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exhibition review: ‘hollywood costume’ invites viewers behind the silver screen

The Wizard of Oz_Dorothy and the Slippers

Judy Garland as Dorothy from The Wizard of Oz,
TM & © Turner Entertainment Co. (s13)
Costume designed by Adrian.


The show-stopping exhibition Hollywood Costume opened at the Australian Centre for the Moving Image (ACMI) in Melbourne last week. Direct from London’s Victoria and Albert museum, the exhibition is sure to draw in seamstresses to cinephiles alike.

Hollywood Costume features over 100 costumes, painstakingly gathered from private collections over a five-year period. No genre is left out of the exhibition, which celebrates nearly 100 years of costumes. More than 50 designers are represented, including Edith Head (Vertigo, The Birds), James Acheson (Spiderman), and the enigmatic Adrian (The Wizard of Oz).

Some of the most recognisable costumes from Western cinema are on display. Keira Knightley’s slinky emerald silk dress from Atonement (designed by Jacqueline Durran) is one of the many costumes featured in the gallery to have been nominated or awarded an Academy Award©. Other knockout dresses include the black Givenchy number Audrey Hepburn made famous in Breakfast at Tiffany’s, and the silk beaded cocktail dress worn by Marilyn Monroe in Some Like it Hot.

The Monroe dress is the only one behind glass, and an insider at ACMI revealed that it was so valuable that their insurance couldn’t cover it without that protection. It was also revealed that the dress was so small that the mannequin had to be cut to size, just to make it fit.

Hollywood Costume is divided into three sections to tell the story of costume design. The first, ‘Scene I: What is costumer design?’ educates audiences about the role of costume in film. The significance of costume on character development and narrative continuity is explored. This scene balances outfits that are obviously ‘costumes’, such as pieces from Marie Antoinette, with subtler constructions, like those from Brokeback Mountain. Sketches, script pages, and photographs of fittings round out this section, detailing the hard work that goes into the costume design process.

In ‘Scene II: Creative Contents’, we are taken on a journey into the collaborative processes between designers, actors, and directors that are involved in the design of a costume (and a character). It explores some of the most significant designer/director pairings in modern history, including Tim Burton and Colleen Atwood. This pair has worked together to create some of the quirkiest and instantly recognisable styles of Hollywood cinema. Atwood’s role in creating the signature ‘Burton’ film look is looked at in detail in this section. The Scene concludes with specially commissioned interviews with Meryl Streep and Robert De Niro, where they discuss the transformative property of costume, and its role in inhabiting the character.


Breakfast at Tiffanys_Hero Image

Breakfast at Tiffany’s Courtesy Paramount, The Estate of Audrey Hepburn.
Costume designed by Hubert de Givenchy.


In ‘Scene III: The Finale’, we are treated to the drawcard costumes from the most celebrated film characters of all time. Here you can see costumes from Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince, Spiderman, The Titanic, Atonement, and many more. These are iconic pieces, and you could spend hours taking in the rich detail on each.

The whole exhibition incorporates multimedia to enhance the viewer’s experience. Each mannequin has a screen in the place of the head, and the face of the actor that portrayed that character is projected on to it. This is slightly disconcerting (watch closely) but ultimately gives life and a bit more colour to each piece. The exhibition has its own specially written score, composed by Julian Scott, which is heard throughout.

Although featured in Hollywood Costume’s opening film clip, ACMI was unable to secure the costume from Natalie Portman’s climactic scene in The Black Swan. Darth Vader was also due to appear, but again, licensing prevented its display. However, even without these pieces, there are really more than enough costumes to please anyone, regardless of their taste in film.

Curator, Professor Deborah Nadoolman Landis, has a rich history in costume design. She created the looks for The Blues Brothers, Michael Jackson’s Thriller, and the recent comedy Burke & Hare.  Amongst other things, she is a two-term President of the Costume Designer’s Guild, and teaches at the American Film Institute.

Hollywood Costume runs until 18 August as part of the Melbourne Winter Masterpieces program. From Friday 24 May, three costumes from the forthcoming Baz Luhrmann adaptation of The Great Gatsby will be on display. These works were designed by Australian three-time Academy Award© winner Catherine Martin and are sure to boost ticket sales.


Special events, including classes and talks are running throughout the duration of ‘Hollywood Costume’. Admissions: Full $19.50, Concession $15.50, ACMI Member $13.50. See the ACMI website for more information.


2 thoughts on “exhibition review: ‘hollywood costume’ invites viewers behind the silver screen

  1. Thanks for this review Amy! I’ve really wanted to go and check this out since I heard about it, and now I’m even more inspired to do so! :)

  2. Be warned, ACMI is squeezing as many people as possible into this exhibition. If you go on the weekend you can’t see anything, there are so many people. It was a waste of time and money for us.

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