‘Hollywood Costume’ on display at VMFA

Organized by the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, the exhibit features costumes from beloved Hollywood films, such as “Superman” and “Flash Gordon.”

Inga Schunn
Contributing Writer

Richmond’s film buffs now have  a chance to see their favorite character’s costumes up close.

From Nov. 9 until Feb. 17, 2014, the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts is showcasing costumes from more than 50 classical Hollywood movies in the exhibition “Hollywood Costume.”

Sections of the exhibit include “History By Hollywood,” “Action and Suspense,” “Collaborating with Actors,” “Femme Fatales,” “Science Fiction and Fantasy” and “Musicals and Comedies.” Highlights of each exhibit include outfits from blockbuster favorites and classics such as “Harry Potter and The Half-Blood Prince,” “Taxi Driver,” “Fight Club,” “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” “Cleopatra,” “The Last Emperor,” “Gangs of New York,” “Sweeney Todd,” “Gone With The Wind,” “Vertigo” and “The Seven Year Itch.”

The exhibition was organized by the Victoria and Albert Museum in London and focuses on the important influence costume design has on motion picture story telling.

Suzanne Hall, a VMFA spokesperson, said the museum has enjoyed an enthusiastic reception for the exhibit.

“We know this exhibition will be popular with our typical audience, as well as new audiences, and that is always our hope: to expand our reach into a broader community,” she said.

Divided into seven sections, the show covers more than a century of cinema, from silent films such as “Sex,” released in 1920, to more contemporary blockbusters such as “Anna Karenina,” released in 2012.

The presentation of the costumes on life-size mannequins creates the feeling of standing in front of the actors themselves and allows viewers to notice details in the outfits they may have never noticed before. Superman’s famous outfit is displayed in his notorious striking pose.

A large number of the costumes on display were Academy Award winners for best costume design.

“We’ve learned a lot about costume and textile conservation from our colleagues at the Victoria and Albert (Museum),” Hall said. “It has energized us in the history of film, which has unique origins in the United States.”

Along with information on the director, actor, designer and scene of each costume, the audience is given concise explanations as to the process of creating the costume, emphasizing the importance of collaboration and research behind each garment. The exhibit notes that the quality of a costume’s design helps actors unveil the emotional, social and psychological condition of their characters at certain points in storylines.

A section of the exhibit highlights the dedication actors give to their characters, presenting the work of Meryl Streep and Robert De Niro, who are both known immerse themselves in their roles.

Vera Magdeeva, a VCU fashion merchandising student who has interned with the VMFA since August, said she has enjoyed learning and working with the exhibit.

“My favorite part of the exhibition is how much went into the making of the costumes,” Magdeeva said. “The costumes take an incredible amount of handmade work and it’s mind blowing that someone has the patience to do that.”

Perhaps the most interesting piece is at the finale: The Wicked Witch of the West’s hat from the classic film “The Wizard of Oz.” The movie is celebrating its 75th anniversary this year. Having the infamous hat on display is a local privilege, as it belongs to a private collector who lives in Richmond, Hall said.

“There (are) enough costumes from niche movies (that) I think everyone will see at least one costume from something they really love that they weren’t expecting … I basked in “The Blues Brothers” suits for a good 15 minutes,” said Rachael Quick, a photography and film major.

The VMFA will screen 60 films represented in the exhibit for 60 days to complement the display of the costumes starting Nov. 29.

On Nov. 23, the museum will also include an exhibit of photographs, “Made in Hollywood,” to complement the costume exhibit. “Made in Hollywood” will include more than 90 vintage prints from the John Kobal Foundation in London, displaying images of some of the most celebrated Hollywood actors from 1920 to 1960. The photographs will be on display until March 2014.

Admission to “Hollywood Costume” costs $20 per ticket. However, students can purchase a yearlong membership to the VMFA for $10, which allows them to visit special exhibitions free of charge.

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