THE jeans are tight and the hair big when you step back in time on the set of hit TV drama Ashes To Ashes.
It’s 1981, nearly dinnertime and former Sheriff of Manchester Gene Hunt is wearing in his cowboy boots as Alex Drake adjusts her perm.
The job of ensuring actors Philip Glenister and Keeley Hawes look the part, along with the rest of the cast, is down to costume designer Rosie Hackett, who spent months researching the era.
There’s an interview with Rosie in today’s MEN but, like Chris Skelton in his white jeans, it was slightly squeezed for space.
So I thought fans might like the option of reading this fuller version online.
Rosie’s father Bert Hackett is a celebrated cartoonist for The Birmingham Post but started as a graphic illustrator at the MEN.
She began her own career as a fashion stylist on music videos in the later Eighties, including several for Annie Lennox. “You can work off memory, which is exciting because it all starts to come back to you,” explains Rosie.
“And, equally, you’ve got to be careful of that because your memory can be faulty.
“Everybody says, ‘Oh, I remember 1981.’ And, actually, often they’ve got it wrong. You’ll look at ’81 and a lot of it will not look like you think it was.”
So where do you start to re-create the fashions of the year Charles and Diana married, Imagination sang about Body Talk and New Romantics drained the nation’s supply of eyeliner?
“It’s a really quite solid grounding of going through libraries, things like the Radio Times, TV Times, The Observer colour magazine and Vogue. So you can get quite a range of different culture, classes, types of people.
“What you’re trying to do then is find people, characters or actresses and actors who were popular at that time, that stick in your head, who almost epitomise a period.
“In 1981 Joanna Lumley was a big deal – her hair and her whole style. But there were lots of different influences for Keeley’s character. They spanned everything from American films through to television and advertising.
“What you get in the early Eighties are a lot of magazines that are aspiring to glamour, luxury, champagne corks popping all over the place. And everything was real silk.
“For Phil there were lots of different influences. I would say Johnny Cash, that whole sort of man in black approach. And there was a photograph of Richard Burton – that was an influence.
“But then Phil was very sure about what he wanted to do, as well as the director. He had this iconic look in Life On Mars, with the camel coat, so everyone was very aware that we needed to create an equally strong look for this Eighties’ series.”
Rosie admits her job was made a little harder by off screen trends. She worked with Rochdale’s Anna Friel on the 2001 film Me Without You, set in the 1980s, and later noticed a fashion shift towards that decade.
“Actually, that makes your job even more difficult because it’s harder to create a period look when it’s already out there in the street. You don’t want to look ‘now’ fashionable. You need them to look like Eighties’ characters.
“But at the same time you want it to be easy on the eye, so people can watch and enjoy it. So I had sleepless nights, particulary about the Gene character, because there are going to be people who hate it, I’m sure. But I think it works.”
In fact, most of the complaints on Ashes’ fansite The Railway Arms have been about the tops Alex wears which expose a single bra strap, while Gene’s dark 1981 coat, suit and boots have got the thumbs up.
Were any costumes tricky to track down? “Loads. The right shape jeans, which really kind of nail the Eighties, are difficult to find. It’s quite a nasty shape.
“We trawl eBay to get certain makes of jeans and Camden Market in London. And Eighties’ tracksuits are very difficult to find.
“The clothes have got to be the right shape. You’ve got two types of jeans. One is really tight but they’ve always got this high waist and you just tuck everything in.
“It’s starting to come into fashion now. It’s silly little details like that, that are important – the length of trousers being just that bit too short.”
Rosie was also responsible for the Ashes’ Pierrot clown, which appears to represent death as far as Alex is concerned. It was inspired by the figure in David Bowie’s video for the song Ashes To Ashes.
“We basically looked at the original costume and then discussed it. I know the director wanted him to have a sort of apocalyptic feel. Then I designed something that was a similar shape, so you had the silhouette of the original clown, so it would be identifiable.
“And then made it it much more into something that was maybe a sort of Victorian costume that had been hidden in a cupboard for ages.”
As for Rosie’s final reflections on 1981 fashion: “Well, the worst faux pas sometimes become my favourite things. Like those awful jeans. And then you start to really like them – and the white socks.
“I remember at the time hating men who wore white socks with slip on shoes. I remember going on to my dad about it.
“And, of course, we use that on everybody. You’ll notice all the CID have white socks with slip on shoes. They give you an immediate 1980s-ness.
“Something I do hate with the women’s clothes in the Eighties was really wide sleeves. They’re so unflattering on a woman. All the sleeves are huge.
“But usually whatever job you’re doing, you find yourself morphing towards wearing the clothes.”
Ashes To Ashes continues on BBC1 at 9pm tonight.
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