Writing About Fashion: Zoolander 2

‘A hashtag before the existence of hashtags’. Only Derek and Hansel have the power to SAVE FASHION.

zoolander_valentinoBlue Steel.  Le Tigre.  Magnum… looks powerful enough to halt a Chinese throwing star mid-air and thwart the plans of an evil mastermind’s global takeover.

There is only one male model and one male model alone who is capable of conjuring such beauty and power with a pout… Derek Zoolander.

When we last saw male models Derek (Ben Stiller) and Hansel (Owen Wilson), they were enjoying the wonders of the “Derek Zoolander Center for Kids Who Can’t Read Good And Wanna Learn To Do Other Stuff Good Too,” and Mugatu (Will Ferrell) was behind bars.

An unforeseen catastrophe strikes the Center and forces the duo into seclusion, living off the grid.

Fifteen age-defying years later we find a still shamed Derek and Hansel leading isolated, separate lives, shut-out from the rest of the world.

When each receives a special invitation to star in a major world fashion event in the ancient and mysterious city of Rome, they are unable to deny the allure of returning to their former glory and make their way back to civilization in Zoolander 2.

Upon arrival, Derek and Hansel meet the bizarre and eccentric designers that are behind the new fashion empire. The two rapidly realize the fashion world they once knew has drastically changed, thrusting them awkwardly and literally back into the spotlight.

While they struggle to find relevance in this strange new world of blogging, vlogging, and anti-fashion fashion, they are recruited to help stop a calculated and deadly plot that if not stopped, would destroy forever the hopes for fashion to return to its revered and glorious status.

Only Derek and Hansel have the power to SAVE FASHION.

Zoolander 2 is directed by Ben Stiller from a screenplay written by Justin Theroux and Ben Stiller & John Hamburg and Nicholas Stoller.

The Return of Blue Steel

His signature look captured the hearts of the fashion world and audiences alike and became a part of the cultural lexicon. A hashtag before the existence of hashtags.

Sprung from the minds of sketch comedy collaborators Drake Sather and Ben Stiller, the initial concept originated as a sketch for the 1996 VH1 Fashion Awards. The idea was crafted as a behind-the-scenes glimpse of a fashion shoot and the larger-than-life characters found in that world.

“Drake asked if I would want to be the male model. I thought it was ridiculous, which is exactly why he wanted to do it,” recalls Stiller.

“Drake loved fashion and was an incredibly smart and fearless comedic thinker. We ended up doing it two years in a row.” The sketch was so well received it spawned the exploration into making a feature film.

The road to Derek and Hansel’s return to the big screen was long and winding, spanning 15 years and several incarnations.


Ben Stiller (director/producer/writer/”Derek Zoolander”) is an actor, director, writer and producer. In 2008, Stiller starred in, co-wrote and directed Tropic Thunder under his Red Hour Films production banner. His other directing credits include Reality Bites, The Cable Guy, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty and Zoolander, which he co-wrote and starred in. As a writer, Stiller won an Emmy Award for the short-lived sketch comedy series The Ben Stiller Show, which he also directed and produced. In 2011, the actor returned to the stage on Broadway in the revival of John Guare’s award-winning play The House of Blue Leaves alongside Edie Falco and Jennifer Jason Leigh. He made his Broadway debut in the 1986 production of the same name. For many years, Stiller has been involved with and supported numerous charities and foundations, including Project ALS, Artists for Peace and Justice, Centre for Environmental Education, Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation, Michael J. Fox Foundation, Oxfam, Red Cross, and Starlight Children’s Foundation, among others. Following his first visit to Haiti with Save the Children in 2009, Stiller has been committed to raising money for schools in the country through his StillerStrong campaign, and more recently with The Stiller Foundation. In the fall of 2011, Stiller, along with the acclaimed art gallerist David Zwirner raised over 13 million dollars for Haiti, which was distributed to multiple organizations such as JPHRO, Partners In Health, Artists for Peace and Justice, among others.In 2010, Stiller was recognized by TIME MAGAZINE for his philanthropic work as one of the TIME 100, a list of the world’s most influential people.

“This movie has been a long time in the making,” explains writer/director/star Ben Stiller. “We probably would have made a sequel the year after the movie came out, but nobody came to see the first one in the theater really, so no one wanted it,” Stiller said with a laugh.

Released in September of 2001, a harrowing time as a result of 9/11, the original film under-whelmed at the box-office.

However, the film found legions of new fans with the release of the DVD, and gradually grew to cult classic status.

