Hollywood comes to RVA

Many of Hollywood’s best costumes will soon be on display at the VMFA.

Roughly 100 Hollywood costumes spanning nearly a century of film will be on display at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts beginning Saturday as part of the new exhibit Hollywood Costume (see photos below).

“Nobody has done a show like this before,” said VMFA’s Robin Nicholson about the touring exhibit. That’s because corralling so many costumes under one roof required the help of numerous studios and designers. “For us to work on this was quite a novelty.”

Among the collection is the blue-and-white pinafore and red sequined slippers worn by Dorothy (Judy Garland) in the Wizard of Oz (1939). Other Hollywood classics include the bonnet and Paris hat worn by Scarlett O’Hara (Vivien Leigh) in Gone With the Wind (1939) and the Subway Dress worn by Marilyn Monroe in The Seven Year Itch (1955).

But the oldest costume in the exhibit is a spider-themed dress from the 1920 film Sex. The dress is thought to be the first screen-tested dress in motion picture history.

The exhibit also spotlights modern threads. Costumes from films like Fight Club, Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, Titanic, Basic Instinct, and The Dark Knight Rises are featured, along with the outfit Harrison Ford wore as Indiana Jones.1

In addition to the costumes themselves, several video monitors loop interviews with directors, actors, and designers about the role of costumes in film. One video tandem includes footage of Martin Scorsese and designer Sandy Powell discussing the costuming of Gangs of New York near the outfit Daniel Day-Lewis wore as Bill the Butcher.

There’s also footage of Meryl Streep discussing the costuming of The Iron Lady (included in the exhibit) next to a screen featuring Robert De Niro discussing costuming in his work. The exhibit features more pieces from De Niro’s celluloid wardrobe than any other actor, with outfits he wore in Casino, Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein, The King of Comedy, Raging Bull, and Taxi Driver.

Hollywood Costumes was created by designer Deborah Nadoolman Landis, the wife of director John Landis.2 Her pull in the industry helped curate most of the costumes that will be on display at the VMFA (the museum also supplemented the exhibit with other costumes). The exhibit was originally organized by London’s Victoria & Albert Museum. The VMFA is the first US host for the exhibit and the only East Coast location in the exhibit’s international tour.

VMFA Director of Design & Production Doug Fisher said much of the current interest in Hollywood costume collecting dates back to the 1970s, when MGM Studios put roughly 350,000 costume items on the auction block.

“That initiated a new wave of collecting,” Fisher said. He hopes exhibit visitors will reconnect with the films they love. “I really hope it helps you relive that grand scale film experience that you don’t get in any other medium,” he said.

To coincide with Hollywood Costume, the VMFA will soon launch 60 Films / 60 Days, featuring many of the films represented in the exhibit. The films will run from November 29, 2013 through January 31, 2014. Tickets are $5 per screening.

The museum is also offering an Instagram contest wherein Richmonders are encouraged to spot Marilyn Monroe and Austin Powers lookalikes around town and Instagram them for a chance to win prizes.

Hollywood Costume runs from November 9, 2012 – February 17th, 2014.

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  1. To distress Jones’s famous hat, the designer rolled the hat in her hands and had Harrison Ford sit on it. 
  2. Director of The Blues Brothers (included in the exhibit), Animal House, and others. 

photos by Madison Price

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Nathan Cushing

Nathan Cushing is a writer, journalist, and RVANews Editor.

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