Hollywood Costume Exhibit and what I’m making for it…

Here’s a piece of good news…later this month, my husband and I are invited to a soiree celebrating the opening of the “Hollywood Costume” exhibit, featuring a number of classic movie costumes that I am very eager to eyeball.

So of course my first thought was, what am I going to make? I’ll get to that.

The exhibit is presented by the Victoria and Albert Museum and the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (the folks who bring you the Oscars), and it will be held at the historic art deco Wilshire May Company building in Los Angeles, soon be the location of the new Academy Museum of Motion Pictures. The exhibit runs from October 2nd, 2014, to March 2nd, 2015. (Here’s more info about the exhibit, from the Academy’s website.)

There will be more than 150 movie costumes to ogle, by revered designers such as William Travilla, Gilbert Adrian, and of course, Edith Head.

Yes, I’m excited.

In my overflowing stash of patterns, I have a few that were released by the better known costume designers, some of whom had their own ready-to-wear lines at the time.

This pattern, released by Spadea:


was designed by movie and television costumer Travilla, creator of Marilyn Monroe’s famous “Seven Year Itch” dress.

Seven Year Itch dress

Marilyn’s dress, which became part of Debbie Reynolds’ costume collection, was recently auctioned for $4.6 million, according to the L.A. Times blog.

Another Spadea I have in my collection is this pattern designed by Charles LeMaire, known for costuming movies such as “All About Eve.”


On the pattern it says “Katherine Hepburn wears it in a film, but it has a place in everyday life.” It appears to be this dress from Desk Set.


Katherine Hepburn could make a librarian look chic. I wonder if I have enough of that gold Tyvek in my stash to pull it off?

The designer known as “Adrian” released at least one pattern in the 50s, which is on sale on Etsy now, for $175! (Pattern by Adrian) At that price, you can see why I’m reluctant to share details of my rare patterns.

The ruby slippers that Gilbert Adrian designed for Wizard of Oz will be featured in the exhibition as well. A girl knows she’s not in Kansas anymore, when she’s got those glitzy pumps on her feet.


According to the Hollywood Reporter, Leonardo DiCaprio helped the future Academy Museum of Motion Pictures acquire the shoes for their permanent collection.

Several costume designers created patterns for an obscure mail order line called “California Couture,” including Jean Louis, who designed Marilyn Monroe’s dress in which she sang “Happy Birthday, Mr. President” to JFK:


That pattern would make a good “Megan” dress for next year’s “Mad Men Challenge” hosted by blogger Julia Bobbin.

And Helen Rose, who designed, among many other things, wedding dresses for both Grace Kelly and Elizabeth Taylor, released several patterns for Spadea and California Couture:

Helen Rose Spadeaimage

There’s lots of information about Hollywood costume designers such as Adrian, Helen Rose and Jean Louis in this fun book about the vintage California look (I think I found it on Amazon):


I’ll admit, having grown up in snowy northern Michigan, watching “Wonderful World of Disney” and dreaming of sunny California, I have a highly romantized view of vintage Cali style.

And, of course, no costume exhibit would be complete without the diva of Hollywood costume design, Edith Head.


She put out a number of sewing patterns from the 50s through the 80s, like these “Hitchcock Blonde” suits:


Ooo, I’m going to make that turban!

Among those patterns is this fab “reverse shrug” with a pointed fold-over collar and buttons in the back, which I’m going to attempt to make for the event, to wear with a little black dress.


I’m torn between using this 50s-looking raw silk I bought from Mood in L.A., underlined with 60s silk organza, (requiring seam finishes, grrrr) or some drapey gold Italian wool-viscose from Elliott Berman Textiles, lined with something or other. The wool might be too hot for fall in L.A., though.


Whatever way I go, I’ll be busting my stash, and I get to pick out buttons!

More to come on this exciting exhibit!



30 thoughts on “Hollywood Costume Exhibit and what I’m making for it…

  1. Yes, wool might be too hot for you in Southern CA in the fall, particularly if there’s a crowd. The only true seasons there are wet & dry, with varying humidity (as in sometimes rain, particularly during winter months). After years in San Jose area, I was still wearing jackets whilst the natives were in (stylish) parkas.
    Will look forward to watching your creation taking shape!

  2. I really, really like that reverse shrug. There is a classic Doris Day/Rock Hudson movie from the Sixties (sorry, can’t remember the name of it) where she wears a cropped overblouse that buttons in the back over an equally gorgeous long dress. Making something like that is on my sewing bucket list! I can’t wait to see what you create! How wonderful to be sewing for such a specific and unique event.

