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‘Hedwig’ emerges from thrift-store trenches

Designer found style in excess

Arianne Phillips was fitting John Cameron Mitchell’s Golden Globes outfit when she received the call from the Costume Designers Guild announcing her nomination in the period/fantasy category for her work on Mitchell’s “Hedwig and the Angry Inch.” “I didn’t know how many people saw it, so it really took me by surprise,” she says.

However, any doubts about the impact of her work dissipated as she greeted the 35 costume contest entries at a sold-out midnight sing-a-long of “Hedwig” at a theater that weekend.

“(When) I was a teenager, I used to dress up to go see the ‘Rocky Horror Picture Show,'” says Phillips. “I thought, oh my God, this was my total teen fantasy.”

The fairy-tale ending seems apt for a designer who joked that she was her own sweatshop during “Hedwig,” gluing and feathering on the sidelines during an intense 27-day shoot.

“Out of necessity and practicality, I became what I joked was a method costume designer because I was given $25,000 to do the costumes. Frankly, that had been the dry-cleaning budget on most movies I’d done,” says Phillips, whose past projects include “The People vs. Larry Flynt,” “Girl, Interrupted” and “Tank Girl.”

In the spirit of the character Hedwig, she dug deep into the thrift-store trenches and constructed such ingenious creations as one dress made entirely of hair and another of cellophane. The hands-on work was welcome in the wake of a bad experience on a studio film.

“(‘Hedwig’) was a real healing project for me and it got me back in touch with the creativity and the passion that I know exists in a lot of people in this industry. It completely refocused my direction in terms of the kind of films that I know are right for me to do,” she says.

Following up the excesses of “Hedwig” with Mark Romanek’s minimalist “One Hour Photo,” which preemed at this year’s Sundance, Phillips worked on Guy Ritchie’s retelling of “Swept Away,” after collaborating with Madonna last year on her Drowned World Tour. Next, she will rejoin James Mangold (“Girl, Interrupted”) on the psychological thriller “I.D.”

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