At first glance, Nicole Kidman resembles a delicate princess with alabaster skin and saintly grace, perched on a swing while gently descending upon her adoring masses in the new movie "Moulin Rouge."
Then the camera pans to her bawdy black fishnet stockings. There's her glittery showgirl outfit, with a flap between the thighs that drips with swishy silver strands. Finally, we see the teasing, salacious smile on her face.
And voila, fashion has a new pop princess.
With its risque can-can dancers and corset-dresses galore, "Moulin Rouge" not only is a tantalizing visual orgy of a movie that's set in 1900 Paris. It also joins the current wave of racy music videos and sexy pop icons like HBO's "Sex and the City" gals in pushing naughty, ooh-la-la, spank-me styles in fashion today.
"People are tired of the minimalistic fashions of the '90s," said Kal Ruttenstein, senior vice president of fashion direction at Bloomingdale's, which is selling a line of "Moulin Rouge"-inspired clothing in two stores in New York and Los Angeles. "They want to make a statement now when they go out."
Racy styles and statements in fashion have come and gone over the years, from the miniskirts of the '60s and '70s to Madonna's conical bra outfits of the '80s. Sure, Yves Saint Laurent's creative director Tom Ford shocked some recently with his new fragrance ad campaign, which featured a model erotically checking out her mirror image as her trench coat falls open to reveal her nude body. But 15-year-old Brooke Shields sparked a much bigger media frenzy in 1980 when she uttered in Calvin Klein jeans ads, "Do you want to know what comes between me and my Calvins? Nothing."
And so, while Lil' Kim, Pink, Christina Aguilera and Mya have titillated the MTV generation dressed in fishnets, garters, bustiers and panties in their video for "Lady Marmalade," from the "Moulin Rouge" soundtrack, longtime fashionistas are merely shrugging.
"These girls aren't doing anything Madonna wasn't doing 20 years ago," said Phillip Bloch, a celebrity stylist whose clients have included Jennifer Lopez and Halle Berry.
But fashion observers notice that the difference today is that these raunchy looks are more widely accepted. Tom Julian, fashion trend analyst for the New York company Fallon Worldwide, said he's heard from retailers recently that women in their 30s and 40s are joining teens and twentysomethings in seeking out racy outfits. And Julian noted recently seeing a Lane Bryant window decorated with thongs and camisoles for plus-sized women.
"Sexy is an accepted way of dressing, communicating and existing in today's society," said Julian, who recently attended a "Moulin Rouge" party at the Cannes Film Festival, where he noticed an abundance of fishnets and corsets. "It used to be taboo in certain ways, but it seems that this is not the case now. It's not something you scratch your head at any more -- you just do it."
Shawny Burns, spokeswoman for Saks Fifth Avenue, said raunchy fashions recently flooded the mainstream after the 2000 Grammy Awards.
"Ever since Jennifer Lopez wore that Versace dress to the awards, it set a whole new course in fashion," Burns said of the wispy green scarf dress with which Lopez forever will be associated. "We feed off pop culture now more than ever before. The fact that Jennifer Lopez wore that dress very well and did it in a way that was very appealing, all of a sudden, everything coming down the runway had a deep neckline."
Bloomingdale's Ruttenstein said he came up with the idea to create a "Moulin Rouge" clothing line because he felt that people would respond to looks in the movie. In the past, Bloomingdale's has created themed sections linked to such movies as "Dick Tracy," "Evita" and "Dangerous Liaisons," but Ruttenstein said the "Moulin Rouge" section has been the most successful so far.
In "Moulin Rouge," Kidman plays Satine, the most famous courtesan in Paris and star of the city's infamously bawdy Moulin Rouge nightclub. She falls in love with a poor writer (Ewan McGregor) but has to deal with the obsessive advances of a wealthy duke (Richard Roxburgh).
For the "Moulin Rouge" line, Ruttenstein organized screenings of the movie for 50 fashion designers in New York in Los Angeles and enlisted them to come up with ideas for jewelry, gowns and casual wear. The result is a store that features gorgeous and sexy corset gowns, cocktail dresses, camisoles and bustier tops by designers like Jessica McClintock, ABS by Allen Schwartz and Anna Sui.
Catherine Martin, the co-costume designer of "Moulin Rouge," said she and her partner, Angus Strathie, researched the bohemian fashions of 19th-century Paris for about a year and tried to create looks that were of the time period but still appealing to the modern masses.