19 February 2012

Hollywood Costumes

One of the highlights of our recent trip to Los Angeles was a new exhibition at the Fashion Institute of Design & Merchandising featuring costumes from films released in 2011. This small but exciting exhibition was really well-organized, featuring costumes from all five films nominated for a 2012 Academy Award: "The Artist" ([pictured] designed by Mark Bridges), "Hugo" (Sandy Powell), "Anonymous" (Lisy Christl), "W.E." (Arianne Phillips) and "Jane Eyre" (Michael O'Connor).

While costumes are often amazing on screen, it is not until you are inches away from them that you see the skill and artistry that goes into something that might not be on screen more than a few minutes. The costumes from "J. Edgar" (Deborah Hopper) appear to be of such quality that you could purchase them today in a fine men's wear store, and those from "Immortals" (Eiko Ishioka) are comprised of various unusual materials that you would never discern on screen. Of the costumes from "Cowboys and Aliens" (Mary Zophres), it is interesting to note two versions of the same outfit: one normal dress and then the same dress after the character had been wounded (now sporting a hole and fake-blood stains).

Costume designing has not always been in the forefront of filmmaking; in the early days of film in New York and Hollywood, actors were required to bring their own clothing making it an expensive occupation for part-time actors. Hedda Hopper, the famous gossip columnist who started out as a bit player, recounts in one of her biographies how she spent rent money on fine clothes in order to beat out other actors for roles of society women. She was never a great actor, but she was certainly clever.

Over time, creating costumes for film became an important art; but it was not until 1949 that costume designs were honored by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (for films made in 1948). This means many superior examples of costume design were never recognized by the Academy -- including "Showboat" (1936, designed by Doris Zinkeisen), "Gone with the Wind" (Walter Plunkett), "The Wizard of Oz" (Adrian) and "Yankee Doodle Dandy" (Milo Anderson).

Although he never won an Oscar, Adrian is represented at FIDM: In addition to costumes from current films, the exhibition also features items from Hollywood's history worn by stars including Jean Harlow (dance shorts from "Reckless" designed by Adrian), Fred Astaire, William Farnum, Mabel Normand, Rudolph Valentino and Mae West.

The exhibition is free to the public and runs through 28 April at the Fashion Institute of Design & Merchandising in Los Angeles, California.

You can read more about the exhibition here.

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