V&A’s Hollywood Costume Exhibition – 20th October 2012 – 27th January 2013

This autumn sees the V&A museum in London’s South Kensington bring together some of the most iconic items to have featured on the silver screen, and as a result become an intrinsic part of modern culture.  From Audrey Hepburn’s little black Givenchy number from Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961) to Harrison Ford’s bullwhip, fedora, and leather jacket from Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981), the costumes collected for the groundbreaking Hollywood Costume Exhibition exhibition are instantly recognisable to anyone with even the slightest interest in cinema and design.  Not only will the exhibition, sponsored by Harry Winston the legendary ‘Jeweller to the Stars’, be the first time that many of the costumes on display will have been seen together but, as in the case of the ‘stars’ of the show, also the first time they will have been on display outside the USA.

Separated into three sections referred to as ‘Acts’, the exhibition leads the visitor through the production process from concept to finished item.  The first ‘act’ – after you have been welcomed by a montage of movies scenes projected on a huge screen at the entrance – shows how the clothing and accessories actors use are originated and become a central part of the development of a character’s style and the film’s message.

‘Act 2’ focuses on individual costumes such as Tippi Hedren’s green suit from the climax of Hitchcock’s The Birds (1963).  Highlighting them with current and archive interview footage with the stars, directors and costume designers, the roles the costumes play in the finished films are explained by those involved first hand.

The final act, appropriately called ‘Finale‘, brings together the highlights of the show, from the evening dress Barbara Streisand wore as Dolly Levi in Hello Dolly (1969) to those for Johnny Depp’s Jack Sparrow in Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides (2011).  Seeing these clothes in the flesh will undoubtedly send a shiver down the spine.

This final room, however, also throws up what could be seen as the exhibition’s only real weak point.  The inclusion of more forgettable items, such as Sacha Baron Cohen’s costumes from the mediocre Borat (2006), appear out-of-place alongside Dorothy’s gingham pinafore worn by Judy Garland in The Wizard of Oz (1939).  However their incongruity is soon forgotten when you come face to face with the exhibition’s final items, Dorothy’s original ruby slippers, on loan from the Smithsonian Museum in Washington, D.C..  Seen for the first time ever outside the USA, the shoes will be on display for one month only (after which they will be replaced by replicas for the remainder of the exhibition), and are worth the admission price alone.

The justifiable pride felt by Guest Curators Professor Deborah Nadoolman Landis (herself an academy award nominated costume designer of such hits as Raiders of the Lost Ark, Michael Jackson’s Thriller (1983) and Coming to America (1988)) and cultural historian Professor Sir Christopher Frayling, in the exhibition and the work the team at the V&A have put into bringing it together, was obvious as they welcomed the press last Wednesday morning.  Walking through the exhibition you will understand why, and realise how costumes are as important to a film as the stars who wear them.

Cleaver Patterson

To coincide with the Hollywood Costume Exhibition, the V&A are running a number of events, lectures and workshops, as well as selling related merchandise through their shops.  Details of all of these, along with the exhibition opening times and ticket prices etc, can be found on their website at:  www.vam.ac.uk/content/exhibitions/exhibition-hollywood-costume