Tag Archives: Alfred Hitchcock

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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Double Exposure: National Portrait Gallery and Hamiltons

7 Jul

Glamour of the Gods at the National Portrait Gallery is a celebration of Hollywood stars from 1920-1960.  Over 70 vintage photographs are on display here, many of which have never been shown before, from the amazing archives of the John Kobal Foundation.

The studios used these photographs to transform their actors and actresses into style icons and heartthrobs.  These iconic images helped to shape incredible personalities, acting as powerful ‘posters’ to publicise new films and draw in audiences.  Not only is the range of stars overwhelming (James Dean, Joan Collins, Marlon Brando, Elizabeth Taylor, and many others) but the range of photographers is also impressive including George Hurrell, Clarence Sinclair Bull, Bob Coburn and Ruth Harriet Louise.

Marlon Brando for A Streetcar Named Desire (1950) by John Engstead. Image via www.guardian.co.uk

The exhibition records decades of film history.  John Kobal began collecting film photographs in the 1950s. Over time, his passion burgeoned and he tracked down many of the photographers behind the portraits, arranging exhibitions, publishing books, and seeking to give them the recognition they deserved.  Luckily for us, Kobal was an obsessive, realising the importance of these artists when no one else did and bringing them to the forefront, together with the stars they were photographing.

Whereas today we like our ‘celebs’ to be real people, the Hollywood film studios of this era chose to depict the actors as glamorous, mysterious and inaccessible.  With no paparazzi, these were the photographs seen and admired by the fans.   Appallingly, to enable the photographs to be reproduced as widely as possible, they were stamped ‘copyright free’ meaning many of these important photographers remained uncredited for their timeless works.

Rita Hayworth (1939) by Gene Kornman. Own photograph. 

I know I always commend or criticise slightly strange things – here, I have heaps of praise for the wall labels; they are brilliantly concise with information about both the works and the stars who appear in them.  They are informative and interesting – just right.  It was fascinating to be able to read the real names of these Hollywood icons – Joan Crawford, for example, was born Lucille Fay Le Sueur.

The exhibition is two-tone with walls of light cyan and deep purple – a bold and unusual choice.  Whilst the cyan walls bring out the tonal qualities of the monochrome photos, the purple doesn’t work as well.  These sections are a confusing mass of colour – purple walls with an injection of black (as described by the curator), black wall labels and brown flecked frames.

Own photograph.

There’s no denying that these works are beautiful but, in a way, there are slightly too many here.  The reflections in the glass from the opposite wall are awful and it would be better without these distractions.  A bulk order of non-reflective glass would have been useful.

Alfred Hitchcock with MGM lion (1958) by Clarence Sinclair Bull. Own photograph.

The gorgeous James Dean photo near the entrance/exit is spoiled by the reflection of Rock Hudson vying for your attention.

Own photograph.

It’s a very easy exhibition to walk around – look at the gorgeous photos and admire the beauty of the stars who appear in them.

The works themselves are exciting but the exhibition itself isn’t, other than for bringing these great works together.  Maybe that’s enough though and maybe it doesn’t need to do anything more than this.

I struggled across Trafalgar Square, where people were camping in their thousands to see today’s world premiere of the last Harry Potter film, The Deathly Hallows: Part 2, to the National Gallery.   Ever since I was taken on my first-ever school trip, aged 3, I can’t go past without popping in to visit my favourite paintings.  As I continued across the square towards Yinka’s Fourth Plinth, I came across the National’s incredible living wall.  Over 8,000 plants have been used to recreate Van Gogh’s A Wheatfield with Cypresses mimicking the strong bands of colour in the painting.  It’s gorgeous and such a great idea.  This is the sort of innovative thinking that we should see more of.

Own photograph.

Although I had planned to go to the Dulwich Picture Gallery, with time being tight, I decided to have a photography day instead and tottered over to Hamiltons for their Herb Ritts’ exhibition.  The gallery is dangerously close to a certain shop that sells certain special shoes with red soles but I managed to resist walking down Mount Street for a peek.

As well as working for Vogue and Vanity Fair, Ritts created hugely successful advertising campaigns for the likes of Calvin Klein, Chanel and Gap.  Many of these photographs, coming directly from Ritts’ private archive, have never been exhibited before.  They are images that Ritts particularly liked and saved for his own personal collection.

Own photograph.

This is a beautiful exhibition with clean-cut, striking works displayed in a crisp uniform fashion.  When I came home and looked back at my notes, I saw I had written an endless list of superlatives.  What else can you say about them but wow?  Aesthetically pleasing with perfectly executed compositions, these are a photographic delight.

Own photograph.

Also included are Ritts’ more well-known works such as Fred with Tires ­– this is the biggest ‘wow’ of them all.  It’s now very well-known and very gorgeous.  Girls, go and swoon to your hearts’ content.

Herb Ritts, Fred with Tires II, Hollywood, 1984. Own photograph.

Glamour of the Gods: Hollywood Portraits is at the National Portrait Gallery until 23rd October 2011, www.npg.org.uk.

The National Gallery’s Living Wall can be seen in Trafalgar Square until the end of October 2011, www.nationalgallery.org.uk.

Herb Ritts is at Hamiltons Gallery until 12th August 2011, www.hamiltonsgallery.com.

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