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Embracing 'Geisha' style

Movie provides inspiration

By Samantha Critchell

Associated Press

NEW YORK --

It's certainly not the first time that the West has borrowed Eastern styles, but a number of the fashion and beauty looks that credit the new film "Memoirs of a Geisha" as inspiration are quite literal in their translation.

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Banana Republic, in conjunction with Sony Pictures, launched a line of kimono-style, sash-tie tops and dresses. Fresh, a skin-care and cosmetics company, has its own "Geisha" line that touts rice- and sake-based products. And Icon, an accessories manufacturer, printed actual film scenes onto purses and cosmetic bags.

Moviegoers will see why U.S. companies are eager to bring the luxe and lush looks to these shores. The outfits that play a major role in "Geisha" are stunning and the actresses who wear them even more so.

"Geisha" costume designer Colleen Atwood explains that the prints, patterns and colors on the kimonos she used were bigger and bolder than the typical, more subtle Japanese aesthetic, but the 250 hand-finished costumes captured the richness of the garments and the tradition they represent.

As soon as she was hired, Atwood made a "cultural trip" to Japan with the film's dirmctor Rob Marshall, whom she also collaborated with on 2002's "Chicago." She visited the University of Tokyo's fashion school and the city of Kyoto, where "Geisha" takes place, and with kimono makers themselves, who are upholding 500-year family traditions.

Among her observations:

A kimono's V-neck is very flattering. "It is such a pretty type of clothing. I can imagine people liking it and it's very wearable," Atwood says.

The palette embraces colors that Western fashion companies typically shy away from, including orange and purple. "The perception of color in Japan is amazing," she adds.

Very few people wore the platform wooden sandals known as getas. But, notes Atwood, they're not as hard to wear as one might think. The movie's stars first practiced in flatter versions and then stepped up to higher platforms when needed to complement the elongated silhouette of the fanciest kimonos.

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Historically, kimonos are one-piece, front-wrap, rectangular garments made from a single piece of fabric. Atwood's kimonos were eight yards of fabric, while the new book "Fashioning Kimonos" describes kimonos as being 13.5 yards of fabric with two long, continuous panels. The panels wrap the body, vertically, from the floor, up the front, over the shoulders and down the back, and long loose sleeves accommodate customary modesty and the semitropical climate.

"I think the silhouette of the kimono costume will become engraved in people's minds," Atwood says. "I do think there'll be lots of red accents in the near future. For me personally, I can't see myself flaunting around in a geisha uniform but it'll make me smile when I see what others do with it."

Just about the entire cast and crew -- including herself -- tried on a kimono at least once, Atwood recalls, though she didn't put on the full white-face Geisha makeup that many others involved in the production did.

Japanese actress Kaori Momoi plays "Mother" -- a harsh older woman who embraces the supmrficial side of the geisha beauty routine but not the spiritual. In real life, Momoi is 54, has smooth skin, and is spokeswoman for the SK-II brand of cosmetics. She's considered a fashion leader in Japan.

"Rob (Marshall) asked me not to look too young in the film. I used pancake and even ash-colored powder to age me," she explains.

Asian skin is often noted for its smoothness and age-defying look. "It's said in Japan that white skin covers your seven flaws," Momoi says with a laugh. "I'm very aware of my skin and I take care of it. In L.A., people laugh because everyone wants a tan."

She says many of the people on the "Geisha" set asked for her beauty secrets.

"When I wake up, I like to take a sauna with steam," she says.

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Other tips? Always wear sunblock -- she sometimes even uses a parasol -- and a mask made of concentrated pitera (yeast ferment filtrate of sake), amino acids and vitamins.

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