Dan’s preview of the Victoria & Albert Museum’s Hollywood Costume Exhibition, and interview with the co-curator Sir Christopher Frayling, interested me so much that I booked my ticket and went along on the opening day.
Standing in front of those exquisite costumes, you really did feel in the presence of greatness. I had never before considered how important and calculated costume design for films must be, down to exactly the right shade of material. The unconscious effect of the costumes creating an authentic individual cannot be understated.
The exhibition, three rooms filled with over 100 iconic Hollywood costumes, included projected films of directors and costume designers talking about the significance of each piece.
They also posed the costumes on mannequins, with slow motion shots of the actors’ faces on screens suspended above them, so you really did feel as if these Hollywood powerhouses were standing before you.
My favourite of all was probably Marlene Dietrich’s tuxedo from Morocco (1930). It was worn by Dietrich as the cabaret singer Amy Jolly, as she performs in French dressed as a man, and kisses a woman, scandalous and shocking things to do at the time the film came out – a significant moment in Hollywood history just a few feet away.
I quivered in front of the unimaginably tall Darth Vader (the original 1980s costume), and swooned before Johnny Depp’s Jack Sparrow garb.
The process of creating the costumes was outlined in great detail, such as Charlie Chaplin’s own discovery of his character within his tramp costume, the physicalisation of the utterly contrasting personas of Brad Pitt and Edward Norton’s dual personality in Fight Club, the evolution of Indiana Jones. It branched into discussion of the most recent forms of creating the outward appearance of a character with CGI, the role of the costume in a digital film.
Costumes so much a part of the legends of their Hollywood stars were breathtaking to be so near to. Marilyn Monroe’s Seven Year Itch dress, Audrey Hepburn’s Breakfast at Tiffany’s Givenchy dress, Vivien Leigh’s velvet gown worn as Scarlett O’Hara in Gone with the Wind and of course Judy Garland’s iconic Dorothy dress from The Wizard of Oz.
The whole has taken five years to assemble, a worldwide treasure hunt undertaken by the V&A team. Over 50 collectors have lent costumes for the exhibition. Oh to be one of those collectors!