Hollywood Costume: A Celebration of Design, on Display in Los Angeles

By Brianne Gillen - October 9, 2014

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences has brought the phenomenal Hollywood Costume exhibit, originally presented at the Victoria & Albert Museum in London, to Los Angeles for its final U.S. stop, and it is not to be missed. The display is a glorious celebration of the artists who play an integral part in creating the look of a film, offering an in-depth exploration of the many elements of costume design. The stars of the exhibit are all of the beautiful costumes on view from a century of film history, but what really makes it a unique experience is the inspired integration of technology. Visitors are immersed in the design process through photos, sketches, inspiration boards, and even video interviews with the designers themselves, all presented with innovative screens and projections. 

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences and the Victoria and Albert Museum, London present “Hollywood Costume” sponsored by Swarovski. (Photo: Richard Harbaugh / ©A.M.P.A.S.)

A sweeping film score welcomes visitors upon entering the gallery, making them immediately aware of the epic scope of what they are about to see. The exhibit is broken up into four parts, and historic costumes are presented alongside modern designs throughout the entire experience. The first section offers a glimpse into the overall design process, including character development and storytelling. One particular highlight is a display of video interviews with visitors at previous stops of the exhibit, where they talk about their own clothing items and the stories behind them. The point is that "we are all wearing an amalgam of stories" - and so every piece of clothing a costume designer chooses for the film's characters has meaning, and is very rarely random.

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences and the Victoria and Albert Museum, London present “Hollywood Costume” sponsored by Swarovski. (Photo: Richard Harbaugh / ©A.M.P.A.S.)

This first section also showcases a huge array of the different inspirations costume designers find. When historical figures like Elizabeth I, Marie Antoinette, or even Harvey Milk are depicted, costume designers must often carefully recreate clothing details. It is particularly fascinating to see costumes for the same character from different film eras on display - Mary Wills' designs for Bette Davis' Elizabeth I are showcased alongside Sandy Powell's version for Judi Dench in Shakespeare in Love, as well as Adrian's magnificent and painstakingly recreated gowns for Marie Antoinette next to Milena Canonero's elaborate designs for the 2006 retelling of the queen's story.

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences and the Victoria and Albert Museum, London present “Hollywood Costume” sponsored by Swarovski. (Photo: Richard Harbaugh / ©A.M.P.A.S.)

 

Visitors get a unique chance to delve into the process used to create Harrison Ford's legendary look for the Indiana Jones series. Designer Deborah Nadoolman Landis took a very basic drawing by director Steven Spielberg and applied her talent to it, drawing inspiration from the action heroes of the 1940s, and doing a large amount of aging and distressing to get the costume just right. It is wonderful to be able to see the very humble origins of the idea next to the realized product.

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences and the Victoria and Albert Museum, London present “Hollywood Costume” sponsored by Swarovski. (Photo: Richard Harbaugh / ©A.M.P.A.S.)

 

One of the most memorable and innovative parts of the exhibit is the second section, which focuses on the unique collaborative process between costume designers and directors. Five such relationships are featured. Through recent and archival interviews, the exhibit creators set up a "conversation" between several long-time teams about the design process. Highlights include Edith Head speaking alongside Alfred Hitchcock and star Tippi Hedren about The Birds; and director Tim Burton and designer Colleen Atwood discussing their long working relationship, which has often resulted in the creation of Johnny Depp's iconic and unforgettable looks.

 

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences and the Victoria and Albert Museum, London present “Hollywood Costume” sponsored by Swarovski. (Photo: Richard Harbaugh / ©A.M.P.A.S.)

The exhibit also includes a look at different challenges costume designers have faced over the years as film has grown and expanded, including the introduction of color and, more recently, digital technology. There is even a motion-capture suit on display, along with an interesting discussion about the importance of designers even when a costume is digitally rendered instead of physically created.

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences and the Victoria and Albert Museum, London present “Hollywood Costume” sponsored by Swarovski. (Photo: Richard Harbaugh / ©A.M.P.A.S.)

 

After being immersed in all the different pieces of the process, visitors then get to wander through a stunning display of film and costume design history, featuring both modern classics and legendary designs (including quite possibly the most famous and beloved shoes in movie history), all coming together seamlessly. Marlene Dietrich's daring tuxedo is juxtaposed with Sharon Stone's controversial dress from Basic Instinct. Han Solo fights alongside James Bond, and Captain Jack Sparrow crosses swords with Errol Flynn's Don Juan. In a wonderful piece of history and costume evolution, Michael Wilkinson's and James Acheson's recent updating of the Superman suit for Man of Steel is displayed side-by-side with the iconic primary-color design (by Yvonne Blake) from the earlier film starring Christopher Reeve.

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences and the Victoria and Albert Museum, London present “Hollywood Costume” sponsored by Swarovski. (Photo: Richard Harbaugh / ©A.M.P.A.S.)

 

Hollywood Costume is almost overwhelmingly extraordinary. This review only begins to scratch the surface, as there is so much that must simply be seen first-hand. The exhibit employs some of the best possible uses of technology, helping the visitor become fully immersed in the hard work and artistry of costume design. It also lets the costumes shine, as they are displayed in dynamic, captivating ways. (A tip for visitors - don't forget to look all around, even up!) There is so much to take in, from the beauty of the costumes themselves to the fascinating pieces of trivia about every single item on display. The exhibit is easily one of the best and most comprehensive celebrations of costume design and its history.

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences and the Victoria and Albert Museum, London present “Hollywood Costume” sponsored by Swarovski. (Photo: Richard Harbaugh / ©A.M.P.A.S.)

 

*Hollywood Costume runs from October 2, 2014 - March 2, 2015, at the Wilshire May Company building (adjacent to LACMA), 6067 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90036. For ticket information (including prices), hours, parking information, and other details, visit www.oscars.org/HollywoodCostume.

 

Hollywood Costume was curated by Deborah Nadoolman Landis, Academy Award-nominated costume designer and founding director of UCLA's David C. Copley Center for the Study of Costume Design; guest curator Sir Christopher Frayling, professor emeritus of cultural history at the Royal College of Art; and assistant curator Keith Lodwick, curator in the V&A Theatre & Performance department.

And check out Hollywood Costume by Deborah Nadoolman Landis!