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The exhibition includes the costume worn by Audrey Hepburn as Eliza Doolittle in "My Fair Lady."
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Brad Pitt's Tyler Durden ensemble from "Fight Club."
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Ginger Rogers' "Lady in the Dark" dress is made of tulle, sequins and mink.
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Kate Winslet wore this as Rose boarding the Titanic.
For as long as I can remember, I have been interested and borderline obsessed with all facets of the cinema. From the actors who take on the roles of some of my favorite characters to the composition of the shot in the frame, I love it all. Before figuring out that art school wasn’t for me, I had aspired to work as a cinematographer and screenwriter for Hollywood pictures. As time passed, the insatiable desire to work in film waned ever so slightly, but that passion for movies and the process that goes into crafting these works of art never disappeared.
Upon hearing the news that the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts would be receiving a collection of costumes from some of my favorite films, not to mention some of the most iconic films in the almost 100 years of movie making, I was ecstatic. Even better than the news that this exhibit would be within a three-block walk was the prospect of getting to see the full collection during a media preview this week.
During his introduction of the exhibit yesterday, VMFA Director Alex Nyerges compared the "Hollywood Costume" exhibit in Richmond with the original version that appeared in London at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London to two cars: a Yugo and a Maserati.
“We are not the Yugo,” Nyerges told the audience gathered in the main hall.
Robin Nicholson, the museum’s project director, says that bringing the show to Richmond involved shipping some of the costumes on their mannequins from Australia by boat. Getting the rights to display them also presented challenges.
Doug Fisher, the museum’s director of exhibition design, says that "Hollywood Costume’s" placement in the galleries is meant to give an open-air quality to the collection. The way that the pieces are spread out serves as an explanation of film and how costume has progressed with the times. (Nyerges noted that Fisher has previous experience with Hollywood costumes, having worked with Debbie Reynolds’ collection, which was auctioned off in 2011. Fisher says that VMFA’s exhibit includes some costumes from that collection. One is Marilyn Monroe’s ivory rayon crepe dress that was famously blown by a gust from the subway in The Seven Year Itch — purchased at auction for a final price of $5.6 million.)
As the crowd of media reps walked toward the steps leading to the exhibit, my anticipation grew and I knew that this was going to be something special. Walking past the main entrance and around the first corner, you may catch a glimpse of a costume, but you’ll notice the wall is gray and has slats that were not there before. A red light is illuminated, and underneath, signs say “Quiet when filming” and “Soundstage A.”
Past the walkway, you’re greeted almost immediately by costumes that belonged on characters and actors we love: Matt Damon’s Bourne Ultimatum outfit, Beyoncé’s Dreamgirls dress, and Brad Pitt and Edward Norton’s classic costumes from Chuck Palahniuk’s adapted novel, Fight Club.
These pieces that you see up front are only a fraction of the artistry and craftsmanship that is to follow. Each new showcase has a theme — “History in Hollywood,” “Action and Suspense,” and “Femme Fatales” to name a few — and within each stretch of display, the costumes proved to be more fantastic than the last. One worth noting is the sequin, tulle and mink ensemble Ginger Rogers wore in the 1944 film Lady in the Dark — it was made for the then-astronomical sum of $35,000. There’s also the “Paris hat” presented by Clark Gable’s Rhett to Vivian Leigh’s Scarlett in Gone with the Wind in 1939 and the wedding dress that Vanessa Redgrave-as Guinevere wore in the 1967 Camelot — made of wool and silk, decorated with sea shells and pumpkin seeds.
Meticulously crafted dresses from the 1930s look like they haven’t aged, and fabrics still shine years since the actor has worn them. The exhibit truly makes you stop in your tracks and contemplate the gaze at each costume in wonder. I felt like I was seeing my favorite films brought to life.
Some of the most meaningful for me were costumes from films that I grew up with: Rose and Jack’s outfits from Titanic, Keira Knightley’s exquisite green dress from 2007’s Atonement, Audrey Hepburn and Rex Harrison’s costumes from their first appearance on-screen in My Fair Lady, and of course, Daniel Radcliffe’s first set of Hogwarts robes from Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.
Another feature to the exhibit that had not been incorporated in previous installments is an interactive element that is located through the first main hall. Projected onto a table from the ceiling are elements of the costume design and filmmaking process, and along with that, there are video interviews with actors, directors and costume designers. With Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds, actress Tippi Hedren and designer Edith Head take turns speaking. Near the table is Hedren’s green suit that's seen through much of the picture. Other films that are highlighted this way are Scorsese’s Gangs of New York and Tim Burton’s Sweeney Todd.
The VMFA’s exploration of cinematic art through costume design is bound to be one that Richmonders remember. Be sure to catch the exhibition, which runs Nov. 9 through Feb. 17. Tickets are $20; $16 for seniors 65 and older, and adult groups of 10 or more; and $10 for students with IDs and youth ages 7 to 17.