Hollywood Costume, V&A

The Hollywood Costume signs have adorned the streets of South Kensington for a few months now. Every time I walked past I felt pangs of pain that I was not one of the many Londoners who had seen John Travolta’s white Saturday Night Fever suit in the flesh, stared adoringly at Dorothy’s ruby red slippers and witnessed the outfits of our best loved superheroes: Spiderman, Batman and Catwoman.

Turning up for my slot on a Thursday morning, I assumed the exhibition would be quiet, aside from a few tourists yet to return home after the Christmas break. I could not have been more wrong, the place was heaving, crowds of queuing fans, each desperate to get a glimpse of their favourite character’s costume. Overwhelmed by the excitement and stifling lack of space, I decided my visit would have to be brief.

The exhibition explores the central role of costume design – from sensitive and subtle to extravagant and glamorous. In this grand show there are over 130 iconic costumes, each designed for unforgettable cinema characters over a century of film-making. There are three galleries to enjoy:

Deconstruction: The exhibition starts with an introduction to the role of the costume designer in cinema. By illustrating the link between clothing and identity, the viewer can begin to understand how designers create a character though costume.

Dialoque: This room examines the relationship between filmmaker or actor and the costume designer, and how they work closely together to create a character visually. The Dialogue section includes two close case-studies of Robert De Niro and Meryl Streep who discuss the importance of costume and how crucial it is in developing a character.

Finale: The sparkling final room concludes the exhibition with some of Hollywood’s most memorable moments, presenting the best known costumes from cinema history.

For me it was lovely to see the early outfits that hark back to stars of the past: suits from Charlie Chaplin’s silent pictures and Holly Golightly’s little black dress worn by Audrey Hepburn in ‘Breakfast at Tiffany’s’. As well as exhibiting the clothes beautifully, and often props too, the V&A manages to outline a brief narrative for each costume… explaining the important features and giving some context.

I loved the whole exhibition but it is the final room that really thrills… seeing these magnificent, famous costumes in the flesh, which provide such an important role in preserving the memory of a character, it is easy to dream of your favourite film star standing before you in the flesh.

Continues until 27 January 2013.

More information and booking here.


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