- The Washington Times - Saturday, December 31, 2005

It’s certainly not the first time 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.

Banana Republic, in conjunction with Sony Pictures, introduced 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. Icon, an accessories manufacturer, has 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, Miss Atwood made a “cultural trip” to Japan with the film’s director, Rob Marshall, with whom she also collaborated 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-old 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,” Miss Atwood says.

• The palette embraces colors that Western fashion companies typically avoid, including orange and purple. “The perception of color in Japan is amazing,” she says.

• Very few people wore the platform wooden sandals known as getas, but they’re not as hard to wear as one might think, Miss Atwood notes. 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.

Historically, kimonos are one-piece, front-wrap, rectangular garments made from a single piece of fabric. Miss Atwood’s kimonos were made of 8 yards of fabric, while the new book “Fashioning Kimonos” describes kimonos as being 13 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 both customary modesty and the semitropical climate.

“I think the silhouette of the kimono costume will become engraved in people’s minds,” Miss 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, Miss 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 superficial side of the geisha beauty routine but not the spiritual. In real life, Miss 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,” Miss 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.

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

Fresh partnered with the makers of “Memoirs of a Geisha” for a collection of products ranging from a shimmer powder with crushed pearl to a perfume with notes of different Asian fruits, flowers and musks.

“Ironically, we were doing a lot of research of Japanese and Asian beauty references in 1999, and I read ‘Memoirs of a Geisha.’ We launched a sake collection in 2000 and always said, ‘One day, if they ever make the movie …,’” recalls Alina Roytberg, co-founder of Fresh with her husband, Lev.

“We wanted to embrace the whole beauty routine of a geisha as she prepared to go out,” Mrs. Roytberg says.

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