Celebrated Cinema Costumes Come to Life at the V&A

21 Oct

I love clothes and I will often ooh and aah at a particularly gorgeous outfit on the television or cinema screen.  And don’t even get me started on shoes as everyone knows I have a thing for them.  So, I was excited to see Hollywood Costume at the V&A which opened last week, an exhibition that brings together over 130 of the most iconic costumes designed for cinema.

A Royal Romance. Own photograph.

All of our most-loved film characters’ clothes are present – Dorothy’s blue and white gingham dress that we know from The Wizard of Oz, Scarlett O’Hara’s green number from Gone with the Wind, Holly Golightly’s famous LBD from Breakfast at Tiffany’s, the fabulous white tailored suit worn by Kate Winslet in Titanic, Captain Jack Sparrow’s 18th century style costume from Pirates of the Caribbean, clothes from Harry Potter, Anna Karenina (that only hit the big screens a few weeks ago) and that wonderful pink suit from Legally Blonde.

Hollywood Costume at the V&A.  Image via www.telegraph.co.uk 

It is an enormous achievement and very different to previous costume shows – it is a multi-media spectacular.  Hollywood Costume is not just trying to showcase these fabulous outfits, it is an exploration of the role of costume design and its tool in storytelling.  It takes us through the designer’s creative process from script to screen.

The dummies are all bespoke which gives the clothes a sense of being worn by a real person but, many of the costumes have a square screen of the actor’s face in place of the head, bringing the clothes to life.  Creepy?  The jury is still out.  Not all of the costumes need this though as some are famous in their own right.  We know who wore them as soon as we approach the headless models.  They are impossible to forget.

Superman flies high.  Image via www.metro.co.uk.  

The exhibition makes use of montages, moving mood boards, film clips and projections to show interviews with key costume designers, directors and actors.  Labels are printed like film notes or scripts.  The whole experience is designed to be cinematic and the exhibition even has its own score.  There are tables on which books turn their own pages.  It is overwhelming and you’d need the whole day to really appreciate the work that has gone into this.  But, it is a noisy exhibition and it is hard to focus on all the sound that comes together (this is a problem the V&A have had in the past although to a lesser extent).  My main worry is that maybe this show is trying to be too clever, there is just so much going on (although it is all incredible) that I worry the majority of the detail and excellent footage will be missed.

Labels at the V&A. Own photograph.

This exhibition is going to pull in the crowds but there are bad bottlenecks throughout.  It’s beautiful but with so many people I think it will be hell to get round.  It was busy enough on press morning.  But, don’t be put off by this.  Sharpen your elbows and push your way through!

Hollywood Costume is split into three ‘acts’ – they have really thought about every last detail.  Act One explores Deconstruction looking at the link between clothing and identity and how designers create the unique individuals.  Act Two is Dialogue looking at the intimate creative collaborations involved – it explores four director/designer pairings: Alfred Hitchcock and Edith Head, Tim Burton and Colleen Atwood, Martin Scorsese and Sandy Powell and Mike Nichols and Ann Roth.  The room finishes with two fascinating case-studies on Robert de Niro and Meryl Streep.

Tim Burton having a chat. Own photograph.

Everything leads to the phenomenal tableau of the awe-inspiring final room; Act Three is, of course, the Finale, presenting the best-known and much-loved costumes in cinematic history and showing how they have inspired generations, fashion trends and enriched popular culture.  So many different costumes are placed side by side.  Not all of them are glamorous when seen close up but they show the power of costume to create a character and the importance of costume for film.

Finale. Own photograph.

The exhibition offers the opportunity to compare costumes too as remakes of stories provide a compelling opportunity for designers to put their own interpretations on familiar icons.  Both Cleopatra costumes, for example, are plausible but each has contemporary touches for its own time.

Two Cleopatra costumes. Own photograph.

The exhibition has the perfect sponsor in Harry Winston, ‘Jeweller to the Stars’.  As you reach the end, there’s an amazing recreation of the Harry Winston Isodora necklace that features in How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days – the only piece of fine jewellery in the exhibition.

Kate Hudson in How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days wearing the Isodora necklace. Image via www.cocosteaparty.com

The show finishes with none other than the original Ruby Slippers worn by Judy Garland in The Wizard of Oz in 1939.  It’s the first time the shoes will have been seen in Europe and the first time they will be on display with Dorothy’s pinafore dress since the film was made.  Only four pairs of these slippers still exist.  They are only on display until 18th November when have to return to the Smithsonian for Thanksgiving; they will be replaced by a replica pair so hurry along early if you’re a shoe fiend and want to see the real things.

Dorothy’s dress.  Own photograph.

The exhibition shop is equally incredible and I could have happily maxed out my credit card in there.  And the catalogue is amazing too – I’ve only just touched the surface and need more time to enjoy it properly.  Of course, the costumes naturally lose something when not being worn but this is a tribute to Hollywood film at its finest and the V&A has ensured this is an all-singing, all-dancing affair.  We feel we know these costumes because we have seen the films so many times.   Five years in the planning, there can be no doubt that this is a five star show.

Hollywood Costume is at the V&A until 27th January 2013, www.vam.ac.uk.

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2 Responses to “Celebrated Cinema Costumes Come to Life at the V&A”

  1. Gary Kahn October 24, 2012 at 7:05 am #

    Ooh, aah! Makes me even more impatient to go.

    • chloenelkin October 24, 2012 at 10:15 am #

      Make sure to book in advance. It’s going to be busy.

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