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A romp through Hollywood’s closet

Posted in Style & Travel

Chaplin_The_KidThe Victoria and Albert Museum in London has, in a few short years, gone from stodgy to trendy. I always loved the place, especially meandering around the furniture department, which is filled with recreations of rooms from different time periods. Its textile collections are also more than noteworthy but, in recent years, the V&A has started attracting the young and the hip: an ongoing exhibition of influential everyday objects; a Jean Paul Gaultier retrospective that just closed and one dedicate to Alexander McQueen set to open next Spring all contribute to the accolades. It turns out the long arm of the V&A has reached Hollywood too: in collaboration with the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (the Oscar people for the uninitiated) they curated an exhibition of Hollywood Costume that will run at the Academy Building until March 2, 2015.

Frankly, I went expecting something quaint and I was quite unprepared for the breadth of the collection that starts with Charlie Chaplin’s suit from the Vagabond and ends with last year’s “American Hustle” and “Django Unchained”. Photography, in the extremely dimly lit rooms, was not permitted which, in a way, made it easier to focus, not just on the artifacts, but also on the context in which they were placed and on the curious behind the scenes tidbits.

As I wandered from room to room, two glaring facts jumped out at me. The clothes, which are displayed on life-size mannequins, tell the story of women’s changing bodies – at least, Hollywood women. Women of the generation of Bette Davis, Greta Garbo and Ginger Rogers were much, much smaller, both in stature and built – even Marilyn Monroe, whom I always imagined statuesque, was fairly diminutive (and, according to the designers who dressed her, pretty uninterested in clothes). Such tiny waistlines are not to be found in nature any longer, certainly not in any woman I have ever come across.

Contemporary actresses are also very small. And thin. Very thin. This doesn’t come as shocking news but I was taken aback as clothes’ sizes skew more towards a size 0 than a 2. The only relatable body shapes seemed to be Meryl Streep’s, Uma Thurman’s, Glenn Close’s and Oprah Winfrey’s (in The Color Purple). Halle Berry and Selma Hayek’s costumes looked tailor-made for children.

Along the cavalcades I gleaned some sweet and fun facts:

Julie Andrews Mary Poppins costumesThe lining inside Mary Poppins’ otherwise conservative and drab attire, was purposefully colorful, to remind Julie Andrews of her character’s “other” life.

Jeff Bridges Big LebowskiThe bathing robe that Jeff Bridges – aka the Dude – wears in the “Big Lebowski” was purchased at Marshall’s (a discount chain store).

costume_argoThe real Tony Mendes portrayed in “Argo” kept all his clothes from the ‘70s which he then sent to the costume designers who recreated them faithfully for Ben Affleck.

harvey-milk-sean-penn-in-milkHarvey Milk’s wingtips that he was wearing the day he was murdered were conserved along with his suit (and reproduced for Sean Penn).

indiana-jonesIndiana Jones’ leather jacket was manually distressed the night before shooting commenced by a poor costume designer who spent hours applying Harrison Ford’s Swiss Army knife to the leather.

hedy lamar peacock costumeHedy Lamar’s peacock feathers for a Samson and Delilah’s costume were picked from the director’s very own peacocks (Nelson DeMille).

claudettecleo-1Claudette Colbert refused to wear any of the costumes made for her in “Cleopatra”. At the last minute, Travis Bantin (a famous designer at the time) was called in to start from scratch, which might account for the fact those clothes could not have possibly been conceived in Egyptian times.

still-of-charlton-heston-and-stephen-boyd-in-ben-hur-(1959)-large-pictureTo keep all the actors clothed on the set of “Ben Hur” required 100 people.

boratBorat’s suit came from a tourist shop in Oxford Street, London.

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  1. camparigirl

    A little bit jealous you are going to get to see Gaultier. Would love to see Alexander McQueen most of all.

    October 31, 2014
  2. winston moreton
    winston moreton

    Surprised no-one commented about this well crafted piece. In 2007 at the Ara Pacis Museum in Rome there was a stunning Valentino retrospective which I think other galleries have picked up on. Next month I hope to see the Jean P Gaultier you mention at the Melbourne Art Centre.

    October 30, 2014

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