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Some tasty inspiration feeds the costumes in 'Hairspray'

Perhaps because of the years "Hairspray" costume designer Rita Ryack spent creating wardrobes for Broadway musicals, she approached her latest project like a choral director — a food-obsessed one.

The movie musical, which takes place in Baltimore in 1962, features John Travolta as a woman, Christopher Walken as his wife and Michelle Pfeiffer as an evil TV station manager. To group the stories and their characters, Ryack looked to vintage magazines, but not just the fashion layouts.

"I design musicals the same way I design everything — every group is a chorus, and all of the colors are very controlled for each group," Ryack said from her Los Angeles home.

She lifted her color palette from foods pictured in the ads.

"I had a big wall with pictures of ice creams, cakes and Campbell's soups. I used the color of those beans in the franks and beans, or the canned green beans. I had ham with pineapple, and those green, green peas," she said.

The performers featured on the Corny Collins show (a kind of "American Bandstand") were the most delicious of all. "I wanted the Corny Collins girls to be cupcakes all the time. They are all kind of wedding cakey," said Ryack, no stranger to fantasy costumes. She nabbed an Oscar nomination for "The Grinch Who Stole Christmas," and a Tony nomination for the Broadway musical "My One and Only."

Ryack, who has a masters of fine arts from the Yale School of Drama, also designed the costumes for "A Beautiful Mind," "Casino" and "Wag the Dog."

The conservative styles of the early '60s proved somewhat challenging to differentiate, she said.

"That period is actually the height of '50s style. Everybody dressed the same. Young girls, older women. Black kids, the white kids. It was all the same silhouette," Ryack said. So she did to her actors what people in that era did for themselves: employed slight exaggerations to the colors and details to create distinctions.

Study the bust lines of the female characters and you might find a correlation between the sharpness of their personalities and the pointedness of their bullet bras. Pfeiffer's scheming Velma Von Tussle is pointier than her less prejudiced female costars, Ryack said.

And to give everyone the appropriate '60s figure, Ryack shopped for dozens of waist cinchers. "She says they're fairly easy to find — Victoria's Secret, J.C. Penney and Frederick's of Hollywood. However, Travolta's turn as an extra-plus-size woman, Edna Turnblad, had Ryack scouting the far ends of the Internet to find panties in his/her size: 12X.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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