Hollywood costume comes to London’s Victoria & Albert Museum in what has to be the most exciting exhibition of its type ever announced. Presided over by costume designer and Senior Guest Curator, Prof. Deborah Nadoolman Landis, this event aims to provide more than a collection of pretty frocks and suits from the movies; this is the story of a craft.
Today was the press launch for ‘Hollywood Costume’ (sponsored by Harry Winston), which does not officially open to public until 20th October. While Clothes on Film were unable to attend the event, we can promise some involvement on a more direct level –which we will reveal nearer the time.
Onto the exhibition itself and the roll call of costumes currently announced is enticing to the say the least. From Adrian’s red beaded gown in The Bride Wore Red (1937) to his blue and white gingham pinafore dress in The Wizard of Oz (1939). We move through the decades: Edith Head’s pale green suit in The Birds (1963), Ruth Morley’s plaid shirt and military jacket for Taxi Driver (1976), Deborah Nadoolman’s Indiana Jones costume from Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981), Jacqueline Durran’s silk evening gown from Atonement (2007), and many more besides.
What makes this exhibition so special is the range of costumes on display. Not just outlandish or extravagant, but those that inform character and in some cases actually form part of the narrative.
Rather than a straightforward wander and browse, Nadoolman Landis, along with Guest Curator Prof. Sir Christopher Frayling and Assistant Curator for the V&A Keith Lodwick, have divided the tour into three separate galleries – Act 1: Deconstruction, Act 2: Dialogue, Act 3: Finale.
Deconstruction will introduce the costume designer’s role, exploring the link between clothing and identity referencing costumes from, among others, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Fight Club (1999) and The Virgin Queen (1955). Dialogue concentrates on four key designer/director pairings, such as Edith Head and Alfred Hitchcock. It also includes two specially recorded interviews with Meryl Streep and Robert De Niro discussing the use of costume in their movies. There are five outfits for each actor on display, including some from Streep’s most recent film The Iron Lady (2010). Finale closes the exhibition by talking about some of the best known hero, superhero, villain and femme fatale costumes, plus outfits that have had a direct affect on popular culture, e.g. the gown from Atonement and Marilyn Monroe’s white cocktail dress from Some Like it Hot (1959).
As a side note, Hollywood Costume will also feature analysis of Deborah L. Scott and Mayes Rubeo’s computer rendered/mo-cap design for Avatar (2009). This opens up a worthwhile debate on the future of the costume craft that CoF shall enjoy having with anyone hanging around the exhibition as much as we intend to be.
Hollywood Costume runs from 10th October 2012 – 27th January 2013. For more details please visit the V&A website.
© 2012, Christopher Laverty.