I had been looking forward to the Hollywood Costume exhibition at the Victoria and Albert for at least a year – whenever it was that I heard it was opening. So when I found out we were going to the press launch I was understandably rather happy.
Like a child in a sweetshop, I was running from costume to costume, catching my breath at the names of who wore some of them: Joan Crawford, Katharine Hepburn, Ginger Rogers, Mary Pickford and Claudette Colbert to name but a few. Not only is the calibre of actors who inhabited these costumes the highest you could imagine, to be able to see costumes from luminaries of design such as Adrian, Edith Head, Travis Banton, Orry-Kelly and Travilla was amazing.
The exhibition is split into three sections ‘Deconstruction’, ‘Dialogue’ and ‘Finale’. Deconstruction deals with how a designer can create a character from just a few clues in a script, even if the effect goes unnoticed by most of the audience. Highlights for me were Kim Novak’s green ensemble from Vertigo and Vivien Leigh’s ‘curtain’ velvet gown from Gone with the Wind.
The second room, ‘Dialogue’ examines the collaboration between directors and costume designers. It also looks at how the role of the costume designer has changed with advances in film-making and how the aesthetics of each era influence period films made at the time. Claudette Colbert’s green satin gown from Cleopatra and Joan Crawford’s red-beaded dress from The Bride Wore Red are absolutely exquisite.
The Senior Guest Curator, Deborah Nadoolman Landis (the Oscar-nominated costume designer on films such as Raiders of the Lost Ark, The Blues Brothers and Coming to America) said of the finale, “it’s just meant to blow your mind”. There were some wonderful costumes (particular favourites in room 3 were that green dress from Atonement, Marlene Dietrich’s top hat, white tie and tails from Morocco and two of Marilyn’s dresses, from The Seven Year Itch and Some Like it Hot).
The exhibition is full of digital displays of the creative processes the designers go through, interviews with directors, designers and actors as well as clips from the films themselves.
The exhibition marks the first time a pair of the Ruby Slippers from the Wizard of Oz have ever been displayed outside of the US (only for a month though!) The V&A was also able to announce that they have just been given 700 costumes from the British Film Institute, making them the national archive of cinematic costume overnight.
The exhibition is absolutely amazing, and for anyone interested in cinema, design, fashion history or just pretty things it is a must. I can’t wait to go back!
Oh, and I was interviewed for Chinese TV while we were there!
Hollywood Costume opens tomorrow, 20th October and runs until 27th January 2013 and tickets start at £9.00. You can find more information here.