Ab Fab’s costume designer shares her behind-the-scenes secrets

The making of a millennial wardrobe for a historic fashion show

Ab Fab shocked and delighted with its wild sartorial escapades back in it’s nineties heyday. In an era that was defined by Calvin Klein minimalism and slickly-clad supermodels, Eddie and Patsy were something of a style anomaly. And we loved them all the more for their eccentricities.

As their silver screen debut heralds a very welcome homecoming, we wondered how the chain-smoking, champagne-swilling fashion darlings would fare in a world filled with juice cleanses and gym selfies? Could they bear to ditch their Holland Park digs for a Hackney warehouse? And swap Versace for Vetements?

‘From the outset, all those involved in the film were adamant that, above all else, it was the costumes that were going to ground the film convincingly in the modern day,’ says costume designer Rebecca Hale. ‘They were going “If the fashion isn’t right, the whole thing topples. We had to make it now. We had to make it cool. We had to make sure that no-one, at any point, could accuse us of being old hat.”’ Judging by the high-fashion line up of designers involved, there should be no fear of that.

Hale joined the Ab Fab team in the early 2000s. Between her and the shows main cast – Jennifer Saunders (Edina Monsoon), Joanna Lumley (Patsy Moon), Julia Sawalha (Saffron), Jane Horrocks (Bubble) – she knows the characters and their wardrobes inside out. In many ways, Rebecca is now introducing them to a whole new audience, as well as satisfying the expectations of long-standing fans of the show. With six weeks to prep, slap bang in the middle of fashion month, Rebecca pulled together the most exciting, and insightful, ensembles for the notoriously fashion-centric ensemble cast.

From Topshop to bespoke Vivienne Westwood, Rebecca shared her wardrobe secrets with us…

There are some hilarious millennial moments

Popular culture has changed so much since Eddie and Patsy hung up their Christian Lacroix coats, so Rebbeca found humourous ways of translating this through ditzy PA Bubbles’ costumes. ‘Most of the issues on Ab Fab are related to social issues that we poke fun at quite frivolously, but there’s always a cultural message behind it all.

Also, while we’re communicating more with each other, it’s all non-verbal and behind screens, so in a sense the world has actually become much more insular. I worked with a brilliant pair of young designers called Vin + Omi to design some of Bubble’s weirdly wonderful costumes.’ The most notable designs to emerge include a hashtag emoji outfit, a hat of giant collagen lips with syringes in it and a dissolvable flower dress made from 1,500 Italian crepe paper flowers; a riff on the throwaway nature of fast fashion.

Instagram scouting was key to finding niche brands

Rebecca found herself falling down the sartorial rabbit hole that is Instagram. ‘One designer would lead me to another and another. It was an incredibly useful tool that I sourced some amazing pieces from.’ By just typing ‘weird spectacles’ into the search bar, Rebecca stumbled across Amore Eye Wear, a tiny American company that produced all the glasses for Patsy’s love interest, Lubliana.

Big name designers were keen to get on board, too

Some of the greatest fans of the show just so happen to be big names designers, who were more than happy to contribute their wares, with some even jumping at the chance to make a stylish cameo themselves. ‘I started with the old guard; from Vivienne Westwood and Giles, to Stella McCartney and Mulberry, they were all so brilliantly helpful and eager to get involved in the show.’

Giles Deacon – who is just as renowned for designing with his tongue firmly in his cheek, as he is for his incredible couture gowns – explained the motivation behind his involvement: ‘It’s always been important to me to see the lighter side; I hate the overbearing, tortuous side of the industry that I work in. For me, doing great work and being able to see the lighter side need not be mutually exclusive. I think it’s a real shame if you can’t have some fun and laugh at yourself and I also think that it detracts from the personality of the clothes.’

It’s a rookie showcase, as well

As well as the household names, Rebecca wanted to champion emerging British design talent. So, she and her team contacted the University of East London. The final year students ended up writing their entire module around their designs for the film. ‘Young British designers like Ashish, Sadie Williams, Shrimps and Sibling were all really keen to get involved. It’s a fantastic showcase for them and their work is perfect for the movie as it’s so indicative of the current mood in fashion… Tallulah and Hope is the kaftan brand I used when Patsy and Eddie flee to France. She is a very talented young designer, who is really changing the face of beachwear.’

Jon Hamm is smooth AF

‘He is even more divine than you could possibly imagine in real life. We dressed him in Dunhill suits.’ Enough said on that one.

Kate Moss’ drowning dress-capades

In the much-hyped scene in which Kate Moss is pushed into the Thames by an overly-zealous Patsy and Eddie (the moment that the ensuing plot of the movie hinges on), the gorgeous green sparkly dress she wore was actually pulled from Mossy’s own wardrobe. ‘The dress Kate wears in that scene was given to her by Johnny Depp for her 21st birthday, I think… We had to make six versions of it because it kept going into the water! And it needed to be specially tailored to fit a wetsuit underneath.’

The normcore movement has made Saffron an unexpected style icon

Saffron’s straight up style jars completely with that of her outlandish mother. Though she was considered dowdy in the nineties, nowadays Saffron is the height of style in her hipster uniform of beige trousers and joyless jumpers. ‘Saffron is the most fun for me to do in the sense that I’ll find the most horrible pair of trousers that nobody in a million years would ever want to wear mixed with a pair of shoes that look like a Cornish pasty. Her notion of what looks right is not at all related to whether something looks good. Her look is a combination of finding horrible old jumpers in charity shops and teaming them with a nice shirt from Brora.’

Edina is just as addicted to online shopping as we are  

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