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Geisha Glam: 'Memoirs' translates to fashion

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Describing them as the "supermodels of their day" in the December Vogue, "Memoirs of a Geisha" film director Rob Marshall says 1920s geisha were fashionistas, "the ones people looked at to see what to wear."

Today, they're influencing fashion again, from chain stores to high-end designers.

"Ideas of traditional Japanese dress are coming into Western fashion, which is a switch because a few years ago it was the kooky anime/comics side of Japan that was animating Western design," said Sally Singer, Vogue fashion news/features director.

Beauty brand Fresh and Banana Republic have partnered with the moviemakers for "Geisha" product tie-ins.

Independent of the movie, designers such as Alber Elbaz for Lanvin and Dries Van Noten are appropriating kimono-chic for their spring lines, Singer said.

Like the film, which some criticize for sexing up the geisha look and for starring Chinese actresses as geisha, the fashion translation is loose at times. It borrows from other Asian cultures and from modernity.

But the results often are captivating - and refreshing.

"A few years ago you couldn't find a star who wasn't baring her navel," Singer said. "One thing that's so interesting (about the trend) is how beauty and sexuality can be conveyed through a lot of clothes as opposed to few clothes. That's something women can learn from."

On the beauty front, Fresh used the "Memoirs" alliance partly to expand its rice-based cleansing and bath products.

"Sony (Pictures) was interested in Fresh because we were known as a brand that had this Eastern influence, not only because of the rice line (which launched in 2000) but also the soy line (which dates to 1999)," said Fresh spokeswoman Mary Skinner, who added that Fresh's co-founders were reading "Memoirs" when they created the rice line.

On the fashion front, Singer thinks the film will fuel a second wave of kimono chic in a year or so, after everyone has seen the movie.

"We certainly saw that with (the Chinese film) 'In the Mood for Love,'" she said, which contributed to what she calls a "chinoiserie moment" in fashion in 2001. "We saw cheongsams and embroidery, and I imagine this film will have the same electrifying capacity."


(c) 2005, Chicago Tribune. Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune News Service.

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