Heads Up: Hollywood Costume

Costume drama - why we're all off to see the gingham

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The Independent Culture

What are we talking about? A new exhibition at the Victoria & Albert Museum showcasing classic costumes from the Golden Age of cinema right through to the present day.

Elevator pitch More than just a pretty dress: the craft of costume design gets ready for its close-up.

Prime movers Deborah Nadoolman Landis is guest curator; a costume designer herself, she was responsible for the outfits in Raiders of the Lost Ark, The Blues Brothers, and Michael Jackson’s Thriller video. Also curating is former Arts Council chairman and cultural critic Sir Christopher Frayling, and V&A assistant curator Keith Lodwick.

The stars The frocks and superhero suits: drool over the gowns worn by Vivien Leigh in Gone with the Wind or Keira Knightley in Atonement; spot the blue ginghams of Judy Garland in The Wizard of Oz or Joan Crawford’s waitress uniform in Mildred Pierce; get hi-tech with motion-capture costume designs for Avatar and the latest Batman suit from The Dark Knight Rises; or just rest your eyes on a classic, like Audrey Hepburn’s little black Breakfast at Tiffany’s dress and Marilyn Monroe’s white gown from Some Like it Hot.

The early buzz The Daily Mail wrote: “Women still hanker after the simple black dress worn by Audrey Hepburn as Holly Golightly in the 1961 film Breakfast at Tiffany’s. And millions of other ensembles seen on the big screen continue to influence fashion.

"Now recognising the power of the Hollywood costume, a major exhibition will showcase more than a hundred of the most memorable wares for the first time.” But it’s not just for girls going gaga over gowns; men’s mag GQ is also excited: “Bond without his Tom Ford tux, Indiana Jones forgetting his fedora or the Dark Knight sans cowl – screen icons are nothing without their outfits.”

Insider knowledge It took five years of research – and hunting down rare costumes – to get the show ready.

It’s great that… the curators have an explicit, and worthy, agenda: to show costume design as a craft, and an integral, crucial element of the whole art of film-making – not just the flying in of a fancy, fashionable frock.

It’s a shame that… er, a lot of visitors will just be there for the fancy frocks.

Hit potential Sure to be a hit: there’s film, fashion, nostalgia, celebrity… it’s a potent, populist mix.

The details Hollywood Costume is at the V&A, London SW7 (vam.ac.uk), 20 Oct to 27 Jan