  3. What a beautiful array of patterns. Can’t wait to see your finished outfit. , because of your blog I am sewing again. My first project is an easy diaper bag for my first grandchild. I hope to finish it before she is potty trained!

    • Nancy, I’m so happy to hear that you’ve started back sewing! And good for you sewing for that grandchild…there are a lot of cute patterns for kids out there. Janet’s dress is coming up after this project, since her event is late in October. Both projects look relatively uneventful…famous last words!

  4. Ah, my maiden aunt worked the ladies accessories department there (Aunt Maybelle worked at the May Company, and acquired roughly a hundred matching shoe/hat/handbag ensembles, now all lost and gone) and it’s wonderful to know they have not torn it down. It is a beautiful building, my nasty Aunt notwithstanding.

    • I’m going to enjoy checking out the building during the event; I’ve always loved the curved gold facade. As for your Aunt Maybelle’s haul, it’s probably all on Etsy.com right now.

  5. We in Australia have had the pleasure of that exhibition, it is fabulous. I spent hours getting as close as security allowed, I even took a pair of white cotton gloves in my handbag “just in case” I got the opportunity to inspect the garments. Sad but true. As you would expect I wasn’t allowed to inspect that closely.

    Can’t wait to see the ensemble you create for the event.

    • That’s good advice, though we’re going to a dinner prior to the opening, and my husband’s clients will be there, so I think I’d better stay off the floor. I’ll take pictures if I can, though!

  6. Yes I have seen this exhibition in Melbourne . It is very good . I am amazed that the MM dress got that price ! Insane ! It was really interesting to see what her. Body size was . Quite short I think and very hour glass . Have fun

    • I’ve seen another dress of Monroe’s, and it’s true that she was petite and curvy. You often hear people in the U.S. say that “Marilyn Monroe was size 14,” meaning that she was not super-skinny (14 is a size large here), but the fact is that in the 50s, size 14 was a much smaller size. There’s been so much “vanity sizing” in the past 60 years that now size 14 is much bigger!

    • Hi Lynn, I’m in Boston, and but am doing a one-day fly-by to L.A. to see the exhibit. I’d love to get together, but I’ll probably have more time to meet when I come out to L.A. for “the big Kahuna” in February. I don’t even think I’ll have time for fabric shopping on this visit sniff sniff!

    • I’m looking forward to it, and hope that pictures are allowed. If so, I’ll be sure the share them both here and on InstaGram (my new favorite time-waster…). Mary, are you on InstaGram? There’s a lot of international sewing action there. I’m there under JetSetSewing.

  7. Can’t wait to see you dress (Advance 8048). I made it in Navy with an Asian print jacket in Fuchsia. Am currently on the road (travel for a living) but when I return home next week will post a photo of it on my blog.
    This is one of the reasons that I enjoy reading your blog; I can relate to your fashion sense.

    • Thanks for stopping by! I’d love to see your version, so let me know when you have it posted. I’ve decided just to make the bolero jacket at this point, since deep in my closet there’s a no-man’s-land of RTW little black dresses yearning to breathe free. Also, I owe my sister a dress, so I need to get cracking!

  8. If it’s the same exhibition I saw in London then you are in for such a treat. Lucky you to have those Spadeas in your collection. I’ve not come across one yet. But I do love the Advance dress and jacket. That will look amazing. Can’t wait to see it in the real!

    • I believe it is the same exhibit as at the V&A, with a number of new additions. As for the Spadeas, you can find them online, though the early ones from the 50s are harder and harder to come by.

  9. Oooh, once again I envy you the invitation to a swanky event! Though to be honest I’m not sure I could take the pressure of having to dress up to that degree. I love the look of the reverse shrug–it will be perfect! Have a wonderful time.

  10. Lovely, interesting blog. I am really looking forward to seeing what you make. Like Ooobop I am in the UK and we rarely see Spadea patterns here. I bought a few on the internet but the postage is a bit off putting. But really lovely, unusual high-fashion styles.

    • Thanks so much! The Spadea patterns were sold via mail order through U.S. newspapers, so I’m not surprised that you don’t see them in the U.K. They did offer a number of European designers, though, include the Royal Couturier Norman Hartnell, who had just designed Queen Elizabeth’s wedding dress. There are many great designers of the era represented in that line.

I'd love to hear from you! (But let's keep the party polite...)

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s