated Missoni sweater sets, Wolford bodysuits and Philipe Adec suits to youthful sundresses, bell-bottoms and vintage poodle skirts. Hemlines range from “short-short to long-long.”
Working on ABC’s “Dharma & Greg,” wardrobe supervisor Bonnie Nipar plans to “take old and put it with new and make a mix of things you wouldn’t think of going together. I am hoping people will watch and realize they can stretch their wardrobes.”
Jenna Elfman, aka Dharma, a hippie-influenced San Francisco yoga instructor, “is Fifties but not true Fifties. She’s going to be very chameleon — from J. Crew to vintage to high fashion,” Nipar said.
Her search for new, young designers has led to Alicia Lawhon, Belle du Jour, Rouge and Katayone Adeli, formerly of Parallel. In her pursuit of one-of-a-kind merchandise, Nipar has found vintage floral and dragon-print Chinese pieces. In addition to slips that vintage stores have redyed and decorated, her street-lingerie collection includes Solissa’s tie-dyed slips embellished with beads and lace.
From African stores, like African Arts Etc. in Santa Monica, to Nordstrom, Nipar reports she is finding what she needs for a series whose characters represent “a little blend of cultures. In a nice way, they admire the art form of their clothing.”
Fran Drescher’s skirt lengths on “The Nanny,” the CBS comedy for which costume supervisor Shawn-Holly Cookson has received an Emmy nomination, will be “just enough to cover her butt,” Cookson noted. “They were at 15 inches. Now they are at 14 inches; sometimes they go to 13 1/2.”
“I’m actually a little panicked. I’m not seeing anything,” she said after prowling Los Angeles. “There’s not enough color…It’s a fashion-driven show. Each week Fran has five to eight costume changes, and they all have to be drop-dead gorgeous…but there’s a huge difference between outrageous and stupid.”
Walking that fine line, Cookson will use plenty of fancy footwear, including Gucci stilettos, notably a mosaic-patterned pair with “a Moroccan feeling.” And a pair of Yves Saint Laurent tiger-print velvet boots that connect with her current print esthetic: “There is a lot of leopard skin out there, but I’ve already done leopard.
“I’m really hoping to find that great designer, anywhere, who fits my sensibilities,” added Cookson, noting she and her leading lady “share the same funky sensibility. It’s just a little left of center. I always have great luck with Moschino because it’s perfect for her great humor, and everything fits so well.”
Luckily, her bicoastal search netted some “great” finds: Todd Oldham’s “beautifully beaded gowns,” bustiers and peignoir sets from Trashy Lingerie and rubber dresses — one a long black turtleneck fishtail sheath, the other a short lime zip-front tank — from Syren in Los Angeles.
Her jewelry search has pretty much ended with a large Lalique ring, with the “striated look of tortoise shell,” purchased in various colors. “If you wear that, you don’t have to wear anything else,” Cookson said.
Bill Hargate, costume designer for “Murphy Brown” for 10 years, returns this season with a “Nanny”-esque agenda. For ABC’s “Over the Top,” co-starring Annie Potts as the owner of a small Manhattan hotel and Tim Curry as her actor/ex-husband, Hargate said he is aiming for “an over-the-top, theatrical, best-dressed look.”
“I want people to say, ‘Oh my God, did you see what she was wearing last night?’ People do that with ‘The Nanny.’ All they talk about is what Fran had on the night before.”
Along with some of the real thing, Hargate is concocting his versions of best-dressed. “Let’s take Chanel, for example. If I put that type of jewelry on a great vintage coat I bought, or even use one of Chanel’s camellias on a jacket, I’m creating that look, that feel. I may end up using a Chanel once in a while if I can afford it,” he added.
He has some Sonia Rykiel in the wardrobe, “but no Christian Lacroix. That’s a little too ‘Ab-Fab.’ We’re not going that far. I want it to be pretty, interesting.”
Despite the New York setting, Hargate isn’t planning to show any little black dresses: “I think black makes it too hard to keep the comedy going.” He’s shopping Neiman Marcus and Emporio Armani for “nice colors” and arranging them in “strange” combinations, like deep plum with chartreuse.
NBC’s “Just Shoot Me,” which had a midseason start in March, is also set in New York. The “sophisticated comedy,” stars Laura San Giacomo as a struggling journalist who joins her father’s “Cosmo-esque” magazine and tangles immediately with the fashion-editor-from-hell, played by Wendie Malick.
“It’s a challenge creating the New York look from California,” observed costume designer Katie Sparks, who started by touring Cosmopolitan’s New York offices. One result: “I have to punch it up, but I definitely have black.”
Malick, on whom she also uses cream, blue-reds and “any kind of animal print,” has a new look this fall.
“Before, she still saw herself as a 20-year old,” Sparks said, describing the 40-something character. “I see her as living for the fall issues of Vogue and W. Climbing into bed in a pair of silk pajamas, with the magazines and some Oreos, is her idea of decadence.”
