Hollywood Costume – Glamour at ACMI Direct from V & A London

The Australian Centre for the Moving Image (ACMI) at Melbourne has a blockbuster glamorous Winter Masterpiece show direct from the Victoria and Albert Museum (V & A) at London commencing on April 24. Hollywood Costume the exhibition will bring together over one hundred of the most iconic outfits yet designed for cinema characters over a century of film-making from the Wizard of Oz to Avatar. There are 19 Academy Award Best Costume designs in the show, including one from the movie Anna Karenina, 2012.

The show will be curated by eminent Hollywood costume designer, writer and academic Deborah Nadoolman Landis, an Academy Award® nominee whose design credits include Animal House (1978), Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981), Michael Jackson’s Thriller (1983), and Coming to America (1988), for which she was nominated for an Oscar. Deborah’s designs for Dan Aykroyd and John Belushi as the title characters in The Blues Brothers (1980) will be on show in Hollywood Costume. A program of public events, talks, tours and film screenings designed for all ages accompanies the exhibition.

Holly Golightly’s black frock she wore while she had Breakfast at Tiffany’s outside its New York’s windows in 1961, came complete with the most stunning array of pearls that showcased her, and the dresses beautiful back. Actor and humanitarian Audrey Hepburn (1929-1993), for any designer of costume, was a fashion peg par excellence.

Her gamin face, her unique look and slender frame, not happily caused by starvation as a teenager during World War II, was entirely captivating.

This has to be one of the most iconic of all the fabulous frocks that designer Hubert De Givenchy ever made for much loved star Audrey Hepburn, along with perhaps the black lace dress and lace mask he also designed, and she wore to the Hotel Ritz bar in her the Cellini romp of the century with Peter O’Toole, How to Steal a Million.

The little black dress itself was a statement about survival; about style and about how, no matter how poor you are, that if you aspire to greater heights in life, there is a good chance that you might attain them.

Standing in front of the iconic jewellery store eating her croissant and drinking her coffee, Hepburn inspired a whole new generation of people to try harder than ever before.

The Hollywood Costume show is sure to prove popular in Melbourne, which sees itself as the home of fashion in Australia. The show has had a long, distinguished and charismatic evolution in helping its audience to build our view of, and about a character, as well as aid the art of storytelling.

This show will feature costumes from nearly a century of Hollywood film making. It will also provide a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for people to see some of the costumes worn by favourite unforgettable and most beloved characters of the cinema.

They include Dorothy Gale (Wizard of Oz), Scarlett O’Hara (Gone with the Wind), Captain Jack Sparrow (Pirates of the Caribbean), Holly Golightly (Breakfast at Tiffany’s), Indiana Jones (Indiana Jones and his Adventures in Archaeology) and not forgetting Jake and Neytiri from the ground-breaking movie Avatar, which challenged the way costumes will be produced in the future.

To start any process in developing a design for a ballgown or an iconic Hollywood Costume, the designer commences the process by researching the era in which the movie is set, the role of the character and the image the movie makers want to project.

The actors personality is also taken into account, as well as their presence and how the role they are playing can be transformed from fantasy to reality through the textiles and the threads of our society.

Dorothy in her blue and white gingham pinafore dress, designed by Adrian featured in The Wizard of Oz in 1939 tells the story of a young girl on an extraordinary adventure with her dog Toto in a magical world.

The Gingham they decide to dress her in is all about simplicity, its repetitive pattern in one colour tells us that Dorothy is a country girl, who enjoys the comforts of home and familiar friends.

She suddenly and dramatically has to adjust to abrupt change when her house is spun around in a tornado and she lands unexpectedly in the world of Oz, where tin men, talking lions and walking straw scarecrows teach her all about life.

By choosing gingham, among all the other wonderful textures and textiles used in the film, Dorothy quite simply stands out.

But then there was those wonderful red sequined shoes. They revealed that perhaps way off in Dorothy’s future there would be a chance for her to become glamorous as well. Everyone at the time wanted a pair, so they could click their heels twice and be transported into a land like Oz.

When Julie Andrews pulled down the curtains in the Sound of Music to make play clothes for the Captain’s children, it is a scene that had already been played out in a Hollywood movie a long time before.

Scarlett O’Hara’s green velvet ‘curtain dress’ designed by Walter Plunkett for Gone with the Wind, also from 1939, tells us a great deal about Scarlett and her strength of will to survive the American Civil War.

Supposed to have been made from the faded draperies in her house, the moss green velvet opened up to reveal a ‘chartreuse’ velvet underskirt, red being the colour of rebellion.

