Friday, 18 January 2013

V&A Hollywood Costume

Yesterday I finally got around to seeing the V&A Hollywood costume exhibition and I have to admit I was slightly disappointed. Not by the exhibition. It was beautiful. But I think it really proved that these are clothes that are designed to be worn by a particular person for a particular purpose.

The exhibition itself was brilliantly curated (if a tad annoyingly laid out) and really went out of its way to emphasise the role of costume designer, the story, the director and the actor in making a costume happen. Its the first time I've ever really felt that something showed costumes in proper context, and the work and thought that goes into designing and making costumes. The computer graffics, lighting, text and film used all added an extra something to the exhibition. I got that 'finally' feeling of someone explaining to the general public (and also hopefully the directors and producers that went along as well), what a costume designer actually does.

My favourite was a quote from costume designer Ann Roth being interviewed about her work on Closer (its not exactly word for word but you get the gist) 'People always say to me "oh you're a costume designer, what fun!" I've never had fun in my life. Except for Mama Mia'

If there is a single costume that encouraged me to be a costume designer, it was Scarlet O'Haras green velvet 'curtain' dress in Gone With The Wind. It is such a magnificent gown and yet it tells such a story. I was very excited to see the gown up close at the exhibition

While it is a beautiful gown, even taking into account that this has been in storage for the best part of 80 years, it is still lacking something magical. The same with the other exhibitions other majorly  iconic costumes: Dorothy Gales' blue checked pinafore and red shoes, and Marilyn Monroe's Seven Year Itch white dress. Without the actresses in them, and lighting and camera on them, they lose all their magic. And I think if there's one thing to take away from this exhibition, film costumes are never designed to stand alone: actors, makeup, hair, lighting and camera, not to mention the script and director, all play an important part.

A beautiful couture outfit will always be a beautiful couture outfit. This looked amazing on camera and even more amazing up close. For anyone interested in sewing, being able to admire the craftsmanship of a costume like this will always be a pleasure. When watching Titanic I had never noticed the fabulous detail on the bottom with the buttons and the horizontal stripe inset. Film costumes tend to have close ups on the face, and it was interesting how often in the interviews in the exhibition someone would say 'you didn't notice it on camera but...'

The most interesting aspect for me was that when filming Avatar, they realised they needed to get all the costume pieces worn by the CGI characters made before digitising them, so that they could copy the way they looked, moved and reflected light. Even in CGI, costume design and making can be very important.

The latter section did have moving pictures of actors/characters faces above the mannequin, which certainly helped. But while I could appreciate the work that went into the gowns, at the end of the day I just had an overwhelming desire to go and watch a movie. Maybe that was the point of the exhibition after all?

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