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AbFab Is Back, and as Outlandishly Dressed as Ever

Patsy and Edina have never been understated, and they’re not about to start now

The little black dress, the classic blazer, the understated accessory — none of these things appeal to the characters of Absolutely Fabulous. Since it’s sitcom debut in 1992, the erstwhile PR flack, Edina "Eddie" Monsoon, and negligent fashion editor, Patsy Stone (played by Jennifer Saunders and Joanna Lumley, respectively) have consumed drugs, booze, and fashion in legendary and inadvisable quantities. So much so, that the show’s pilot, simply entitled "Fashion," has been named on of the top 50 best TV episodes of all time by TV Guide. Now making the jump from TV to the big screen this summer, these cult-favorite friends are taking what Eddie refers to as "labels, labels, labels" with them. Almost its own character within the Ab Fab universe, fashion is not only the way the characters reveal themselves, it’s practically their life force — driving the pair down through decades, inspiring them to pursue models, designers, and celebrities across continents and through madcap adventures in search of the latest, coolest thing.

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In a roundabout way, Patsy and Eddie may have been television’s first advocates of "body positivity." When choosing their looks notions like "age appropriate" or "flattering fit," do not even slow them down. For example, when informed by a snooty sales associate that a high-end boutique doesn’t carry her size, Eddie replies with a slightly hysterical "I don’t wear my size!" And indeed, she doesn’t. Still reeling from the psychedelic sixties and glamour of the disco era, Patsy and Eddie choose wardrobes for themselves based more on how they perceived themselves to be than where they actually might be in their lives.

Photo: Fox Searchlight

For Patsy, this meant decadently large Ivana Trump-inspired up-dos, Chanel suits and microscopically short skirts; for Eddie it was everything from earth mother caftans to hip-hop inspired athleisure to, well, anything labeled Lacroix. Trailed by Eddie’s insanely whimsical assistant, Bubble (Jane Horrocks), the pair pretty much splits time between shopping and trying to get in to the best parties. Even lack of style is a style in their world. For Edina’s long-suffering daughter, Saffron (Julia Sawalha), rebellion against her mother often comes in the form of pleated khakis and shapeless sweater vests.

According to long-time Ab Fab costume designer, Rebecca Hale, bringing this style circus to a feature film presented its own set of challenges and opportunities; not the least of which was the overall changes in the way people dress that have occurred since the show rolled out in the 90’s. Society evolves, characters evolve and as a result, wardrobes evolve. Eddie in particular got a surprising makeover, as she explains. "I thought that before the 90’s, Edina was really over the top in comparison to your average human being. I thought in order for her to have more impact, I wouldn't make the clothes so outrageous because virtually anything goes now. We're not so confined. It doesn't really matter so much now compared to how everybody looked in the 90’s. Then I thought, ‘Okay, I'm going to tone her down slightly, but her personality is going to shine through.’" The result is a wardrobe drawn from almost entirely British designer. It's a little more business-like, in Edina’s champagne-soaked power lunch way.

Photo: Fox Searchlight

In Hale’s imagination, Patsy’s update was as much about her total lack of morals and her position as an editor than it was about the latest fad. Quipping, "she's such an alley cat in the sense that she worked for the magazine. She nicked from the stylist’s rack."

She’s quick to explain that because of Ab Fab’s long history with clothing, costuming the characters is a collaborative process rather than one of simply design or assigning looks. "They've been with this character for 25 years," she explains. "so they absolutely know what's right. It's a total collaboration with everybody." With Lacroix’s couture line now defunct, it’s also a collaboration with fashion designers ranging from established names like Stella McCartney and Vivienne Westwood to college students, who designed brightly patterned fabrics specifically for the movie. While this might seem like a huge amount of effort for something that’s not a period piece, it’s necessary because wardrobe is so essential to the Ab Fab universe, because as Hale puts it, "as comical as it is, they really do have an incredible sense of what's going on in the fashion world and what's hot."

Photo: Fox Searchlight

Additionally, with the way the industry itself has changed, she says that even making fun of it is no small feat. Explaining, "It's very difficult to keep up with what's hot because the way the runway changes now, they have to do eight shows a year. It's absolutely crazy. In a funny kind of way because there's so much fashion, every day is a little bit more for them. There's so much choice." Until that day, however, she’s happy to ensure that the characters of Absolutely Fabulous will turn heads at every party, runway show, product launch, and orgy they saunter into.

Hale isn’t knocking the vast array of fast fashion, however. She sees recent changes in the industry as a democratization of fashion. "It allows people to be very themselves, which is very important. There's just something in there for everybody. Only the very, very lucky few can wear a bit of couture, but it's accessed lots of other people to be able to wear different version of it and if it helped them, great." As for Patsy and Eddie, who might be a little too driven by a sense of self (especially if that sense of self shifts with the latest issue of Vogue), she has some ideas on how they could "freshen up" their wardrobes. "I'd say to Patsy, ‘Don't be afraid to do rock and roll with classic chic.’" And for Edina? "I'd say to Edina ... Oh, God knows what I'd say to her. I don't know… I would just say, "Don't be defined by what other people say. Don't go for the obvious statement. Be a little bit more eclectic."


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