Friday, April 3, 2015


Hollywood Costume: It’s Not an Exhibit, It’s an Experience

Richard A. Lloreda, Staff Writer
“Do it big, do it right, and give it class,” said L.B. Mayer about making a film the MGM way. Mayer’s quote must be the motto for the costume exhibit: It takes visitors who couldn’t care less about costumes and leaves frothing at the mouth for more.
The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences exhibition Hollywood Costume is presented by Swarovski in partnership with the Victoria and Albert Museum, London. It includes more than 100 years of prime Hollywood costumes from 150-plus legendary films, curated by costume designer Deborah Nadoolman Landis. The exhibition is a multimedia extravaganza worthy of the most dynamic blockbuster. And it’s housed at the historic May Company, the Art Deco architectural jewel and future home of the Academy in Los Angeles,

Edith Head’s Oscars

To give you a hint of what is to unfold before you, all eight of Edith Head’s Academy Award statuettes greet you in the entrance hall of the exhibit.
The black galleries convey an intriguing sense of weightlessness that makes visitors feel as if they are floating through the exhibition, transported by creativity—from the awe-inspiring ultra-luxe gem-encrusted dinner suit costume worn by Marlene Dietrich in 1937’s Angel or the high-flying techno punch of 2009’s Avatar.
Students of film, art direction, costume design, fashion design, or digital or communication media—in addition to the general public—will leave ravenous for more.
Adjuncts to Informing the Audience
The exhibit communicates how costuming artistically expresses the psychological, social and emotional attitude of the character. Costumes are nonverbal messages that speak to the mood of the individual and the film. The show explains how tireless research is conducted into costuming so the audience can believe in the characters’ authenticity.
Electronically illustrated design tables with mock-up boards of the creative process abound. There are video feeds of interviews with heavy hitters like Quentin Tarantino, Martin Scorsese and Meryl Streep.
Streep has a mini costume exhibit devoted just to herself, and she and Johnny Depp credit costuming with helping them complete their characters. The costume designers weigh in too, and seeing their sketches come to life is inspiring to anyone who has a picture in their head and then sees it realized.
Presentations of the designs from The Bourne Legacy and Argo are as carefully thought out as are the lush costumes from The Last Emperor.
A case in point is Michael Kaplan’s 1970s sleaze-themed wardrobe for Brad Pitt in 1999’s The Fight Club. Not only are the sketches dynamic but the prints of porn posters on Pitt’s polyester shirts and his pleather jacket scream “one sketchy dude”—in an artistic way.

Fight Club costumes by Michael Kaplan

Queens Galore
Holding court in one area are the queens of cinema’s historical dramas, from several versions of Queen Elizabeth, including Shakespeare in Love, plus Marie Antoinette, Queen Christina and Guinevere. Marisa Berenson’s promenade costume from Stanley Kubrick’s Barry Lyndon and Glenn Close’s Dangerous Liaison formal court gown all seem to be scheming an intricate plot. The results are delighted and awe-inspired audience reactions.
This exhibition brings the viewer into the mind of the costume designer and the love of craft that inspires the creation of sumptuous visual feasts.
Another case in point is Guinevere’s bridal gown from Camelot, designed by John Truscott in 1967. More than 100 skilled craftspeople were needed to fashion the spider web of delicate lace encasing thousands of pumpkin shells. The effect is sensational.
Shakespeare in Love costumes by Sandy Powell

It’s All About the Process
The warren of gallery spaces leads to digital tableaux of work tables illustrating the conceptual creative process of designers with the actual garment on display. Quentin Tarantino talks about Sharen Davis’s costume for Django Unchained. The idea was based on the character Little Joe’s short corduroy riding jacket from the classic TV series Bonanza. Only after umpteen fittings did the costume finally fulfill their shared vision.
Edith Head’s creations for Hitchcock heroines Tippi Hedren and Kim Novak’s are on display too. Malevolent crows peck at the mannequin wearing Hedren’s light gray-green suit from The Birds. In a video interview, Hedren talks about costume design’s effect on a film. The costume is all about the importance of context in the story. Kim Novak’s deep green knit dress with polka dot trim in Vertigo leaps out at the viewer, both in the film and in the exhibit.
The great costumes from Hollywood’s most illustrious films and legendary stars bring utter joy to the visitor. There is Kate Winslet in her traveling suit from Titanic and Nicole Kidman in her pink swan feather creation from Moulin Rouge.
In the first gallery, there is Charlie Chaplin’s 100-year-old “Little Tramp” costume, which looks completely at home with Helen Mirren’s hunting outfit from The Queen. There is Beyoncé Knowles’ Dreamgirls Barbie gown, resplendent in silver-violet shimmering nylon by Bill Condon. Set for a sort of haunted mansion-style family photograph are The Addams Family: Morticia, Gomez and the children, complete with Thing, await your arrival, complete with a Charles Addams illustration.
Titanic costume by Deborah L. Scott

Moulin Rouge costumes by Martin /Strathie
The Film Floodgates Explode
From here on the exhibit fairly pops, like a Champagne cork unleashing pure exuberance. Carole Lombard’s deliciously liquid creamy silver sequined dinner suit from My Man Godfrey is a show stopper. Marilyn Monroe’s chiffon heart-shaped derriere cutout that only she knew about lets us in on a sexy secret to her performance in Some Like it Hot.
We get to see Joan Crawford’s quarterback-shouldered Mildred Pierce waitress costume, and realize costumes are not just clothes but carefully constructed projects that further a film’s narrative. It’s wonderfully mind-blowing.
A Name Dropper’s Paradise
Gazing at video monitors of the stars’ faces set atop mannequins, making them look at you in a sort of robotic suspended animation, is unexpectedly wondrous. Visitors come face to face with Marilyn Monroe in her white halter top dress from The Seven Year Itch, Glenn Close’s dementedly chic black-and-white Cruella De Vil costumes from 101 Dalmatians, and Judy Garland’s ruby slippers and blue gingham dress from The Wizard of Oz. John Travolta’s white disco suit from Saturday Night Fever and Sylvester Stallone’s boxing shorts from Rocky are here too.
Multiples abound, including garb from two very different Cleopatra’s, two versions of The Great Gatsby, a pair of Superman’s and a collection of Batman’s. Indiana Jones and Darth Vader make appearances, too. The show is an embarrassment of riches.
Indiana Jones costume by Deborah Nadoolman Landis
We have legendary Harper’s Bazaar and Vogue magazine fashion editor Diana Vreeland to thank for the new way we experience costume exhibitions. Her spirit is the starting point of such an intimate relationship between audience and exhibit items.
The only trouble is, like all good things, the show will do a classic Hollywood fade-out after March 2, due to construction of the Academy’s new home. So make the most of it before the exhibit will reside only in memory. Take heart, though, because you can still enjoy the subtle magic of costuming in classic movies anytime.
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