This column is about freedom, beauty, truth, but above all...underpants.

Though Baz Lurhmann's dazzling Moulin Rouge has debuted to startled cries--"It's confusing!" and "Did you know it's a musical...with Nirvana songs?"--even the most repressed Tom Cruise loyalist can't deny that one of this movie's best features, lingerie, is wondrous fair. Clearly, in the Belle Epoque underworld, underwear is the star. From the first can-can, which hurtles the viewer into an absinthe-soaked peep show of buttermilk thighs,
to the date-rape-with-the-Duke scene, where Nicole Kidman's satin corset gets shredded by lustful claws, this flick is strung end to end with honorable unmentionables.

And let us mention them, because the film's aesthetic has puffed new life into the notion of undergarments as outerwear. It's a look many of us tend to recall with horror--Madonna's Blonde Ambition-era double-barreled bustier, the aubergine lace nasties of Apollonia. But circa 2001, the style slides from "slut" to "courtesan"--light on the "loose woman," heavy on the "lady of the evening." Why, it's even made its way back into the most recent collections of corset conspirator Jean Paul Gaultier. But back in the day, it was your Parisian prostitutes who wore bewildering layers of slips, straps and foundations, approximating a level of semi-habillage we would find appropriate for an Arctic exploration. The power of suggestion used to be, well, powerful.

That said, may we suggest a corset? For centuries, bondage enthusiasts have embraced the erotic appeal of satin armor, but why should they have all the cinched-upfun? Some underwear styles have languished in obsolescence long enough to have lost their utilitarian sternness. They assume a new value, a sexy alien charge ("what is this thing?"). Donning lingerie that's solidly retro also removes the risk of appearing simply slatternly, like you just forgot to tuck in the damn bra straps. No one will mistake the wearing of a midnight blue, lace-up, demi-cup foundation under a sheer blouse as indifferent grooming. If you haven't set foot into Spartacus, now's your chance. Still the best selection of risqué lingerie in town, Spartacus stresses that its wares aren't just for naughty nightcrawlers. The demure miss seeking a wedding day wasp waist is equally welcome.

If you value the comfort of your internal organs too much to dare a corset, begin with the bra. No flimsy nothing from Vicky's Private Joke, but something with sheen and structure and sexy horsepower. Emulate the jutting grille of a Packard limousine, the cloud-slicing prow of a DC-10. The social role of the brassiere is to restrain blossoming womanhood in the name of decency--exploit it with a satin battleship no Duke could put asunder without a pair of shears and the word "please." But first, you'll need a fitting to get this right. Madisen Petersen, owner of Papillon Lingerie , does professional custom fittings for women who lack lingerie experience--which, apparently, is most of us. "Obviously if you're wearing tailored clothes you're going to want a bra with a seam to match the dart in the suit." Obviously.

Petersen, whose degree in apparel design is supplemented by years of fashion design and retail experience, is a trove of information about the underwear uprising. Her suggestions for achieving the Moulin Rouge esprit de corps?

"Try a pair of nude fishnets or stockings with diagonal stripes," said Madisen. "From far away they look appropriate for work, but up close they're a little more interesting." She also advises choosing a bra with a decorative strap (double satin or lace) if you're going to show it--threadbare elastic is not so sexy.

If you've got big money to spend on your boudoir booty, take it to Jane's Vanity or Jane's Obsession. The under-wares come straight from the continent and, let me tell you, they don't fly coach. Proprietress Jane Adams travels to France to stock her stores with stunning European brands like Donna di Piera and La Perla, whose pieces are festooned with beautiful feminine detail--embroidered blossoms, delicate frills. One shy purchase will remind you why Paris is for lovers--there's nothing like the kiss of French lace against your skin, cherie.

A suite of Euro undergarments can take you deep into triple digits, so these are panties you're going to want to show off. A plunging black dress, talcum and red lipstick ever so slightly smudged.

There. You're halfway to your new persona as a lovely-yet-doomed consumptive can-can girl perilously in love with an impoverished poet starving in a garret in an obscure arrondisement.

Amazing what good underwear can do. Dress Listings

To let us know about special events or sales, send information to Elizabeth Dye, WW, 822 SW 10th Ave., Portland, OR 97205 (fax 243-1115), at least 10 days prior to publication.

Good for More than Making Absinthe Cloudy

New Seasons Market will host a seminar by nutritionist Ellen Heinitz on water, essential minerals and your body. Raleigh Hills New Seasons Market, 7300 SW Beaverton-Hillsdale Highway, 292-6838. 7 pm Tuesday, July 3.

Blooming Behinds

The Afsana Lingerie Boutique at online fashion mall Girlshop hawks naughty/nice lace-trimmed bloomers in cotton-candy pink. Now the vintage-inspired girl who wants to flash her can, can ($46).

Spartacus Leathers
302 SW 12th, 224-2604


Papillon Lingerie
1320 NE Broadway,


Jane's Vanity
521 SW Broadway,


Jane's Obsession
728 NW 23rd Ave., 221-1490