“I’m still buying Versace but tamer, more sophisticated pieces,” Sparks said of a chartreuse suit and a black knit, slit-front, sleeveless sheath. Malick’s wardrobe also includes Emanuel Ungaro’s animal-print cigarette pants.
By contrast, Sparks is dressing San Giacomo for her “rebel” role in “more jewel tones, more sweaters.” And pants, notably stretch-fabric hip-huggers by Mark Wong Nark, that elongate the actress’ five-foot-two-inch stature.
Working on a tight budget, Sparks said she hopes designers — Nark, Prada, Dolce & Gabbana, Manolo Blahnik, Donna Karan, Calvin Klein, Moschino, Byblos and Valentino to name only a few — will come to her rescue.
“Instead of sending money, please send clothes immediately,” teased Sparks, who has received a handbag — a handout from Kate Spade, sister-in-law of cast member David Spade — and “Gucci watches for everyone.”
“Ally McBeal,” Fox’s romantic-drama starring Broadway actress Calista Flockhart, has its own budgetary concerns. “She’s a young professional,” explained costume supervisor Loree Parral of a heroine who joins a Boston law firm only to discover she’ll be working with the married ex-boyfriend she still adores.
“She’s just come out of law school. She can’t afford a whole new wardrobe. But she can afford a few good pieces, like a Calvin Klein or Armani jacket that she mixes with a Gap T-shirt and maybe a Laundry skirt she already has in the closet. So it ends up individualized, not designer.”
Flockhart’s wardrobe includes suits, separates and sleeveless sheaths from Zelda, DKNY, Parallel, Bebe and Tahari. And as Parral walked the streets of Boston, she opted for a pair of Kenneth Cole two-inch stacked heels “with a more contemporary toe, so she doesn’t look like a lawyer in the Eighties.”
The show’s young contemporary look is boosted by skirts worn three inches above the knee, out of court, and a palette void of black, “because of the lightness of the show.”
Instead, Parral uses eggplants, plums, charcoals, browns and navy. There are also softer, dreamier colors like the various periwinkles in a Calvin Klein jacket over an Anne Klein sheath — tied together with a pert periwinkle neckerchief. “Ten dollars at Rampage,” said Parral. “She wouldn’t buy a $100 silk scarf.”
Just as Parral hopes to influence lawyers, Yolanda Braddy, costume designer of UPN’s “Moesha,” hopes to influence teenagers. She’s taking the series, recipient of a 1996 Parents’ Choice Silver Honor, out of the hip-hop mode.
“The kids are older,” Braddy said of singer Brandy and her co-stars, portraying 16- and 17-year-olds this season. “They’re saying, ‘I’ve done hip-hop. I’ve been to the gym. I want to show more of my body. I’m tired of covering up.’ I’m doing a lot of clean lines and texture. I’m not seeing teens doing it yet, but I’m hopeful once they see the show they will.”
Susan Moses, Brandy’s personal costumer, said the star’s look includes man-tailored trousers with big cuffs, dark denim, and a continuation of a favorite Brandy look: a long, stretch-fabric BCBG skirt worn with sneakers and a sweater tied around her hips. She also continues to wear Adidas-striped skirts.
The bottoms will be paired with a variety of youthful tops from labels like Boss jeanswear, Girlztown and XOXO. A collection of long and short T-shirts includes some from Donna Karan’s new D line in brightly colored, shiny double-faced fabrics.
Along with boots by Robert Clergerie and Costume National, there are solid, plaid and sunburst-splashed Keds by Todd Oldham. And because the series is set in Los Angeles, the star will continue to sport her favorite combination: platform sandals, including a Charles David pair in baby-blue pony skin, worn with toe rings.
WB’s “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” the “action-packed thriller laced with comedy and horror” also goes in a different fashion direction this season.
Cynthia Bergstrom, the new costume designer, said she is looking for “funky young designers,” to dress a cast led by Sarah Michelle Gellar as Buffy.
So far, her new-designer finds include silk and velvet combinations from L.A.- based Alicia Lawhon. After shopping a mix of stores, such as Fred Segal Melrose and Santa Monica, Barneys, Rampage and Contempo Casuals, Bergstrom’s high-end-low-end combinations include Dolce & Gabbana’s “interesting” patterned pants with T-shirts from Dollhouse and Juicy & Curiosity.
Gellar’s role-reluctant vampire fighter and high school student demands a pants-driven wardrobe that includes Greed Girl’s sailor pants. “But she’s not going to fight all the time in pants,” Bergstrom said, noting the star will also flex her muscles in a Calvin Klein tulip-print wrap skirt and a DKNY baby-pink minidress.
Stay tuned, but Bergstrom may have already found the accessory of the season, at Fred Segal in Santa Monica: a real-cigar-box purse trimmed with glow-in-the-dark lizards, by Annabelle, that ” is perfect for my show.”

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