As a newly restored version of Paul Verhoeven’s 90s erotic thriller is released, costume designer Ellen Mirojnick reveals the stories behind the film’s seminal wardrobe and its iconic interrogation scene
It’s the film that’s spawned a thousand frenzied pressings of the pause button during that interrogation scene; the one that made the case for the little white dress as a wardrobe staple of the femme fatale; the one that prompted covert glimpses under new lovers’ beds for fear an ice pick may be lurking. It is, of course, Basic Instinct, Paul Verhoeven’s irrepressibly over-the-top 90s thriller, now landing a newly restored version nearly 30 years after its original release.
The film stars Michael Douglas as Nick Curran, a disgraced San Francisco homicide detective with a weakness for whiskey and beautiful women, and Sharon Stone as Catherine Tramell, a wealthy heiress and novelist who Curran believes has murdered her ex-rockstar boyfriend.
Stone is magnetic from the moment she steps on screen, with her slicked-back, blonde hair à la Kim Novack in Vertigo, sardonic smile, and covetable putty-hued wardrobe dreamed up by veteran Hollywood costume designer Ellen Mirojnick (of Fatal Attraction, Showgirls, and Bridgerton fame). Douglas, meanwhile, is every inch the dapper, hardboiled investigator in custom Cerruti 1881 suits and tailored cotton shirts by Anto of Beverly Hills.
We follow the pair as they engage in a tantalising game of cat and mouse that’s as sexually fraught as it is nail-bitingly tense, leaving you hanging until the very last frame.
Throughout, Stone’s wardrobe does as much to keep us guessing as the actress herself, oscillating between pared-back staples in luxurious fabrics and chic, buttock-grazing dresses as Tramell veers convincingly between states of vulnerability and empowerment, leaving a trail of bewildered men in her wake (not least when she quite literally bares all in front of a panel of all-male detectives, in what has since proved one of cinema’s most talked-about moments).
Here, in celebration of the film’s re-release, we sit down with Mirojnick – a longtime collaborator of both Verhoeven and Douglas – to discover the stories behind its most seminal looks, as fresh today as they were 30 years ago, and the one thing she’d change if she could do it all again.