The drapery cords arranged with such panache added a unique touch.

It reflects that the girl wearing this extraordinary outfit is indeed very confident, sure of her own worth and a woman of all time. She is ready to do whatever it takes to save her beloved home of ‘Tara’ in the Southern states during the civil war in America.

This included walking into a den of enemies to seduce the man she believes can help her, Rhett Butler.

Velvet is all about luxury, wealth and power and by tearing down the curtains and dressing for success, Scarlett ultimately achieves her goal.

Harrison Ford as Indiana Jones in 'Raiders of the Lost Ark', 1981, costume designed by Deborah Nadoolman. Lucasfilm/Paramount/The Kobal Collection courtesy V & A Museum at London

Dressing to look successful was an important concept of the contemporary world actress Vivian Leigh lived in, and at a time when World War II was already happening over in Europe.

Dressing in ‘costume’ appropriately for success helped many brave men, who parachuted behind enemy lines kitted out to either blend in with the local populace, or to portray a German officer.

Many of them brazenly marched into enemy headquarters and pull off amazing feats of bravery, proving that people’s perceptions will take you most of the way there.

Australia’s own war heroine Nancy Wake used to parachute into France with her very high stiletto heels in tow.

That way if enemy soldiers encountered her stumbling along a cobbled lane wearing them, they wouldn’t dream for a minute she had only just arrived, albeit unconventionally by air.

While occasionally having to dress up in frocks to get a laugh boys obtain the best reaction when they project a perception of power and influence, or look decidedly dashing and romantic.

In 1981 Designer Deborah Nadoolman put actor Harrison Ford as Indiana Jones firmly on everyone’s front page. She indelibly etched in the mind of generations of adults and children, that what they really wanted to do was have an adventurous life like Indiana, even if he was named after a dog!

He was the smart ‘cool’ college professor by day, whose students all adored him, dressed in his three piece buttoned high tweed.

The fact that he turned into a wise-cracking swaggering adventurer in comfy baggy trousers, bruised leather jacket and carrying a great long whip, a great leather suitcase and wearing a battered hat during his university holiday breaks, was in itself a remnant of most of their adult’s parent’s age.

He uniquely sold his superman status, however instead of tearing off his conservative glasses and suit to reveal a flashy colourful costume underneath, Indiana’s remarkable change took everyone back to an age before World War II when archaeologists had ruled supreme.

They projected a romantic view about the dangers involved in uncovering the long lost relics of another civilisation.

It might have helped that he had gained a legion of followers in ‘Star Wars’ as the handsome Hans Solo. As Indiana though, Harrison Ford was the naughty knight in shining armour that every woman around the world wanted to run off into the sunset with.

The Blues Brothers (1980) burst onto our movie screens at the cutting edge of cool, and in the process became a cult classic.

The suits they wore with their three button style, button-down collared white shirts, narrow black ties all topped with a black fedora hat and dark Ray-Ban Wayfarer sunglasses, made up a ‘sixties chic’ look, with sideburns the ultimate accessory.

They became musical and cinematic icons and an important part of American popular culture

Kate Winslett as Rose DeWitt in 'Titanic', 1997, costume designed by Deborah L. Scott. 20th Century Fox/Paramount/The Kobal Collection courtesy V & A Museum at London

Kate Winslett, dressed by Deborah L Scott as Rose deWitt in the film Titanic in 1997, convinced us that she was indeed one classy twentieth century lady.

Scott in interviews about the process she employed, revealed that she visited the Victoria and Albert Museum, which has a large antique apparel collection.

Because the real Titanic included passengers from every social class, Scott also dipped into the Ellis Island archives for visual tips on what people in steerage wore.

“You also have to study manners, the social conventions of the times,” says Scott. “For ‘Titanic’ I studied etiquette, to find out what people wore for certain events.”

The actual costumes came from a variety of sources: some were rented, some created from scratch, others purchased through a network of vintage clothing outlets that Scott cultivated during her years in the business.

Johnny Depp as Jack Sparrow in 'Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End', 2007, costume designed by Penny Rose. Walt Disney Pictures/The Kobal Collection courtesy V & A Museum at London

Elegant life demanded style, expensive, artificial, cultivated by the distinguished woman, whether aristocratic or middle class and Kate as Rose deWitt was captivating in her striped elegant boarding the boat suit.

It heralded the fact that she was a woman for the new century, wearing her man’s collar and tie, with one of the biggest, most feminine hats possible, adorned with a giant bow.

Jack Sparrow in the “Pirates of the Caribbean” movies is a pretty unique character, as is the actor who plays him Johnny Depp.

