Hollywood Costume, the V&A’s major autumn exhibition, is major indeed. This is the sort of blockbuster show that delivers what many museums only imagine possible. It is curated by Hollywood costume designer and senior guest curator Deborah Nadoolman Landis, along with the former rector of the RCA Sir Christopher Frayling, as guest curator and V&A assistant curator Keith Lodwick.
Deborah Nadoolman Landis is an incredible, statuesque woman who exudes strength and confidence, like a sort of Streepian heroine. She has spent the last five years putting this exhibition together as a labour of love. It shows. Unlike the Metropolitan’s Hollywood exhibition where many of the costumes were re-created, Deborah has actually got the originals out of mothballs and onto mannequins. They are cleverly displayed with scaled screens, projecting the heads of the actors onto the figures. These are moving with facial expressions, animating the clothes in the actual context of the films that they were produced for. This is something that is difficult to verbalise and must be seen in the projected-flesh.
The exhibition also includes video interviews with such greats as Edith Head, being interviewed by the Hitchcock ‘ice blond’ Tippi Hedren. If this sounds like something you have seen before, guess again. It is actually interactive like the ‘Haunted House’ at Disneyland with sketch books spookily turning pages in hologram fashion and shadows of birds flying overhead as you are told the story of how the costumes were designed for The Birds in 1963.
The show has many highlights such as Holly Golightly’s black dress from ”Breakfast at Tiffany’s”, the evening gown worn by Katherine Hepburn in Philadelphia Story, Marilyn Monroe’s billowing white dress from The Seven Year Itch and the Dorothy dress worn by Judy Garland in the Wizard of Oz, complete with the original Ruby Slippers. If this is not enough there are costumes from Star Wars, Raiders of the Lost Ark and Harry Potter. This is a complete history of film costume, it covers the golden age of Hollywood including Charlie Chaplin and Mae West and goes up to the present including Keira Knightly’s costumes from Atonement and Anna Karenina, Natalie Portman’s Black Swan tutu and Meryl Streep’s scary handbag wielding Thatcher outfit, from The Iron Lady.
This exhibition almost didn’t happen at all. Loans of many of the costumes were promised from the Debbie Reynolds Hollywood Motion Picture Museum, but due to its bankruptcy the collection was sold off at auction. The 700 choice items, which included many of the iconic costumes exhibited in the show, were scattered around the globe, but through hard detective work most were secured from the new owners. After London this exhibition will travel to Virginia and possibly Los Angeles. This is a once in a lifetime chance to see this collection first hand.
Hollywood Costume runs October 20–January 27, 2013 at the V&A. Tickets £14.
Ruby Slippers From Wizard Of Oz Photo © ArtLyst 2012
Tippi Hedren’s costume for The Birds By Edith Head 1963
Photo of Curator Deborah Nadoolman Landis © ArtLyst 2012