“Hollywood Costumes” at London’s V&A

Left: Jake Gyllenhaal and Heath Ledger in Brokeback Mountain (2005). Right: Marlene Dietrich wearing Travis Banton in the 1930s.

London’s Victoria and Albert Museum is going Hollywood. In what is perhaps the most comprehensive exhibition of the art of filmdom’s clothing designers yet attempted, the museum is showing a century-wide survey of iconic ensembles. “Hollywood Costumes”—a five-year initiative put together by designer and senior guest curator Deborah Nadoolman Landis, guest curator Sir Christopher Frayling and V&A assistant curator Keith Lodwic—involved identifying and securing objects from all over the world. Beginning October 20, the three-part show highlights the process involved in the creation of a memorable character through what they wear, as well as the evolving social and technological context in which they were created.

“Act One: Deconstruction” investigates the role of costume designers in cinema, and how they work to create a look by exploring the relationship between clothing and identity. Costumes on display include James Acheson’s Imperial Robes created for The Last Emperor (1987) and Marit Allen’s simple yet memorable pieces for Ennis Del Mar and Jack Twist in Brokeback Mountain (2005). The research involved in costume design is showcased through case studies of films such as Fight Club (Michael Kaplan, 1999), where designs, sketches, photographs, budget breakdowns and script pages will be shown.

Left: Meryl Streep in The Iron Lady (2011). Right: Natalie Portman in Black Swan (2010).

“Act 2: Dialogue” examines the relationship between filmmakers, actors and costume designers, with archival film footage and specially commissioned interviews. It will also show a handful of director/designer pairings, including the seminal collaboration of Alfred Hitchcock and Edith Head, who worked on 11 films together. A comparative look at the characteristics of famous remakes—for example, Travis Banton’s 1934 Cleopatra starring Claudette Colbert compared with Elizabeth Taylor in the 1963 rendition designed by Irene Sharaff—delves into how fashion trends of the time influenced the costume design. Also, in a series of interviews, Meryl Streep and Robert De Niro discuss the importance of the costume to the actor; each has five examples on display from their most celebrated films.

Left: Judy Garland in The Wizard of Oz (1939). Right: Cate Blanchett in Elizabeth: The Golden Age (2007).

“Act 3: Finale” features a sequence of Hollywood’s finest heroes and femme fatales, from Batman’s high-tech suit in The Dark Knight Rises (Lindy Hemming, 2012) to the cocktail dress worn by Marilyn Monroe as Sugar Kane Kowalczyk in Some Like It Hot (Orry-Kelly, 1959). This final act displays how costume design influences popular culture and creates memories for many generations. “Hollywood Costumes” will be on display until January 27, 2013.


Left: Brad Pitt and Ed Norton in Fight Club (1999). Right: Sylvester Stallone in Rocky (1976).

Left: Keira Knightley in Atonement (2007). Right: Johnny Depp in Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl (2003).