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V&A’s Hollywood Costume Exhibition

The V&A’s autumn exhibition, ‘Hollywood Costume’, explores the central role costume design plays in cinema storytelling. This amazing exhibition is a must see for anyone who delights in the iconic role costumes play in cinema. It brings together over 100 of the most iconic movie costumes from across a century of film-making, and is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see the clothes worn by unforgettable and beloved characters such as Dorothy Gale, Indiana Jones, Scarlett O’Hara, Jack Sparrow, Holly Golightly and Darth Vader.

Harrison Ford as Indiana Jones

People who design costumes are storytellers, historians, social commentators and anthropologists. Movies are about people, and costume design plays a pivotal role in bringing these people to life. This exhibition therefore illuminates the costume designer’s process in the creation of character from script to screen including the changing social and technological context in which they have worked over the last century. The exhibition is in three parts; Act 1, Deconstruction, which aims to put us in the shoes of the costume designer and illuminates the process of designing a character from script to screen; Act 2, Dialogue, here we examine the key collaborative role of the costume designer within the creative team; and finally Act 3, Finale, this celebrates the most beloved characters in the history of Hollywood and the ‘silver screen’.

Kate Winslett as Rose DeWitt

Many of the costumes displayed have never been publicly displayed and have never been seen beyond the secure walls of the studio archives. Meryl Streep says: “On every film, the clothes are half the battle in creating the character. I have a great deal of opinion about how my people are presented. We show a great deal by what we put on our bodies.” Most movies are about people. It’s the people, the characters in the stories, who hold our attention and who are of endless fascination to the audience. The costume designer must know ‘who’ a character is before they can design their costume. No matter the era that the story takes place, the audience is asked to believe that the people in the movie are real and that they had a life prior to the start of the movie. We join our cast of characters at one moment in their life. Everything about them must resonate true, including their clothes. That is what makes being a costume designer, such an important part of the movie process.

Johnny Depp as Jack Sparrow

Directors know how important costumes are in a movie. Tim Burton says: “What’s great about costume is it’s the visual representation of the internal side of people. That’s what I love.” The Dialogue part of the exhibition concludes with the ‘Art of Becoming;’ two case studies with the participation on camera of the great American actors, Robert De Niro and Meryl Streep. Both actors, celebrated for their transformative skills, will discuss their use of costume to channel their new ‘people.’ Five costumes chosen from their most memorable roles will be on view.

Judy Garland as Dorothy Gale

Included in the Hollywood Costumes exhibition will be the outfits worn by Johnny Depp as Jack Sparrow in ‘Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End’, 2007, Marilyn Monroe as Sugar Kane Kowalczyk in ‘Some Like it Hot’, 1959, Audrey Hepburn as Holly Golightly in ‘Breakfast at Tiffany’s’, 1961, Barbra Streisand as Fanny Brice in ‘Funny Girl’, 1968, and Renee Zellweger as Roxie Hart in ‘Chicago’, 2002.

Costumes are just one method in which a character is transformed from the written page to a multi-dimensional people. The costume designer gives the clothes to the actor, the actor gives the character to the director, and the director tells the story. When a character and a film capture the public’s imagination; the costumes can ignite worldwide fashion trends and influence global culture. Cinematic icons are born when the audience falls deeply in love with the people in the story. And that’s what movies, and costume design, is all about.

For ticket prices and opening times, visit the V&A website.

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