By Tamasin Day-LewisPhotograph by Michael Roberts, November 2012 in Vanity Fair /http://www.vanityfair.com/culture/2012/11/victoria-and-albert-costumes-museum
You can’t have a great movie without the costumes’ being great,” declares costume designer Deborah Nadoolman Landis, the senior guest curator of the exhibition “Hollywood Costume,” which opens this month at the Victoria and Albert Museum, in London. Landis and her team have spent more than five years searching out and gathering together 130 of the most unforgettable costumes designed for characters over a century of filmmaking. “Hollywood Costume” explores what an essential tool costume is in cinema storytelling and how intricate the relationship is between designer, actor, and director from script to screen.
“We most succeed when we’re most invisible,” explains Landis. “I want the audience to be fully immersed in the movie. I’m so not interested in the clothes—they’re so surface. I only care about the characters.” The exhibition will unite classics from the golden age, including iconic looks such as Scarlett O’Hara’s green velvet “curtain” dress from Gone with the Wind and Dorothy’s blue-and-white gingham pinafore from The Wizard of Oz, designed by Adrian (and made on a treadle sewing machine, as if by Auntie Em).
Among the 70 costume designers whose work is featured here is three-time Oscar winner Sandy Powell. “Her vision of Daniel Day-Lewis [full disclosure: he is the author’s younger brother] as Bill the Butcher in Gangs of New York in striped trousers and tall, stovepipe hat made him even more vertical. Martin Scorsese said Day-Lewis ‘cut through the crowd like a knife,’ ” Landis says. “Sandy looks at all the research and then re-invents the period for the dramatic context.”
LONDON — On Sunday, a pair of magical ruby slippers winged their way westward across the Atlantic, flying back home for Thanksgiving.
By SUZY MENKES
Published: November 19, 2012 in The New York Times
It was the first time the iconic scarlet sequinned shoes had been out of the United States and the Smithsonian Museum in Washington. And the first time since the filming of “The Wizard of Oz” in 1939 that the Judy Garland slippers had been reunited with Dorothy’s blue and white gingham pinafore dress, designed by the Hollywood costume wizard Adrian.
Visitors to “Hollywood Costume” at the Victoria & Albert Museum here until Jan. 27 will now see a substitute pair of glittering footwear — the vivid red chosen because, in those early days of Technicolor, it was the shade that fit best with the Yellow Brick Road.
The amount of information in every nook and cranny of this exhibition is extraordinary, from the digital faces bringing costumes and movies to life, to the on-screen dialogues between directors and designers. The intelligent approach taken by Deborah Nadoolman Landis, the guest curator and Oscar-nominated costume designer, working with the curator Christopher Frayling, is informative, sometimes didactic, but always engaging.
The show opens with what could be a costume back lot, where Scarlett O’Hara’s green dress from “Gone With the Wind” (1939) looks, up close, as if it were indeed cobbled together from a pair of curtains.
The display takes the viewer past the costumes for a wide variety of films, from the designer Marit Allen’s apparently casual men’s wear (but, in fact, drawn, sketched and crafted) for 2005’s “Brokeback Mountain,” to the grandeur of royal costume, as seen on Bette Davis in 1955 in “The Virgin Queen.”
Ms. Landis, who worked with Michael Jackson on his “Thriller” video and whose designs for “Raiders of the Lost Ark” in 1981 are on display, said, “‘Costume’ is a very poor word for a very substantive job.”
The designer, who is also a professor at the University of California at Los Angeles, said that costumes exist to signify character, so that just as the production designer answers the question: Where are you?, a costume designer asks: Who are the people in this story?
“Costume is such a horrible word,” Ms. Landis said. “It is Halloween, Mardi Gras, fancy dress, all superficial because it has to do with surface.” She added that a costume designer acts as a facilitator for the director and that “we were never meant to be stars.”
The 130 costumes on show here were worn by some of the greatest stars of the silver screen: Marilyn Monroe’s ivory pleated dress that famously blew upward to show her legs in “The Seven Year Itch” in 1955; Elizabeth Taylor’s robes as Cleopatra in 1963, alongside Travis Banton’s costumes for the Claudette Colbert “Cleopatra” of 1934; or Audrey Hepburn in “Breakfast at Tiffany” in 1961, making history out of Hubert de Givenchy’s little black dress.
The great costume creators shine out: Adrian, who was behind so many costumes at Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. Or Edith Head, whose creations for Tippi Hedren in “The Birds” (1963) are the subject of a “conversation” between the designer and Alfred Hitchcock, the director.