A Costume Exhibit Like No Other

AMPAS Costume Exhibit-Dec-2014What, you still haven’t seen the Academy’s Hollywood Costume
exhibit? If you live in Los Angeles, or plan to be here sometime before March, consider
it a “must.” Curator Deborah Nadoolman Landis and her colleagues have put
together one of the most imaginative, rewarding experiences any movie buff
could imagine. This elaborate show breaks new ground, with a three-act through-line
to follow, custom-designed (and posed) mannequins measured to the original
actors’ measurements, and even a specially commissioned music score (by Julian
Scott). I’ve never seen anything quite like it.

Django Unchained-325

Well-written signposts lead you into each part of the
exhibit and place the costumes into historical and creative context. For the
casual observer it’s fun to see touchstones of movie history—no matter what era
you relate to—from Charlie Chaplin’s Little Tramp ensemble to Jamie Foxx’s
western garb from Django Unchained.
Characters spring to life, from Eliza Dolittle’s flower-girl in My Fair Lady to Darth Vader in Star Wars, merely from seeing their
clothing displayed in a familiar pose. And, of course, there are those ruby
slippers Dorothy wore in The Wizard of Oz.

For the more curious museumgoer or dedicated movie buff
there is much to learn, and it requires at least several hours to take it all
in: how designers devised and executed their ideas, what factors went into the
creation of a now-famous wardrobe, how costume designers collaborate with
actors and directors, and much, much more. In fact, the Academy show (which debuted at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London)
represents the cutting edge of multimedia exhibition techniques, using video
screens and animation to bring it to life. Seeing and hearing designers, directors,
and movie stars discuss their work—with examples right in front of you—is
positively exhilarating.

Costume Exhibit-Meryl Streep-

It’s one thing to see a selection of costumes Meryl Streep
wore in a handful of famous movies; it’s quite another to watch the celebrated
actress talk about what each one meant to her. In a section on collaborations,
Tim Burton and Colleen Atwood, Martin Scorsese and Sandy Powell, and other
longtime teammates discuss their work together—ping-ponging back and forth from
one video screen to another, as if they were sitting in the room having a live

Jeff Bridges Costumes-Big Lebowski

Landis—whose lifetime claim to fame is her design of Indiana
Jones’ iconic outfit in Raiders of the
Lost Ark
—created this exhibit with Sir Christopher Frayling, Professor
Emeritus of Cultural History, Royal College of Art (and an eloquent film
historian) and set and costume designer (and V&A Assistant Curator) Keith
Lodwick. It includes 150 notable costumes representing the work of 80 designers,
from the silent film era right up through The
Hunger Games
, and offers 40 new pieces that weren’t seen in London. The presenting
sponsor for the show is Swarovski, whose crystals brightened those famous ruby
slippers 75 years ago.

I can’t imagine the effort that went into every element of
this endeavor. For instance, according to the Academy press notes, every pair
of shoes worn by a mannequin is a replica of the original pair worn by a movie
character. Because the mannequin’s shoes had to be drilled to be secured onto
the base, the replicas were either purchased or custom-made, then painted,
dyed, and aged to match reference screen captures from the film.

The display is housed in the May Company building that will
eventually be the home of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences’
museum, with a giant Oscar statue alongside the entrance.  To reach it, you park as you would to visit
LACMA and traverse an outdoor walkway to the magical environment just inside
the doorway. If you can’t get to see the show in person, Deborah Landis’ lavish
coffee-table book Hollywood Costume
serves as an exhibition catalog and permanent record.

Still not convinced? Check out this trailer:

And for
more information, click

For the record, Deborah Landis asked me to acknowledge some of her key collaborators on this project, which I’m happy to do.

Designer: Roger Mann, Casson-Mann

Animators: Squint/Opera

Editorial: Picture Production Company

Graphics: Bibliotheque

Composer: Julian Scott

Subscribe to our newsletter


Maltin tee on TeePublic


Maltin on Movies podcast


Past podcasts


Maltin On Movies Patreon


Leonard Maltin appearances and booking


June 2024