Hollywood Costume Exhibition at the Victoria and Albert

Over a year ago i recommended getting tickets for the V&A’s Hollywood Costume Exhibit which i expected to be good.  This vast undertaking which spread over a large footprint in the museum far surpassed my expectations.   The costumes were sourced from all over the world–museums, private collections, movie studios–during the last five years.   Displays of the collaborative efforts between the actors, designers and directors in the creative process were seamlessly integrated with the costumes themselves.  Digital film of the actors was superimposed on the costumes bringing them to life.

Most people, I expect, arrive eager  to see Dorothy’s ruby slippers from The Wizard of Oz

Costume archaeology at the V&A and Audrey Hepburn’s LBD designed by Givenchy.  But in my daughter’s opinion, both Dorothy’s dress and ruby slippers were faded and dull! I think the commentary said it was a dress from Sears.  The little black dress without Audrey Hepburn giving it beauty was lifeless. While I appreciated the well known iconic costumes,  the ones that I wasn’t familiar with before were some of the most exciting and beautiful to view.

Here’s my best of list:

From my favourite movie Brokeback Mountain, appeared the full outfits worn by Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal.     There was interesting commentary on which cowboys wore Wranglers and which wore Levis,  different hat shapes for different cowboy functions, even size of cowboy boot heel indicating the thorough attention to detail in the design process.

Special mention goes to the symbolic shirt that  Heath Ledger clutched at the end of the movie.

Kate Hudson’s Yellow Dress in How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days

which i loved and had copied for me back in 2004 (quite easily since  i lived in Hong Kong at the time!)  Unfortunately, i was unable to afford even a copy of the Harry Winston yellow diamond necklace she wore in the film.


Loved the sensational bugle-beaded ruby worn in The Bride Wore Red, (Adrian, 1937)

Scarlett O’Hara’s green ‘curtain’ dress designed by Walter Plunkett for Gone with the Wind

Bram Stoker’s Dracula,- the frighteningly bold costume for Gary Oldman .

Actors Meryl Streep and Robert De Niro are brought to life in an animated “conversation” about their costumes, in which Streep reveals that while filming The Iron Lady she insisted on having in her handbag the contents she felt Thatcher would have had.

Tippi Hedron’s outfit from The Birds


 The various Cleopatra outfits-–Ancient Egyption styles as perceived and defined by the fashions of each different cinematic era. 


Despite not liking the film, I loved the dialogue with the costume designer of the 2004 Natalie Portman film Closer about the creative process.

Streeps jumpsuit from Mamma Mia

Travolta’s Pantsuit Saturday Night Fever

There’s a jewelled pant suit made for Susan Haywood in Valley of the Dolls.   The original pantsuit was  made for Judy Garland who stole the costume on being fired from the picture. Ironically, Garland was the basis for one of Jackie Suzann’s Valley of the Dolls characters.

Various costumes worn to play Queen Elizabeth

Hollywood Costume sponsored by Harry Winston, 2012 © V&A Images

Javier Bardem’s costume from No Country for Old Men
seems even more chilling in person.

And last but not least Sharon Stone’s provocative white dress in Basic Instinct.

It’s a fascinating insight into the world of cinematic costume design as well a fantastic escape into the world of fashion.

Victoria and Albert Museum.

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