Exhibition Review: Hollywood Costume @ V&A

on Sunday, January 20, 2013
Hollywood Costume exhibition at Victoria & Albert Museum, London // Words: Saam Das

The Victoria & Albert Museum in London proclaims itself to be "the world's greatest museum of art and design". Quite frankly, that's a little pompous for my tastes but their excellent ongoing Hollywood Costume exhibition lends some credence to that tag. Aptly portraying costume design as an integral part of the filmmaking process, its popularity has undoubtedly been driven by its fantastic array of movie costumes - including Dorothy from 'The Wizard Of Oz' to Spider-Man, by way of Darth Vader.

Wandering along to the exhibition, I was greeted by a particularly cheery young lady, setting the pleasant tone for what followed. Entering the exhibition, visitors are first presented with a short montage of clips across the history of Western film - something of a greatest hits package of costumes, emboldened by a rousing orchestral soundtrack. A striking opening, which immediately brought a smile to my face.

The exhibition follows a three act/scene narrative, opening with the role costume design plays in creating and understanding characters. Highlights from this section include an in-depth look at Harrison Ford's 'Raiders Of The Lost Ark' costume and a similar featurette on 'Fight Club' - although the latter contains heavy spoilers for the film!

The second part of the Hollywood Costume exhibition focusses on the creative process and the pivotal dialogue that goes on between actors, directors and costume designers. Featuring the likes of Edith Head and Tippi Hedron (concerning their collaboration with Alfred Hitchock on 'The Birds') as well as bringing together two of Hollywood's most celebrated actors, Robert De Niro and Meryl Streep, in a combined case study-meets-interview.

The final section packs in the costumes in a machine-gun approach, with iconic costume after iconic costume lined up one after the other. From Marlene Dietrich's top hat and tails in 1930's 'Morocco' all the way to recent superhero films of today, including Batman's costume from 'The Dark Knight Rises'. Compared to the depth and insight of the previous sections, this finale feels a little bit of a letdown but nonetheless, offers plenty of variety to accommodate film fans of any age.

Costume design is a vital component in bringing characters to life on screen and the Hollywood Costume exhibition delivers its message in suitably grand style. Unfortunately, the popularity of the exhibition means that your visit will almost certainly involve being trampled by fellow visitors, often without even a hint of apology. Aside from those unsavoury moments, the Hollywood Costume exhibition at the V&A is superb and an absolute must-see for movie fans and budding costume designers alike.


The Hollywood Costume exhibition at V&A closes on 27th Jan '12. Limited tickets are available each day. Find more info at Vam.ac.uk.

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