De Rakoff calls Legally Blonde an alternative reality, a pastiche meant to throw the aesthetics of high style, femininity, and womanhood into an over-the-top cocktail that exaggerates Southern California and the East Coast, levity and formality, girlhood and womanhood. It might surprise, but de Rakoff says her inspirations for Elle came from the archives: Ali MacGraw in Love Story (1970) and the women in His Girl Friday (1940). And as 2000s style makes a comeback, de Rakoff says she sees Legally Blonde becoming the archival inspiration for today’s fashion enthusiasts. The Y2K revival, according to de Rakoff, feels like an over-the-top offshoot of its own, particularly because a lot of the references go beyond just the clothes. It’s the revival of a character’s persona or the vibe of the era. Like Kim Kardashian’s Elle Woods Halloween costume or Ariana Grande’s thank u, next music video.
“You’ll see a blonde in pink with a dog and you’ll be like, it’s Elle Woods, just as a general thing in the universe,” she says. “I love the Ariana Grande video. That to me was the biggest tribute because that felt to me in the spirit of [Elle], and also the bend-and-snap is such an iconic part. There’s so much iconography in that movie that is not specifically to do with the clothes. It just all worked as a massive part of the jigsaw puzzle.”
De Rakoff still gets emails from people asking about the iconic Elle Woods pink sequined bikini that she wore in her video submission to Harvard Law School. Much to fans’ disappointment, though, de Rakoff doesn’t remember all that much about how that particular look came together. Costume designing back in 2001 was different than it is now. Scrappier and less online. de Rakoff described tracking things down via old school beginning-of-the-internet Google searches and cold phone calls. “Detective work,” she called it.
“At that point I shopped everything myself, whether I thrifted it, whether I begged it from a showroom in New York, whether I just purchased it from the stores, whether it was vintage, whether I rented it from a possible house, every single piece of clothing in that movie passed through my hands to get on screen,” de Rakoff told Vogue. “Which is why I can’t remember.” The historians and archival enthusiasts would call it a shame that those precious details were lost in the logistics. But the poets might say, perhaps, that not knowing preserves the magic of Elle’s iconography.