NEW YORK • As Zoolander 2 begins in the streets of Rome with a chase scene, Derek Zoolander - once a really, really ridiculously good-looking three-time male model of the year and still an incredibly poor speller - is nowhere to be found.
But when the world's top music stars fall victim to mysterious assassins, all wearing Derek's signature Blue Steel pout in their final social media posts, the dim-witted but lovable model emerges from his self-imposed hiding to help the Interpol. And he finds himself back in a fashion world he scarcely recognises.
Nearly as different is the way that industry has responded to Zoolander in the 15 years since Derek (Ben Stiller) and his model nemesis, Hansel (Owen Wilson), made their debuts.
"The first time around, we were outside of the fashion world," said Stiller, director and co-writer of both films. For the new movie, which opens on Friday, just in time for New York Fashion Week, designers and models clamoured for parts in the film or in its inventive (and extensive) social-media marketing push.
During production of the first Zoolander, most in that world didn't quite know what to make of Stiller's intentions.
Wilson recalled that several male models walked off the set, upset at the portrayal of their profession. Nearly all the cameos were a result of guerilla film-making during commercial breaks and on the red carpet at the VH1 Fashion Awards.
And look-alikes played the star chamber of designers orchestrating the dastardly plot of the evil mastermind Mugatu (Will Ferrell).
In Zoolander 2, the cabal features the real thing: The designers Marc Jacobs, Tommy Hilfiger, Valentino and Alexander Wang clambered aboard to send up themselves and trade insults with Ferrell's character.
Jacobs is such a fan of the original that during a recent St Bart's vacation, he filmed an homage to the orange mocha Frappuccino scene, in which Derek and his model roommates, favourite beverage in hand, go for a joy ride that ends in fiery tragedy.
Stiller's Baedeker to this strange, intimidating world was Anna Wintour, the all-powerful arbiter of style and maker of careers as editor-in-chief of Vogue.
"Being able to have Anna there to sort of validate what we were doing was the biggest thing and opened a lot of doors for us," Stiller said.
Wintour appears in the movie, playing herself and giving as good as she gets in a verbal smackdown with Mugatu. Justin Theroux played a diabolical DJ in the original and is a co-writer of the new one.
Stiller's production company, Red Hour, has been busy creating content for the peripheral characters in the movie, like a faux infomercial featuring Kristen Wiig's surgically enhanced designer, Alexanya Atoz, hawking her Youth Milk concoction made from desert flower cactus and distilled water from natural street puddles in Indonesia.
As of Feb 2, the infomercial has been viewed 11.5 million times.
Stiller seemed wonder-struck at the attention the new movie is receiving. "It's like Derek's having a resurgence," he said.
"He's been out of it for a few years and now he's having an upswing. He finally got his Vogue cover. So I'm happy for him. Because it's a tough business."
NEW YORK TIMES
•Zoolander 2 opens in Singapore on March 3.