Sunday 18 March 2018

Gingham style: a peek behind the costume curtain

Those who were invited to my 21st birthday many moons ago were asked to come as a movie star of their choice. The party ended up looking like a very interesting film set. We had everyone from Marilyn Monroe in The Seven Year Itch to The Joker in Batman to Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz. Who did I go as? Scarlett O'Hara in Gone with the Wind, of course!

An exhibition entitled Hollywood Costume, at London's Victoria and Albert Museum features more than 130 of the most iconic costumes designed for memorable cinema characters over a century of filmmaking.

The exhibition takes you on a journey from classics like Dorothy's blue and white gingham pinafore dress designed for The Wizard of Oz (1939) to Jacqueline Durran's stunning costumes for Anna Karenina (2012).

Keith Lodwick, co-curator of the exhibition, said : "The range and scope of the exhibition has never been attempted before. We have on display over 100 costumes celebrating 100 years of the movies.

"From Charlie Chaplin's iconic Little Tramp costume to Meryl Streep's Academy Award winning turn as Margaret Thatcher, the exhibition celebrates the contribution that costume designers make to film-making."

The exhibition is cleverly divided into three sections. 'Deconstruction' introduces the role of the costume designer in cinema, exploring the link between clothing and identity.

Designs and sketches showing costume fittings and even budget breakdowns can be seen.

'Dialogue' examines the intimate creative collaboration among filmmakers, actors and costume designers. It makes great use of archival film footage and interviews.

Of particular interest are two specially commissioned interviews with Robert De Niro and Meryl Streep. Celebrated for their transformative skills, they each discuss the importance of costume in developing and playing a range of their characters.

Meryl Streep notes that, "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."

The final part of the exhibition, the 'Finale', is a real treat, presenting a selection of the best known costumes. A chance to see the glamorous Roxie Hart in Chicago (Colleen Atwood, 2002).

Fantasy, sci-fi and superhero characters include Bram Stoker's Dracula (Eiko Ishioka, 1992), and the latest high-tech suit for Batman in The Dark Knight Rises (Lindy Hemming, 2012).

Keith Lodwick notes that "many of the costumes have never been on public display before. We are borrowing costumes from Hollywood Studios, International Private Collectors and from museums in Paris, Berlin and Madrid."

It's a great opportunity to see that green velvet gown worn by Vivienne Leigh in Gone with the Wind up close. It was made in the film by Scarlett O'Hara from her mother's drawing room curtains. Costume designer Walter Plunkett toured the South viewing collections of vintage dresses for historic inspiration.

The breadth of the selection means there is something for everyone, whether movie enthusiast or lover of fashion.

Hollywood Costume at London's Victoria and Albert Museum runs until January 27.

Aedín Gormley presents Movies and Musicals (Sat 1-4pm) and Sunday Matinée (Sun 12-2pm) on RTÉ lyric fm.

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