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 Ruby Slippers,V&A, Victoria and Albert Museum
Ruby Slippers Go On View At London's V&A Museum - ArtLyst Article image

Ruby Slippers Go On View At London's V&A Museum

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I'll get you my pretty and your little dog too! The original Ruby Slippers worn by Dorothy Gale (Judy Garland) in The Wizard of Oz (1939) are to go on public display in Europe for the first time in history as part of the V&A’s major autumn exhibition, Hollywood Costume. On a generous four week loan from the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History in Washington D.C., the Ruby Slippers will be reunited with Dorothy’s blue and white gingham pinafore dress for the first time since filming.

Five years ago, during her treasure hunt for the most well-known Hollywood costumes to include in the exhibition, Senior Guest Curator UCLA Professor Deborah Nadoolman Landis set her sights on securing one of the original four pairs of Ruby Slippers known to exist. After exhaustive negotiations with other private owners, the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History generously agreed to the exclusive loan to the V&A only one month before the exhibition opening.

Now one of America’s most cherished historic artefacts, the Ruby Slippers hold a unique place in international popular culture. They are on almost continuous display at the Smithsonian and attract millions of visitors every year. This pair of Ruby Slippers was purchased at auction in 1970, before being donated to the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History in 1979 they are currently displayed in an exhibition called American Stories. 

The Wizard of Oz is televised each year as the traditional Thanksgiving film in the US. The Ruby Slippers will return ‘home’ to Washington D.C. in time for this American family holiday. The Smithsonian pair of slippers will be on display for a limited time only, from the opening date of 20 October until 18 November. This is the first time that an original pair of the Ruby Slippers has left the United States for an exhibition. A replica pair, created especially for Hollywood Costume by Western Costume Company (the original manufacturers) will be continuously on display for the duration of the exhibition.

The Ruby Slippers were designed by Adrian, MGM Studios’ chief costume designer and Hollywood’s foremost designer of the Golden Age of Hollywood. Adrian designed every costume for The Wizard of Oz, his favourite childhood book. Screenwriter Noel Langley is credited with changing ‘silver shoes’ to ‘Ruby Slippers’ in his film screenplay - red being the most vibrant contrast against the ‘yellow brick road’ at a time when a Technicolor film was still a novelty. 

As is often the case with film costumes for musicals and action sequences, several pairs of slippers were created for the production. The Ruby Slippers were made for Adrian by Western Costume Company (Los Angeles) in 1938 by veteran shoemaker Joe Napoli. They were created from red satin shoes with a French heel of one and a half inches high. Covered in red sequins sewn onto fine chiffon, the large centre bow is edged with red glass bugle beads, crystals, and three emerald shaped crystals. Surprisingly, the actual colour of the original slippers is a deep garnet, which photographed a bright scarlet under the hot Technicolor lighting.

Professor Deborah Nadoolman Landis, said: “The Ruby Slippers transcend Hollywood costume design and have the power to transport us to the limits of our imagination. These precious shoes exemplify the best of cinema storytelling because they evoke memory and emotion.”

Martin Roth, Director of the V&A, said: “This is a once in a lifetime opportunity to see the Ruby Slippers outside of America and we are incredibly grateful to the Smithsonian for this rare and generous gift. We are delighted to be able to offer our visitors the chance to see such an iconic American artefact at the V&A, and can’t think of a more fitting temporary home for them than Hollywood Costume.”

National Museum of American History curator, Dwight Blocker Bowers, said: “The Ruby Slippers are beloved by our visitors and we look forward to sharing them with an international audience. The message of self-sufficiency in “Wizard of Oz” has endured for more than 70 years and the slippers illustrate the importance of a journey for what you need, and only after travelling that journey you find that you already had all that you were searching for.”

The Ruby Slippers can be seen alongside more than 130 of the most iconic costumes designed for unforgettable cinema characters over a century of film-making. Hollywood Costume, sponsored by Harry Winston, opens at the V&A on 20 October 2012.

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