Hollywood Costume Exhibit Report (Finally…)

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

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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):

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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:

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As well as this suit from The Birds:

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Here it is in a still from the movie:

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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.”

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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:

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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:

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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!

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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.

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

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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:

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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.”

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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.

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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.

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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:

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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):

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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.

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

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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.

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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.

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

More to come on this exciting exhibit!