Acting in clothes that are too tight, heels that hurt

Model Kate Moss had to float about in London's River Thames for a scene in Absolutely Fabulous: The Movie.
Model Kate Moss had to float about in London's River Thames for a scene in Absolutely Fabulous: The Movie.PHOTOS: TWENTIETH CENTURY FOX

Absolutely Fabulous' Edina "Eddy" Monsoon (Jennifer Saunders) and Patsy Stone (Joanna Lumley) are synonymous with bad behaviour, arrested development and, of course, cutting-edge fashion.

Now, with Absolutely Fabulous: The Movie, the two comediennes have brought the crazy women and their even crazier haute couture into the 21st century. Fashionistas should love their film.

"Ah, those heels," says Saunders, who created the Absolutely Fabulous television show for the BBC back in 1992 and who wrote the film adaptation. "I was taking steps that were so small because I was in such pain. Her clothing and her shoes always hurt Edina.

"Her clothing is always far too tight because she wants the latest thing - so she wears the sample size, which is always for some skinny child. And her shoes are always too high."

Eddy's relationship with fashion is a metaphor for her life. "She is just hobbled by outfits and fashion," says Saunders with a laugh. "But she wouldn't have it any other way."

Top designers have long been associated with the Ab Fab brand. The likes of Zandra Rhodes and Christian Lacroix, for example, have worked with the show from the outset and it is fashion that hooks the 25-year-old Ab Fab concept and drags it onto the cinema screen.

"If the fashion isn't right," says the film's costume designer Rebecca Hale, "the whole thing topples. We had to make everything cool and now."

The stage is set from the start with the film's opening scene unfolding at a London fashion show run by acclaimed designer Giles Deacon. Designers Vivienne Westwood and Stella McCartney also added their clout.

"There were certain designers who came to us and were happy to laugh at the silliness of it all, right from the outset," says Saunders. "They may exist in a rarefied world, but so many of the best fashion designers don't take themselves too seriously."

The same applies to some of the industry's top models and perhaps the most famous of all British fashion faces, Kate Moss, who agreed to play a major part in the film.

She had already modelled alongside Saunders in a 1996 episode of Saunders' sketch show French & Saunders and, in 2012, had appeared in the Ab Fab Olympic special.

"I grew up with Ab Fab," says Moss, 42. "When the show started, I was just beginning my modelling career and I found it such a funny take on the fashion business. It made me laugh, which was a good thing, because the fashion world isn't always funny."

It is in Ab Fab. And the supermodel Moss plays her part. At one point, she has to float about in London's River Thames, which is not known for its cleanliness. According to the film's director, Mandie Fletcher, the film-makers were concerned about how she might react.

Fletcher says: "I was worried, but then when you talk to Kate, you realise that she has worked with many photographers, some of whom are vile. But then she gets to work with us and we are nice. We wanted to make sure that she was okay in her wetsuit.

"And one thing I learnt from this, on a serious note, is what an awful business fashion is. The little models in the first scene, their shoes hurt. In fashion it seems that no one can design a pair of shoes that doesn't cripple people."

One wonders if fashion designers are misogynists.

"All I can think is that they are," says Fletcher. "In our opening fashion show, the models are going round and round and I did apologise at one point. I said, 'I am sorry, I just need a few more angles on this.'

"And one of them, a little girl of about 17, said, 'Don't worry about us. We do this all the time and normally somebody is being horrid to us.'"

How did Saunders and Lumley cope with the haute couture and super tight shoes?

"Oh, we just give them something to drink," says Fletcher, with a laugh.

"No, seriously, Jennifer was in agony the whole time. She was going, 'Do I have to wear the shoes for this shot? Please tell me that I don't have to wear the shoes for that shot.'

"But it's necessary and it made me laugh when we did that scene at the beginning with the fashion show to see how Eddy and Patsy blended in. They didn't look ridiculous there, whereas if you stick them on the street in all these crazy clothes, they do look utterly ridiculous."

The most ridiculous clothes in the entire film are reserved for Eddy's assistant, Bubble (played by Jane Horrocks), the source of so many laughs in the original series.

One of her costumes comprises stick-on hashtags and, elsewhere, she wears a hat made of giant collagen lips embedded with syringes and is clad in a dissolvable dress made of 1,500 crepe paper flowers.

"One of the main changes in fashion," says costume designer Hale, "has been the way that the Internet has changed the way we dress and we really let loose on that with Bubble's outfits."

Many of Bubble's items were created by design duo Vin & Omi.

"I came across so many designers I'd never heard of on the Internet and on Instagram," says Hale. "That was great because we had to make sure no one could accuse us of being old hat."

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 24, 2016, with the headline 'Acting in clothes that are too tight, heels that hurt'. Print Edition | Subscribe