This series of swashbuckling adventures have been a great success with both parents and children alike, who all respond to his quirky charismatic look and behaviour.

Said to have been inspired by Rolling Stone bad boy Keith Richards, with his designer dreadlock braids, trademark headscarf and brilliant make up, designer Penny Rose has made Jack a ‘cool’ new age style of laid-back hero, who appeals to people across all cultures and generations.

The actor and the costume designer have a very good rapport. In conversations they decided that Jack has had a few ladies in his day, sometimes very rich, sometimes widowed, sometimes with husbands far away.

It was Rose who initially gave Depp a wide selection of pirate hats. He went through them all, tried them on and picked the only one that he felt gave him just the right rock ‘n’ roll pirate swagger.

Rose then had a dozen made up just like it. Now Depp’s young fans around the world are wearing them.

Costume is all about who we are, where we have been and where we are going. It has become impossible for us to make a distinction today between styles that will last, trends that will grow and the passing fancies of a season.

“On every film, I think the clothes are half the battle in creating the character. I have a great deal of opinion about how my people are presented. We show a great deal by what we put on our bodies”said Hollywood actress Meryl Streep.

She completely owning the persona, when wearing Consolata Boyle’s costumes in 2011 as The Iron Lady, the first woman Prime Minister in history. They interpreted the glamorous, although conservative ‘look’ renowned politician Maggie Thatcher (1925-2013) brought to the British parliament.

The makeup provided helped to age Meryl superbly from the time when people used ‘to do something’ for Queen and country as Maggie noted as she reflected on the fact that today they are all striving to ‘be someone’. Neither too glamorous, nor too plain, all Maggie’s outfits, whether frocks or the trademark suits she became renowned for, were cut precisely and subtly to project that while she was a woman not to be trifled with, she was not really one of the boys that she was surrounded by all of her life.

The sweetheart neckline of her black ensemble worn with a fabulous set of  her legendary pearls, as she held an official dinner at Paris, provided just the right amount of femininity to hopefully woo the men she was meeting with into supporting her views.

While she may have failed in that endeavour the frock only went to prove that costume is also about the highest echelons of power and how it is perceived.

Lindy Hemming’s Bat Suit for Christian Bale in The Dark Knight Rises (2012) there is no doubt, enhances the dark nature of the leading man’s character and provides us with an insight into the depth of his darkness and the soul he is hiding.

If good is to come out of evil, then we are made to believe via his costume that this ‘dark knight’ is the one who can, and will eventually succeed, where so many others have failed.

In this film publicity image released by 20th Century Fox, the character Neytiri, voiced by Zoe Saldana, and the character Jake, voiced by Sam Worthington are shown in a scene from, "Avatar." (AP Photo/20th Century Fox)

Action, fantasy, sci-fi and superhero characters are providing a whole new way of generating costume changes in movies now and in the future.

Transforming the character from the written page to being a multi-dimensional entity, such as the new age couple Neytiri and Jake Avatar costume design ensured a whole new ballgame at the movies.

Their cutting-edge costume is a collaboration between the costume designer and a creative graphic team.

They have changed forever the face of how costume will be displayed in many movies of the future.

The ‘blue’ costumes the actors inhabit are not real, but generated through computer modeling, cleverly constructed following set patterns provided by marked points all over the actor’s body, and then detailed scene by scene.

It’s long, laborious and costly, so it will be interesting to see how it progresses as computer wizardry continues to aspire to all new levels of genius.

There is no doubt that characters from the movies generate and inspire fashionable change world wide, ignited by imagination which, as Einstein once said, is more important than knowledge.

Designers not only have the ability to influence both fashion trends and global culture, but also they can massively boost a countries economy on a scale never seen before through ongoing merchandising.

Costume is an important footnote to culture, and today remains both a changing and eternal form of human expression.

Carolyn McDowall, The Culture Concept Circle 2013

ACMI is a unique institution at the heart of Melbourne’s iconic meeting place, Federation Square. It celebrates, explores and promotes the cultural and creative richness of the moving image in all its forms – film, television and digital culture, providing diverse audiences with unsurpassed ways to engage with the moving image.

Australian Centre for the Moving Image presents


A Melbourne Winter Masterpieces Exhibition

24th April – 18th August 2013
Federation Square, Melbourne


Using montages, film clips and sophisticated 3D projections, costumes are contextualised with their original films, while interviews with key Hollywood costume designers, directors and actors deepen the investigation. Five years in the making, Hollywood Costume is the most comprehensive exhibition about costume design ever created.


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