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Victoria and Albert Museum to Examine Costume Design

The London institution aims to bring the behind-the-scenes craft to life this fall with “Hollywood Costume," which bows Oct. 20.

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A dress from "Elizabeth: The Golden Age," 2007, designed by Alexandra Bryne.

Photo By Universal/Working Title/The Kobal Collection/Greg Williams

A look from "Titanic," 1997.

Photo By 20th Century Fox/Paramount/The Kobal Collection

NEW YORK — For many moviegoers, costume design is merely a credit that rolls at the end of a film, but the Victoria and Albert Museum in London aims to bring that behind-the-scenes craft to life this fall with “Hollywood Costume.”

Set to bow Oct. 20, the three-gallery show will spotlight more than 100 iconic costumes, from Charlie Chaplin’s silent films to this year’s sci-fi thriller “John Carter.” Rarely seen pieces — such as Adrian’s blue and white gingham pinafore for Judy Garland in “The Wizard of Oz” and the green “curtain” dress Vivien Leigh wore in “Gone With the Wind” — will be displayed, as well as the Givenchy black dress Audrey Hepburn immortalized in “Breakfast at Tiffany’s.”

Rather than display a bevy of costumes on mannequins, the V&A will use film clips, montages and projection to place the clothes in their original context. Interviews with leading Hollywood designers, directors and actors such as Alfred Hitchcock, Edith Head, Martin Scorsese and Sandy Powell will provide further insight. Robert De Niro and Meryl Streep will explain the role costume plays in creating a character.

To spread the word about the upcoming Harry Winston-sponsored exhibition, senior guest curator Deborah Nadoolman Landis talked shop Monday with Academy Award-winning costume designer Ann Roth at the Film Society at Lincoln Center here. Landis, a former costume designer who now heads up UCLA’s David C. Copley Center for Costume Design, said, “Our directors depend on us to create these characters. I hate to say this but we are really looking for truth in that character.”

Roth, whose portfolio includes “The Talented Mr. Ripley,” “Midnight Cowboy” and Mike Nichols’ current Broadway production of “Death of a Salesman,” admitted she is more comfortable working with actors who are interested in developing characters than “movie stars” who drop such gems as “I don’t wear yellow.”

“Meryl [Streep] is of course perfection. We can stand in a fitting room and by an hour into it, there are 14 half pairs of earrings, waist-cinchers, shoes with heels, shoes without heels, telephone books to put on the heels, dressmakers, someone to take notes, a hairdresser. It’s sweaty and tiresome. There’s a three-way mirror that she’s looking into,” she said.

Through trial and error, and much discussion, Roth said, “The character happens and there’s no controlling it. Once that happens you know what to do.”

Afterwards, Roth said before starting a project, she does the research, the drawings and always has a vision of the characters she is working on. Some directors, particularly those who first worked in commercials and music videos, are often intimidated by highly trained costume designers who can put together an 18th century bodice, and are more inclined to go with ones who will gather costumes from Century 21 and other stores, she said. “There are some people who will go into a store and say, ‘What do you think she should wear? Oh that’s nice.’ That’s not what I do,” Roth said, going on to add, “I don’t know a stylist personally. I’m sure they’re trained. I don’t know in what.”

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