Hundreds of costumes are lighting up the caverns of the Victoria and Albert Museum over Christmas at Hollywood Costume. With such a glittering array of stars and incredible costumes on offer, does the show manage to live up to its illustrious content? Is its current popularity a barometer for the state of Londoners in the festive season? Albert investigates.
Out of the darkness looms a giant projected screen playing a montage of Hollywood’s finest: Audrey Hepburn extends an elegant cigarette in Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961), Tippi Hedren is seen running in fear from Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds (1963), Arnold Schwarzenegger utters those immortal lines, “I’ll be back”. Each space is innovatively arranged and every garment is brought to life with a plasma-screen rendering of its respective star’s face sitting atop the mannequin and observing its viewers. This exhibition has been extraordinarily popular, selling out for the first couple of weeks before it even opened; a testament to the attraction of celebrities and the powerful work that costumiers continue to do within Hollywood, creating the look of icons. It is reassuring then to see that the curators, with Hollywood costume designer Professor Deborah Nadoolman Landis at the head of the team, have placed the makers at the centre of the show. Where each area is another salute to the army of designers and craftsmen who put them together, information on the staff is displayed across video documentaries and interviews with the stars who interacted with the costumes.
In the current economic climate, such a glittering presentation of the glamour of Hollywood might have been off-putting for exhibition goers, but it seems to have had the opposite effect. If the crowds flocking to the V&A tell us anything, it’s that people value their icons. One can’t deny the power of other-worldy escape in Dorothy’s ruby slippers, or the genuinely moving sight of Charlie Chaplin’s first suit. The whole of London is lit up with sparkling lights, the high street experiencing a sale boom this Christmas and I’m not talking records sales detailed at luxury department store Fortnum & Mason last Saturday, the highest in its 305-year history. People are out for a taste of glamour and the V&A is giving it to them.
Hollywood Costume runs at The Victoria and Albert Museum from 20 October 2012 – 27 January 2013. Tickets can be booked online.
Header Image: Hollywood Costume sponsored by Harry Winston, 2012 © V&A images.