Hollywood Costume, Victoria & Albert Museum

-This exhibition is now closed-

The Hollywood Costume exhibition at the Victoria & Albert Museum is one of the best and most surprising exhibitions I have visited lately.

My expectations for Hollywood Costume were not especially high after visiting the V&A’s Ballgowns exhibition earlier in the year. Beautiful though the newly renovated fashion gallery and dresses are, I found the ballgowns difficult to appreciate in isolation.

Hollywood Costume has no such problem. Curator Deborah Nadoolman Landis and her colleagues have done a spectacular job of bringing to life the excitement and romance of cinema through the costumes on show. Staged in what Nadoolman Landis has called a ‘three-act structure’, Hollywood Costume introduces visitors to the design process from screenplay to development, followed by a celebration of some of the most iconic costumes in film history.

Despite the inevitable difficulties of gathering costumes which, over the years, have been sold to various international collectors or even re-purposed, Hollywood Costume features an exceptional range of the most famous costumes ever seen on screen. Some of my favourites were Charlie Chaplin’s outfit from The Tramp, Judy Garland’s frock and ruby slippers from The Wizard of Oz, Michelle Pfeiffer’s Catwoman and (I cannot deny) Reese Witherspoon’s Jackie Kennedy-inspired suit from Legally Blonde 2: Red, White and Blonde. Virtually no period of the past 100 years of cinema has been neglected.

While she was developing Hollywood Costume, Nadoolman Landis’s contemporaries reportedly feared that a museum exhibition would diminish the beloved costumes to ‘dead frocks on dummies’ outside the context of the cinema. On the contrary, this exhibition fully exploits the magic and charm of its exhibits as essential and powerful tools of story-telling. Through lighting, music, graphics and interviews with designers, directors and actors, the exhibition uses the finest Hollywood tricks to show costuming as a vital part of movie-making.

Having the opportunity to see costumes from some of the most popular and best-loved stories of the past century was more moving than I would have thought. With cinematic flair, this exhibition shows some of most recognisable and potent icons of contemporary popular culture, created with considerable hard work and creative skill.

Hollywood Costume runs until 27 January. The exhibition has been very popular and advance booking is currently essential.

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