The Catsuit Story

July 15, 1992|By Robin Updike | Robin Updike,Seattle Times

She's fast. She's tough. She karate-kicks in stiletto-heeled boots and has the fashion panache of an Emma Peel who's crossed over to the dark side.

She's Catwoman, aka Michelle Pfeiffer, and since the movie "Batman Returns" is a blockbuster, the Catwoman look soon may be coming to a restaurant, dance club or social event near you.

Well, maybe not the exact Catwoman look. Few fashion mavens will copy the outfit purr-fectly. With its not-so-subtle fashion references to sado-masochism -- note the metal studs and latex -- and to Dr. Frankenstein -- the suit is seamed with crude white whipstitching suggesting monstrous plastic surgery -- it probably isn't the look for dinner with the in-laws or box seats at the opera.

But Catwoman is likely to boost the perennially popular black, slinky, catsuit -- which at its most basic is simply a one-piece form-fitting jumpsuit -- to new heights. The active-wear choice of someone as sleek as Emma Peel, aka Diana Rigg, co-star of the '60s television series "The Avengers," catsuits long have been de rigueur for dancers. Dancers in the Broadway hit "Cats" gave catsuits their most literal interpretation.

Top fashion designers pounced on the catsuit bandwagon a couple of years ago. Meanwhile, faux catsuit looks such as narrow leggings or stirrup pants topped with snug, black leather motorcycle jackets are considered wardrobe basics among the most fashion forward.

Moreover, catsuits, which are unforgiving in their tendency to outline every curve, are right in step with the fall fashion direction toward clothes that are slinky, long, narrow and provocative. Fall skirts may hit the ankle but they're pencil thin and slit to the thigh. The catsuit is not for the fashion mouse.

At Nordstrom, fashion director Helen Forland says though catsuits as haute couture are passe, the look has many lives.

"The whole catsuit story was real strong last fall," she says. "But the fact remains that what we call body dressing, including sleek leggings and a top, is very strong and will continue to be strong this fall."

Perhaps. But for Catwoman wannabes, Nordstrom's Brass Plum Shoe department is selling high-heeled, pointy-toed, black suede ankle boots, some with zippers and buckles. Though it would be difficult to land on your feet in them, Ms. Forland says "heeled boots are one of the hottest footwear directions for fall."

It should be even easier to find a catsuit, or something close. Plain, black one-piece cotton and Lycra bodysuits are available anywhere dance leotards and aerobics wear are sold. Accessorized with elbow-length evening gloves, spike-heeled mules or boots and some cat-eye glasses, such humble leotards could be transformed into the cat's pajamas.

At Betsey Johnson Clothing shop in downtown Seattle, basic black jumpsuits are always for sale, said Susan McAlarney, assistant manager: "We suggest women use them as a wardrobe builder.

"I think the short, tight look is out," Ms. McAlarney adds. "I think even young women are looking for the long, tight look. So in that sense, the catsuit look works well."

Of course, in some boudoirs, catsuits have never been out. Frederick's of Hollywood, known for it's X-rated bedroom wear, was doing a steady business in black lace and fishnet catsuits long before Victoria's Secret began selling similar items in romantic catalogs and upscale shops. At Frederick's, catsuits are so popular the company will be selling a relatively tame, opaque, black cotton and Lycra catsuit this fall.

"Without a doubt we expect the movie to help sales," says Ellen Appel, Frederick's spokeswoman. "For the past year we've done very well with lace and Lycra catsuits, but we are selling a lot more suddenly now that the movie is out."

But for those stalking something closer to the snarling, Michelle Pfeiffer look, Margo Susco, manager of Fantasy Unlimited, a Seattle sex paraphernalia shop, says an exact copy of Catwoman's outfit will be difficult to find.

"I sell latex, which is what that one was made of, but not that exact suit," Ms. Susco says. "The one she's wearing would probably cost about $1,000 to make. Latex is very expensive."

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