Published November 20, 2014
Darth Vader, Charlie Chaplin's Little Tramp, Scarlett O'Hara and Indiana Jones have all come under one London roof.
Not the actual characters, of course, but the outfits they made famous in some of Hollywood's most beloved films. A new London exhibition has brought together more than 100 iconic costumes, from Chaplin's tramp outfit to the world's most famous ruby slippers.
The show, at the Victoria and Albert Museum, aims to tell the story of costume design and how it helps create believable characters.
"It's not really about the clothes — it's really about creating an authentic individual, every time," said guest curator Deborah Landis Wednesday. She has designed costumes for hit movies including "The Blues Brothers."
Many of cinema's most legendary outfits are here: Scarlett O'Hara's green velvet dress from "Gone with the Wind," Indiana Jones' leather jacket, fedora and bullwhip from "Raiders of the Lost Ark," and John Travolta's unforgettable white suit from "Saturday Night Fever."
Among the show's highlights are the slippers and blue and white gingham pinafore worn by Judy Garland in "The Wizard of Oz," which were united for the first time since the 1939 movie was filmed. The shiny red shoes were in fact silver in the book by Frank L. Baum, but the filmmakers changed their color to make a bigger impact on the Technicolor screen.
Together the costumes span a century of film-making, and they reflect the changing times. Necklines went lower and lower with the relaxation of censorship rules, and recent costumes had to be designed with animation and digital technology in mind. The exhibition brings things right up to date with costumes from computer-generated films like "Avatar," which had to be handmade before a digital version could be assembled.
The museum's assistant curator, Keith Lodwick, said his team spent five years on a worldwide treasure hunt, borrowing the costumes from museums, collectors and film studios.
There were plenty of glamorous gowns from Hollywood's best-known screen sirens: Marilyn Monroe's white halter-neck dress from "The Seven Year Itch"; Elizabeth Taylor's cream and black gown in "Cleopatra"; and Audrey Hepburn's sleeveless Givenchy gown in "Breakfast at Tiffany's," the little black dress that secured her status as a timeless fashion icon.
But Lodwick said the exhibition also included some unusual choices to surprise viewers expecting just outlandish sci-fi outfits and elaborate period costumes.
"All movie costumes, no matter the genre, are always meticulously researched," Lodwick said.
Matt Damon's casual outfit in the "Bourne Identity" action movies, for example, may "look just like a jacket and shirt, but it was meant to make him disappear into a crowd," he said.
The show revealed other lesser-known stories behind costume making. Indiana Jones' jacket was designed with an "action pleat" to make it easier for Harrison Ford to use his bullwhip, while designers for the cowboy romance "Brokeback Mountain" had to painstakingly select the right brand of jeans for each character to maintain authenticity — ranch hands only wore Levi's, and rodeo riders wore Wranglers.
To coincide with the exhibition, the British Film Institute said Tuesday it was giving 500 costumes to the V&A Museum, including the Superman outfit worn by Christopher Reeve in "Superman IV."
The exhibition opens Saturday and runs until Jan. 27.
The Victoria and Albert Museum: http://www.vam.ac.uk/
Sylvia Hui can be reached at http://twitter.com/sylviahui