The Guardian’s fashion editor Jess Cartner–Morley‘s insightful review of Hollywood Costume describes how the show and Casson Mann‘s exhibition design, including creative curation, media and choreography, affirms Deborah Nadoolman Landis‘ assertion that this exhibition is “about film, not fashion” and tells the story of how costume design and the creative process creates authentic characters.
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[…] When complete, the exhibition – like the films it celebrates – will take visitors on a journey, accompanied by music from composer Julian Scott, who has written a score for the exhibition “as if it were a film”, says Landis.
Film clips, animated interviews, moving moodboards and key moments from screenplays are used to tease out the different elements of the costume design process. An unremarkable-looking outfit worn by Matt Damon as Jason Bourne is displayed next to a montage of clips which demonstrate how Bourne’s grey-brown colour palette forces the viewer to work hard to spot the protagonist in crowd scenes. The nondescript appearance of his clothes is used to engage the audience in keeping up with the narrative.
A digital moodboard in front of the Ocean’s Eleven costumes walks the viewer through the thought processes by which designer Jeffrey Kurland figured out the puzzle of how to dress a cast of male characters that both enhanced their individual characterisation and made a coherent visual message when together.
Actors Meryl Streep and Robert De Niro are brought to life in an animated “conversation” about their costumes, in which Streep reveals that while filming The Iron Lady she insisted on having in her handbag the contents she felt Thatcher would have had.
The subtleties and contradictions of period costume are also explored. A lineup of on-screen Queen Elizabeths, including the dresses worn by Bette Davis, Judi Dench and Cate Blanchett, exposes how each film reimagines the Virgin Queen even while espousing historical accuracy.
The famous green gown worn by Keira Knightley as Cecilia Tallis in Atonement, a film set in 1935, is displayed alongside a sequinned gold dress worn by Carole Lombard in the 1936 classic My Man Godfrey, showing how costume designer Jacqueline Durran updated the glamour of that decade to enhance it in the eyes of a contemporary audience. Instead of traditional beading, Durran uses contemporary laser-cutting to decorate the bodice of her gown.
The grand finale of the exhibition is a blockbusting lineup of cinematic legends, to which every major Hollywood studio and private collector has contributed a loan.
This “embarrassment of riches”, as Landis calls it, is organised not by decade or gender but by the cinematic system of heroes and villains. So Javier Bardem’s chilling character from No Country for Old Men is next to Dracula, while James Bond and Hans Solo are alongside Harry Potter.
At the heart of this show is a passionate belief in the humanity of film-making. Harrison Ford once said that “the role of an actor is to serve as a mirror. My job is not to show you that the character and I have something in common. My job is to show you that you and the character – even one who may seem a little crazy – have something in common.”
The crucial role of the costume designer in this process is the theme of a very absorbing exhibition. “Costume design is about soul, not surface. We wanted to have lots to look at, and even more think about,” says Landis. “I think there’s plenty to chew on.”