Hollywood Costumes at the V&A
When you think of Breakfast at Tiffany’s, you think of Audrey Hepburn in that little black dress, tiara and pearls and holding a cigarette holder. When you think of Spider-Man, you think of that red and blue lycra suit. Yellow suit, Uma Thurman – you think Kill Bill. That’s exactly what the organisers behind the Hollywood Costume exhibition at the Victoria & Albert Museum had in mind.
On every film, although the costumes are remembered and preserved over time, often the costume designers never get the real credit they deserve. To commend them, the team behind this exhibition has spent five years researching, digging and revitalising over 100 of the most iconic costumes in cinema from the past century, which are now to be publicly displayed in the V&A in autumn.
This unique event was based on research from the members of the public, who were asked by Hollywood costume designer Deborah Nadoolman (whose credits include Harrison Ford as Indiana Jones, Michael Jackson in Thriller, and the Blues Brothers) about which characters they’d like to see.
The outcome varied across the generations (you can guess your gran probably wouldn’t have gone for Edward in Twilight) from classics such as Scarlett O’Hara in Gone with the Wind to Marilyn Monroe practically naked in Some like it Hot, and of course no matter what age you are, we all know what Dorothy was wearing down that Yellow Brick Road. The cotton blue and white gingham dress worn by Judy Garland as Dorothy is to be seen for the first time on display in the UK. The iconic dress was manufactured using a treadle sewing machine, as though it were made by Dorothy’s own Auntie Em. Made for the 1939 film, it is one of the few dresses to have lasted from that period.
Costumes have always played a pivotal role in the public’s love affair with characters on screen. Would Juliet have looked as angelic in Baz Lurhman’s Romeo + Juliet without those wings?
Costumes are of even greater importance to the actors and actresses that play the parts of these characters, as they allow them to literally step into character by changing their clothes. As Meryl Streep quoted: “On every film, the clothes are half the battle in creating the character. I have a great deal of opinion about how my people are presented. We show a great deal by what we put on our bodies.”
The exhibition will also explore the art of costume design as an essential way of character building and story telling, from glamourous gowns to dressed-down Brokeback Mountain-style cowboy boots and jeans. Visitors to the exhibition will also have the opportunity to sit with such directors as Tim Burton and their costume designers and ask questions to them directly.
Harry Winston- one of the sponsors, was famously the first jeweller to lend diamonds to the stars for the red carpet. Of course classic film buffs will remember Marilyn Monroe dripping in jewels and seductively whispering “talk to me Harry Winston, tell me all about it”, in Gentleman prefer Blondes. Stars like Sophia Loren and Elizabeth Taylor, to modern day icons such as Scarlett Johansson, Madonna and Angelina Jolie, have all looked to Winston to complete their red carpet look.
Costume design, however, is not to be confused with red carpet glamour, where we see The Iron Lady Meryl Streep in transform from stern, suited and booted to flawlessly sleek, sophisticated and sexy. As Academy Award-winning costume designer Ann Roth says: “I don’t dress movie stars, I dress actors who are playing characters.”
From heroes and villains to femme fatales, there are representations of characters to suit every taste in film and spark endless memories of iconic movie moments. Such as Scarlett O’Hara, wearing that green dress made of her mothers curtains whilst Clark Gable politely yet firmly told her, “Frankly my dear, I don’t give a damn.” Or maybe it’s Kate Winslet as Rose, standing on the edge of the Titanic in that blue dress shouting: “I’m flying, Jack, I’m flying!” Or Darth Vader in Star Wars IV dressed in black with his light saber, ready to take on Luke Skywalker. Finally, the public will get to see Hollywood costumes in all their glory.
The exhibition will run from 20 October 2012 – 27 January 2013. Tickets are onsale now at www.vam.ac.uk.
Photos: Sara Reverberi