Hollywood Costume Exhibit Report (Finally…)

Well, The Hollywood Costume Exhibit, in L.A. through March 2nd, 2015, is a whole lot of fun.

Cover

Housed in the soon-to-be renovated site of the new Academy Museum, there really is something for everyone. Dorothy’s ruby slippers! Superhero costumes! Indiana Jones’ jacket, hat, whip, and (an interesting detail to me) pants made of wool twill, rather than the cotton khakis I had envisioned.

Since I was there at an event as a guest, and we were asked not to take photos, I can only give you a few impressions of this comprehensive exhibit, and show photos I’ve found here and there. I encourage you to attend the exhibit yourself if you get a chance!

It is just packed with famous costumes, but it also goes beyond fashion to explain the types of collaborations inherent in costume design, in particular the interplay between a designer and director. After having labored through making this Edith Head bolero (which a woman at the exhibit told me she had just seen Chloe knock off):

IMG_3744

I was thrilled to see an archival interview with Edith Head, talking about what it was like to work with director Alfred Hitchcock. And I absolutely loved eyeballing this costume from Vertigo:

Vertigo

As well as this suit from The Birds:

The Birds

Here it is in a still from the movie:

The Birds Still

It’s very much of that era, with cut-in kimono sleeves, an attached collar, and patch pockets. It made me think of another Edith Head/Hitchcock costume, from the movie “Rear Window,” and this vintage pattern that’s almost identical:

Rear Window

It’s a great look. I think I’m putting that pattern a little higher up on my sewing bucket list.

There are some amazing costumes from early film history as well, such as Marlene Dietrich’s gender-bending white tie and tails from the 1930 film “Morocco.”

MCDMORO EC004

Long before Yves St. Laurent made this look de rigueur for decadent disco queens, costume designer Travis Banton created his own diminutive version of “Le Smoking” for Dietrich, which worked on her thanks to a tiny cinched waistline.

Another Travis Banton creation was this costume from Cecil B. de Mille’s 1934 “Cleopatra,” starring Claudette Colbert:

Cleopatra

I don’t think it’s historically accurate, but it is a killer dress.

And there were a number of culturally iconic dresses in the exhibit, including this one:

Dorothy

Apparently the designer, Gilbert Adrian, known as “Adrian”, had it made on an old-fashion treadle sewing machine, so it would look like Auntie Em had made it. Nevertheless, apparently he couldn’t resist jazzing it up with bias-cut bindings and straps.

And then there was probably the most famous dress in movies, housed in it’s own little climate-controlled case:

Seven Year Itch

Yep, that’s the one! It’s from the movie The Seven Year Itch, and it was designed by William Travilla. It was made of ivory rayon crepe, for a petite Marilyn Monroe who looked to have a tiny waist in that voluptuous figure.

Seven Year Itch on Marilyn

You would think that this dress is constructed with a waistband going up to the bust, and halter bust pieces attached to that band, with a separate pleated skirt. That kind of pattern is available in the book “Famous Frocks”:

Famous FrocksFamous Frocks Marilyn

But in truth, the dress appears to have pleats that radiate down from the neckline, which are cinched from the underbust to the waist with long one-inch wide straps, below which the pleats open out again over the hips. So the pattern that’s in the book “Sew Iconic” is a little closer to the original:

Sew iconicSew Iconic Marilyn

But you know, the structure of the design really reminds me of this:

IMG_0567image

Hmmmm…

So after really enjoying the exhibit, it was time to hit the bar! My husband is part of the Academy team working on the exhibit, so we were included in a dinner for the people who had generously loaned items from their collections to display. I looked over at the next table, and there was George Takai! I have no idea why!

Dinner menu

Let’s eat!

I struck up a conversation with the people next to me, costume designer Mark Bridges, and his associate, Kristin (who’s last name unfortunately has escaped me, as I was on my second glass of wine at the time).

Mark was responsible for the beautiful 20s costumes for the period movie “The Artist,” as well as costumes for “The Fighter” and a number of other films. I really enjoyed hearing his take on the costume design process, and how he researches period design by doing things like looking at vintage 70s GQ magazines, for example. Then he talked about the importance of using the costumes to reveal information about the character, and support the movie’s story.

Well, in any conversation with someone of that stature, I almost feel sheepish bringing up my blog. But of course I do it anyway! And to my surprise, he was well-aware of the sewing blogosphere. His eyes lit up and he said, “I love this blog…”

And I’m thinking me, me, me! But he continued…

“Male Pattern Boldness! It’s about his projects, and how he’s sewing them, and what’s going on in his life…” And on and on!

Truthfully, I wasn’t really all that jealous, because I’m a fan of Male Pattern Boldness myself, and have stolen plenty from Peter’s friendly blogging style (I prefer to think of it as an homage). Actually it was great to know that the world of home sewing blogs is now stretching beyond people like us, and can be appreciated by professionals like Mark Bridges.

But for me, sneaking away to something like this is a bit like being Cinderella. Midnight hits, your glass slippers start to pinch, and the next thing you know you’re in that 5:00 a.m. cab to LAX.

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Then it’s back pumpin’ Auntie Em’s treadle machine in Kansas.

I’m updating this post to give a little shoutout to the blogger Not Dead Yet Style, about staying stylin’ when you’ve hit those middle years (and you know who you are). Her “Visible Monday” link-ups feature women of a certain age making style statements. I’m always inspired, when I’m in France, to see that the middle-aged women there don’t throw in the towel in terms of taking style risks, and those of us in the U.S. shouldn’t either. So I’m joining in the link-up this time around!

I’ll be back soon with a report from the Museum at FIT’s Dance and Fashion exhibit event.

20 thoughts on “Hollywood Costume Exhibit Report (Finally…)

  1. Thanks for the minitour (can we get you some kickbacks for getting us there?). Speaking of Indy, there’s an interview with Adam Savage of Mythbusters where he talks about the costumes from Indiana Jones, the person who made the hat and her process: Deborah Nadoolman. (okay, so it’s in Tested: Tour of Adam Savage’s cave). Granted, he is more a props guy than a fabric guy, but he has the makers dedication to authenticity I admire you (JSS) for.

    • Thanks for the tip sj; I’ll have to look for that interview. I’m glad you brought that up, because Deborah Nadoolman Landis actually curated the exhibit, and wrote that accompanying book, both of which are excellent. I enjoyed hearing her speak at the event.

    • Nice to hear from you, Nancy! Janet and I had a ball at FIT when she wore that dress. I’m going to write about that event next time. It was fun to be a couple of sisters “of a certain age” still getting it together to flaunt it.

  2. Thank you so much for sharing this with us. I will have to visit on my next trip to LA. By chance, did you make it to the Philadelphia Museum of Art display of Patrick Kelly’s designs. Would love to hear your thoughts.

    • I wish I had had a chance to see that exhibit! My travels didn’t end up going that way. It’s great that vintage fashion is being recognized in so many museum exhibits these days.

  3. I wish I were closer – those 60’s dresses and suits are so perfect to behold. I did see the Dance and Fashion exhibit at FIT and I think you will love it. Thanks for sharing with Visible Monday!

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