Costumes From the Big Screen

Natasha Aftandilians/New University

The Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising (FIDM) has opened its doors to the 20th annual “Art of Motion Picture Costume Design” exhibition in Los Angeles.  The glamorous exhibition showcases over 100 costumes from 20 different films of 2011, including the five films nominated for Best Costume Design (“Anonymous,” “The Artist,” Hugo,” “Jane Eyre” and “W.E.”). The exhibition, open from Feb. 14 to April 28, highlights the most outstanding designs of the last year, honoring the craft of costuming in a way no one else has ever done.


In the FIDM gallery’s 10,000-square-foot space, costumes from “J. Edgar” to “My Week with Marilyn” were displayed in tableaus which showcased three to six costumes from each film. For the opening night reception, designers and other fashion industry mavens perused the exhibition in their own swanky styles, from vintage feathered caps to fringed flapper dresses.


The exhibit allows viewers to really get up close to these garments and see them in such detail that could never be examined purely by watching a film. The collection shows the melding of two distinct art forms, film and fashion, and how the two have constantly inspired one another.


Some of the more spectacular pieces came from elaborate period piece films, such as “The Artist,” a silent film that takes place in the Roaring Twenties; flapper dresses and cloche hats were the uniform of the time, and they were recreated by designer Mark Bridges in glorious colors and fabrics. A black satin with gold brocade flapper dress and a purple velvet and fur coat were some of the most eye-catching pieces. One look and you can easily picture the characters of Peppy and George, dancing and strutting their way across Hollywood.


Most of the films highlighted, from “Jane Eyre” to “War Horse,” relied on historical costumes, which can often be a desirable challenge for designers. As Nick Verreos (former “Project Runway” star, FIDM instructor, and exhibition tour guide for the night) explained, “Costume designers first figure out what kind of movie they’re making; then they have to decide how much of [the costumes] are going to be made, and how much they’re going to go to rental houses for. In ‘The Artist,’ most of the dresses were made, they’re not real 1920’s flapper dresses; they were researched and examined. All the hats are vintage though, and the dresses look vintage, so that’s what matters.”


Another film with standout design was “W.E.,” the Madonna-directed story of Wallis Simpson and Prince Edward, Duke of Windsor. The designs for “W.E.” show just how much work a team of costume designers really has to do in order to capture historically accurate details with perfection. Designer Arianne Phillips had to plunge into the repositories of New York’s Metropolitan Museum, London’s Victoria and Albert Museum, and Paris’ Musee de la Mode et du Textile, in order to study the wide wardrobe of the scandalous and history-changing Wallis Simpson.


One magnificent piece in the collection is a recreation of a Schiaparelli dress, made with white silk-chiffon and elaborately beaded with what seems like must by pounds and pounds of silver bugle beads. Pieces such as these had to be recreated with precise detail in order to remain true to images of the original designs. With such famous figures of Wallis and Edward, painstaking efforts were made to truly capture their vivaciousness and freedom of dressing style.


In Phillips’ words, “Costumes are essential to creating character; we get visual clues that inform the story, mood, or underscore the emotion of the scene or piece, whether it’s through stylized color control, or the power of a silhouette.”


Whether you are a lover of fine fashion or a film fanatic, this exhibition is something worth catching. Being able to view these costumes feels like being transported into the films and actually being close to the characters. It’s impossible not to be at least a little impressed by the sweeping scale and minute details that go into crafting these hundreds of costumes. From the war-torn battlefields of World War I to the country clubs of 1960’s Jackson, Mississippi, or the political snake-pit of Elizabethan England, these costumes succeed at transporting audience members to the time and place where the director wants us to go.