As the V&A opens Hollywood Costume to the public, Roger Mann and Gary Shelley talk about their role as exhibition designers and what they set out to achieve.

“What we do is tell stories, as exhibition designers that’s our job. We deal with any number of different types of collections of objects, each which have stories. And of course film costumes are heavily connected to stories” says Roger Mann.

“As a film fan you’ll be incredibly passionate about working on a project like Hollywood Costume”, explains Gary Shelley “but as an exhibition designer you have to be passionate about what the public are going to see and also the process of exhibition design, the space it’s going in, the resources given to us, the time we have to build it – all those sorts of practical aspects but still somehow do the subject justice”.

This is nothing like the V&A have ever had, I think”, adds Mann, “as a decorative arts museum they’re used to putting on fantastic shows about beautiful objects that can stand on their own and appreciated for if nothing else their aesthetic qualities and Hollywood Costume is not that. These costumes are not decorative objects and we have to be that much more playful, that much more magical with them, much more engaging, we have to help them come alive. So we use media, projections and a lot of film but also more playful things in this exhibition where we are trying to bring out a fuller range of emotions such as you get when you go to see a movie”.

“So our thinking behind the exhibition design is the ‘behind the scenes’ view, that kind of privileged access that we can give the visitor to the stars of the screen and they’ll be in the same gallery with them” concludes Shelley.

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