Arts & Culture: Hollywood Costume at The V&A Preview

Last week I was invited to the press launch of the V&A’s major Autumn exhibition, Hollywood Costume, and was treated to a series of fascinating lectures and the chance to see some of the exhibit pieces. Highlights of the exhibition will include Dorothy’s dress from The Wizard of Oz, and the costumes of Indiana Jones from Raiders of the Lost Arc and Rose from Titanic and I must say that seeing some of them in person has made me ridiculously excited to see the whole thing.

Hollywood costumes have such a cultural affect on the aesthetics of their time and I really hope the exhibition will explore this fully. Fashion in particular is really influenced by popular film events, just look at the effect The Great Gatsby is having on the SS12 couture collections for an example of this. Everyone has a screen idol, whether Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast at Tiffany’s or Keira Knightly in Atonement, whose look they dream of emulating. These screen icons really make up our visual heritage.

“Movies are about falling in love with the characters,” guest curator Deborah Nadoolman Landis explained of her selection process. “I just took a poll to see what movies and characters had an emotional pull on people and started with that as it is the costumes that really bring these characters to life.” DNL has designed costumes for iconic films like Raiders of the Lost Arc, Trading Places and Coming to America. However she explained that most Hollywood studios fail to see the value of  these costumes and as such rarely preserve them after filming has wrapped, which made things very difficult for her.

One of the things I have never appreciated about film costumes is the amount of effort and small touches involved in making them as realistic as possible. For example. Dorothy’s dress was made sewn on an old threadneedle machine to make it look like it was hand stitched. “It’s terribly made,” says Deborah. “But it’s the Holy Grail of Hollywood costume.” Meanwhile Tyler Durden from Fightclub had charity shop tags punched into his clothes to make them look like they were second hand.

Another thing the exhibition will explore is the collaborative process between designers and directors including Alfred Hitchcock and Edith Head (who worked on 11 films including The Birds) and Tim Burton and Colleen Atwood (9 films including Edward Scissorhands and Alice in Wonderland). The grand finale will be a celebration of the very best of Hollywood costume with everything from Twilight to The Dark Knight Rises and  Some Like It Hot.

The V&A looks like it is really on to a crowd pleaser with this one, so make sure you book a ticket early to avoid disappointment!


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