Granata Does Escada It may not be populated with the likes of J. R., Pamela, or Sue Ellen Ewing, but Robert Altman's Dr. T and the Women is set in a moneyed Dallas where things haven't changed much since the primetime soap's heyday. Not in the fashion sense, anyway: big hair and over-the-top couture still rule. The ensemble comedy, which Artisan Entertainment released in October, is about a gynecologist (Richard Gere) who is hugely popular among Dallas society ladies. It was costume designer Dona Granata's job to outfit all these women (who include Laura Dern, Farrah Fawcett, Kate Hudson, Tara Reid, Liv Tyler, and Janine Turner) in clothes befitting their contemporary yellow-rose-of-Texas status.
Granata, whose career stretches back over three previous Altman features and a substantial amount of work in film and theatre, knew something about the territory. "Over the past 10 years, I've spent a decent amount of time in Dallas, working in opera and theatre," she says. "Plus, Bob had done all his research. He wanted the women to be really full-blown creatures from head to toe, and told me to pay attention to every detail, that these women care about every bit of themselves."
The designer immersed herself in the Dallas scene, going to charity events and fashion shows and barbecues, visiting boutiques and Neiman-Marcus, generally "sponging it in." She looked at what designers Dallas women were wearing, and followed suit. "We contacted Escada, which has its largest base of clientele in Dallas," she says. "We worked closely with them, and with St. John and Chanel and Dior. I talked to the different publicity people about the looks we wanted, and they would send certain things they felt would be appropriate within our color range and sensibility."
The parameters included few primary colors other than red, to keep the sartorial wildness from overwhelming the film. Granata's intention was to take the actual Dallas style just "a few beats off and up" from reality - a consistent rather than spotty landscape of exaggerated costumes. With some fierce competition, Dern's character probably takes the outrageous fashion prize. From a black feather hat that sprouts on top of her head in the first scene to a pink-and-gray animal print suit by Richard Tyler she wears later, the statuesque actress never disappoints. Kate Hudson, cast as Gere's cheerleader daughter, sports pompom-style fur cuffs and collar by Adrienne Landau in one scene, and a Justina McCaffrey wedding gown in the film's climactic sequence. Designers of choice for Tara Reid, the doctor's other daughter, were Miu Miu and Prada.
As for Gere, Granata had all of his costumes custom-made by Brioni in Italy. "We wanted a kind of classic old Hollywood look for him, a Gary Cooper-Cary Grant kind of feeling, very different from the modern men we're used to seeing in Italian-cut dark suits," says the designer. "We wanted him to be very luxe and Town and Country-looking, with beautiful cashmeres, knitted sweaters, and golf clothes." In the course of the film, the good doctor finds himself drawn to a character played by Helen Hunt, an outsider whose efficient style differs dramatically from the Dallas-bred women. "She's much more modern and athletic, with clean lines," says Granata. "In contrast to the Dallas women, who are nurtured in a certain way, she's almost like the super female."
The designer says the actresses immediately dived into the spirit of things. "Our first night, we shot a mall scene. Kate had her little cuffs, Laura had her crazy feather hat. We were off and running - everybody was like, "I'm wearing this, I'm wearing this!'"