Lights, Camera, Fashion: The Hollywood Costume Exhibition at the V&A

Walking into the V&A is exciting enough as it is, but to be greeted by a larger than life size moving image of Audrey Hepburn from a scene in Breakfast at Tiffany’s, is something I want to do time and time again.

Between the 20th of October and the 27th of January of this year, the V&A is dedicating showrooms to the most iconic and memorable costumes that have hit the silver screens over the past 100 years. Spanning a century of Hollywood films, it quickly became very clear to me that a costume does more than just dress a character; it becomes a character. A costume symbolises the characters personality and the trials and tribulations experienced throughout the film. But what’s more, the costume becomes symbolic of that film. Despite being taken out of context and placed in the four walls of the V&A exhibition room, the costumes became instant cue cards reminding me of different periods in time, plots and film titles.

As you stroll through the exhibition taking in the intricate details of each costume, your steps begin to match the beat of the red-carpet style music playing on the surround sound, meaning you cannot help but immerse yourself in the creative world of the film industry. Information cards which sit below each costume are designed to look like transcripts, and screens with life size moving images of certain actors and costume designers talk to you, as if in conversation, describing each element that went into some of the designs. Almost every costume is given a digital screen as a face with an image of the actor or actress who wore them in the films. These images move, making the experience reminiscent of the moving pictures seen in the world of Harry Potter. The costumes truly come to life, helping you understand that the work of an actor is helped largely by the personality that is conveyed, represented and embodied in the costume.

Leaving the exhibition I was met with a quote that I think perfectly summarises the meaning behind the exhibition, and as well, follows the same ethos that we have here at MSL. Clothes carry meaning and tell a story, whether they are hidden in your wardrobe or staring in films.

“Characters are people, just like us. We all wear a mix of clothes, some old and some new. We are an amalgam of stories, each item telling its own unique tale”

Marni Banks

Images V&A


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