HAPPY BIRTHDAY, BEVERLY HILLS!

We’re saluting the centennial celebration of Beverly Hills in style with a look at costume design drawings for Troop Beverly Hills (1989).

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Shelley Long
stars as Phyllis Nefler, a soon-to-be divorced mom living in fabulous Beverly Hills style. As leader of the local Wilderness Girls troop, Phyllis has her tailor customize basic uniform staples with some serious 1980s style.  To quote two of the troop members, “Uniforms are sick.  They blur an individual’s sense of self.”  Working within the language of capes, jodhpurs, culottes, utility jackets and camp shirts, legendary costume design Theadora Van Runkle makes us think otherwise.

Her creative variations on camper’s uniforms rendered in a neutral color palette contrast starkly with Phyllis’s personal wardrobe, which is an outrageous take on ‘80s extravagance.  Van Runkle’s work even gets called out in one scene.  Arriving in divorce court and believing that her estranged husband has inquired about the design of her dress, Phyllis responds, “It’s a Van Runkle. Isn’t it fabulous?” 

Van Runkle’s papers and drawings for this film and many others are housed at the Academy Library. Her enjoyment of this particular project is evident in her oral history, just published by the Academy.  In it she is clearly pleased with her work and talks about the film’s over-the-top fashions, including this fitted jacket with its bird embellishment.

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Although Van Runkle doesn’t say so explicitly, the outfit seems to reflect the importance of scouting in Phyllis’ growing self-confidence.  But the comic potential of the decade’s excesses is perhaps best realized in this costume, worn by Long’s character when she falls into a swimming pool. The costume with its structured bodice has a high/low asymmetrical ruffled skirt which billows out behind her like a pastel ink stain.

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Van Runkle’s exuberant costume design is certainly part of the movie’s appeal and she manages to slyly work in references to several of the city’s landmarks.  When the troop ends up at the Beverly Hills Hotel, Long, standing in front of a wall clad with the hotel’s famous green floral wallpaper, appears in a pink dressing gown completing the hotel’s iconic color scheme.  With a knowing wink to the Giorgio fragrance store, Van Runkle reimagines its memorable yellow striped awnings as backpacks for the troop members. As troop leader Nefler asserts, “Just because you’re out in the woods it’s no excuse not to look your best.

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