Months before the Evita hype machine went into overdrive, whispers were circulating around the vintage clothing dealers of London, Paris, Rome, New York and Los Angeles. Their supplies of Forties ball gowns, suits, shoes, handbags, hats and costume jewellery were being snapped up by Penny Rose, the British costume designer searching for clothes for Madonna, Antonio Banderas and a cast of thousands.
In the 10 weeks that Rose was given to prepare for the dressing of Evita, she left barely a stone unturned. "I'm like a thing possessed," she says. Madonna's outfits were all made for her, based on original pieces Eva Peron wore, but much else had to be found. Occasionally, Rose would hit the jackpot; she found some French work trousers from the turn of the century, unworn and in triplicate - Banderas wore them in the film.
So strong is Madonna's look in the movie - the red lips, the eyeliner, the carefully coiffured hair, the nipped-in suits, the sparkling jewellery and the platform shoes - that Evita promises to be as influential on the way we look as when Madonna burst on to our screens in black lace, crucifix dangling, singing "Like a Virgin".
Mark Steinberg of Steinberg & Tolkein, the vintage clothing emporium on the King's Road in London, is being inundated with demands from fashion stylists, TV shows such as Oprah, and from the public for clothes "like Madonna wore" before the film has even been released. The shop supplied jewellery and clothes for the movie, some picked out personally by Madonna. "They bought lots of big flashy pieces of jewellery," says Steinberg. "Evita would stand on balconies so often that she needed jewellery that was big enough to be seen."
Steinberg & Tolkein sold 40 suits from the late Thirties and Forties for the movie, as well as 20 to 30 dresses, many of which were bought to be replicated for 3,000 to 4,000 extras. Steinberg is looking forward to seeing the film, if only to count how much of his stock has been used. Luckily, there is a large enough supply of Forties clothing to ensure that the shop has not been cleared out of clothes from the period.
A little further along the King's Road is Sue Mautman, who sells high- quality costume jewellery by designers such as Schiaparelli. Like Steinberg, she has been looking out for her brooches, earrings and necklaces in magazine publicity, film stills and posters. Mautman sold several pieces for the film, but has yet to see Madonna wearing any of it. Her name will not appear on the credits, but she will benefit from Evita-mania as demand for costume jewellery increases alongside the increase in smart, glamorous dressing.
While we might not all buy into every facet of the Forties fashion revival, there is a touch of movie glamour in the air, for both men and women. Not only can women buy Estee Lauder's Evita range of make-up, men can go to the Jermyn Street shirt maker TM Lewin and pick up the same Marcella dress shirt that Banderas wears in the film for pounds 49.99.
The Evita style of dressing can be successfully adapted for day. The heaving bosoms and corsets of Moll Flanders (the Hollywood film version staring Robin Wright and Morgan Freeman is due for release next May) however, are for evening-wear only. Designers such as Christian Lacroix, Vivienne Westwood (who doesn't have a television and would claim to be influenced by historical costume rather than costume drama) and John Galliano pillage the fashion history books and costume museums. Westwood's ball gowns are designed to bring out the Moll Flanders in modern-day women with enough underwiring and corsetry to build the finest cleavage, while her menswear is just as strongly influenced by fashion history - frock coats, knickerbockers, lacy handkerchiefs and high heels are not a thing of the past as far as she is concerned.
Westwood's faith in foppish dandy dressing for men is not, it would seem, misplaced. Back at Steinberg and Tolkein, there are reports of an increase not only in all things Forties, but in men asking for clothes worn by Mr Darcy and Heathcliff. The stock at the shop goes back to the 1750s and Mark Steinberg has now added 18th-century frock coats, waistcoats and breeches to his shopping list, which already includes ball gowns from the same period. In case you are interested in sweeping into a Christmas or New Year party, antique ball gowns at Steinberg & Tolkein are priced at around pounds 400.
As for Jane Austen, we have seen enough of Sense and Sensibility, Pride and Prejudice and Emma over the past year to have Empire lines on the brain. The shape has infiltrated the creative minds of the world's fashion designers, with high-waisted wispy dresses turning up in next spring's collections from Versace, Prada and Givenchy to Ghost; but a strict minimiser bra is useful if you want to do the Jane Austen look without the Princess Diana effectn