“The movie became something that got passed around and felt like an underground studio movie, almost like finding vintage vinyl. Audiences got to feel like it was their own special discovery and had ownership of it,” says Justin Theroux, who appeared in the film and serves as writer on the sequel.

The characters and absurd catch phrases from the film connected with audiences and became a part of the shared cultural collective. With the birth of social media and its many platforms, catch phrases became hashtags and jokes were shared and re-created across the globe.

“Over the years I’ve always been surprised by the cult following wherever I go, whether it’s Europe, Mexico or South America. People will come up to me and ask me to do Blue Steel, which isn’t even my character,” laughs Owen Wilson. “Comedies don’t always translate cross-culturally, but the characters of Derek and Hansel have a level of ridiculousness I think people appreciate,” he adds.

Prospects for a sequel were put into motion at various points over the next 15 years, during which Stiller worked with many revered comedy writers including original collaborator John Hamburg, writer/director Nicholas Stoller, and Stiller’s collaborator on Tropic Thunder, Justin Theroux.

“After a while I was convinced we’d never do it. But somehow, at a certain point all the elements started to come together and it was like ‘All right we’re actually going to do this,’” recalls Stiller.

 The long-gestation process for a Zoolander follow-up offered Stiller and his creative team the opportunity to develop the story and characters in such a way that would honor the spirit of what audiences connected with in the first place.

Stiller relates, “We wanted to make a movie that would try to live up to the first one and the expectations of people who loved it. I feel very fortunate that there are people that loved the movie that much and I didn’t want to let them down.”


With each incarnation throughout the development process, the return of the trifecta of Derek, Hansel, and Mugatu was unwavering, constant, and always central to the story. When operating in a world as outrageous as that of male models in the fashion industry, the strength of the characters is what essentially grounds the movie, and Stiller knew the return of the core trifecta was paramount. “At the end of the day people connect with characters. When someone tells me that they love Zoolander, to me that means that they love the characters and Derek, Hansel, and Mugatu because they are what make it what it is,” remarks Stiller.

For Stiller, stepping back into Derek’s (well-heeled) shoes was a little challenging after such an extensive break. “Derek is such a unique persona. He’s very genuine and incredibly self-involved, all of which comes out from a very naïve and innocent place. I watched the first movie again to make sure I was doing it right, and after a couple of weeks it started to feel more natural and then it became fun.”

In the prestigious ranks of one-name icons in pop culture, Owen Wilson’s Hansel is a character that perfectly captures the bohemian rock-star mystique that fascinates the masses. “I’ve been lucky to play some good characters over the years and the fact that Hansel is known by one name like Madonna and Sting reflects just what kind of memorable character he is,” remarks Wilson.

“Owen is such a unique comedic presence and I am such a big fan of his,” says longtime collaborator Stiller. “He has such a specific sensibility and when improvising in an area he feels comfortable in will give you stuff you couldn’t even imagine. Also, like his character he is incredibly good looking… it was fun for me to watch him remember how to play Hansel. The first week he was doing a scene where he was looking off into the desert and he found the Hansel pursed lip squint, and there was no looking back.”

So iconic that he can be identified by silhouette, Jacobim Mugatu stands alongside some of the most revered and reviled villains in cinema history. With a penance for outrageous outfits, small dogs, latte-throwing, and the ability to determine who is really hot right now, Mugatu is a truly unique character unlike any other. Considered a newcomer at the time of the original, comedian Will Ferrell embraced the opportunity to create such an absurd character from the ground up. “All these characters in the fashion world are so much fun because it’s fertile ground,” says Ferrell. “Mugatu is an important character for me because it was the first time I had the chance to do a big broad character that ended up resonating with people.”

Stiller relates, “Will might be the funniest person alive right now, he is as funny as it gets. For as crazy as his comedy is and how out there his characters are, he’s the most grounded normal person you’ll ever meet. It’s to the point where sometimes it feels like he’s doing a character when he’s being himself, like a regular-guy Will Ferrell character.”

For Ferrell, donning the infamous wig again was an interesting experience after almost 15 years. “It was strange at first to get back into the character and the outfits and then it became strange that it wasn’t strange anymore,” he laughs. “I had forgotten how intense Mugatu is. He is never relaxed and is always screaming at someone because nothing is ever quite right, but those are such fun characteristics to play.”

With a front row seat behind the monitors, Stiller giddily witnessed Mugatu come back to life: “We hadn’t worked together really since the first movie, so it was really fun to watch him get back into the character.  On the first day he got into it with Todd (played by Nathan Lee Graham) and it felt as if no time had gone by. I could watch him do this character for hours. I was laughing my butt off from take one.”