Hollywood Costume: an exhibition at the V&A

For the first time in the UK, a huge collection of costumes across nearly a hundred years of cinema from Hollywood have been brought together to be displayed in the Victoria and Albert Museum, across three galleries, curated by Deborah Nadoolman Landis.

The big draw is right at the end: Judy Garland’s gingham dress and ruby slippers from The Wizard of Oz (although, be quick if you want to see the real slippers, as they are only on loan for a short time before returning to the USA for Thanksgiving). Here also is Marilyn’s famous Seven Year Itch frock, looking as delicate and fragile as its owner.

At the start of the exhibition, a crowded room displays treasures from Scarlett O’Hara’s green gown (supposedly made from curtains, but far too grand), Marlene Dietrich’s Angel costume, and Joan Crawford’s Mildred Pierce frock, through to a tableau from Ocean’s 11 (the Clooney one) and some more contemporary pieces.

In room two we find another highlight – a Royal collection (Garbo’s Queen Christina’s ivory dress, Bette Davis/Cate Blanchett/Judi Dench Elizabeth I gowns, etc.), along with Indiana Jones, who gets a stand to himself, before the finale including pieces worn by characters ranging from Tracy Lord to Holly Golightly, Superman to Catwoman, Don Juan to The Blues Brothers.

The earliest piece here is the spider gown worn by Louise Glaum in the 1920 film ‘Sex’, the most beautiful the delicate gown worn by Carole Lombard in ‘My Man Godfrey’. The exhibition also gives a chance to see two Cleopatras side by side (costumes worn by Claudette Colbert and Elizabeth Taylor, thirty years apart), Ben Hur’s toga, and Hedy Lamarr’s flimsy gown and fur from Samson and Delilah. There is history here, and for followers of old or new cinema alike, there is much to enjoy.

It is also a celebration of designers from Adrian and Edith Head through to the most recent costumiers (Jacqueline Durran, for Anna Karenina, this year; Michael Kaplan, for Fight Club). They are often neglected, but contribute as much to a film’s success, and an audience’s enjoyment, as the cinematographer, the art director, and the performers themselves.

‘Hollywood Costume’ is on at the V&A until the 27th January 2013, and details can be found at http://www.vam.ac.uk/content/exhibitions/exhibition-hollywood-costume/.