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Blockbuster Hollywood costume exhibit comes to the U.S.

Iconic costumes on display in Richmond, Va.

Created date

October 22nd, 2013
Still photo of Batman from The Dark Knight Rises

People stood in line for hours at the Victoria and Albert museum in London last year, waiting to gain entry to the exhibit Hollywood Costume. It was one of the most popular exhibits of the year and received worldwide attention. For those who couldn’t make the trip to the U.K., Hollywood Costume will be on view at the Virginia Museum of Fine Art (VMFA) in Richmond, Va., from November 9, 2013, through February 17, 2014.

Celebrating over a century of costume design, Hollywood Costume is a must-see for movie buffs. Vintage costumes worn by the likes of Marlene Dietrich and Audrey Hepburn share the spotlight with modern designs from films such as Gladiator, Moulin Rouge, and The Matrix. “The exhibition is designed to represent two vast sound-stages connected by a ‘behind-the-scenes’ corridor,” says Robin Nicholson, deputy director for art and education at VMFA. “The costumes are presented on custom-made black mannequins and dramatically lit against a dark background.”

In addition to the costumes, visitors will see speciallyproduced video displays that provide insight into the process of collaboration between directors, actors, and costume designers and feature two of Hollywood’s all-time great talents, Meryl Streep and Robert DeNiro.

Costumes can define films

The impact costume design has on a film is often profound. The pleated white halter dress so famously worn by Marilyn Monroe in The Seven Year Itch is arguably one of the best-known costumes in the history of cinema. The same can be said for the blue gingham jumper worn by Judy Garland in The Wizard of Oz. Both of those costumes will be on display at VMFA alongside Harrison Ford’s costume from Raiders of the Lost Ark and Christian Bale’s costume from 2012’s The Dark Knight Rises.

“Visitors to this exhibition will gain a fresh understanding and appreciation of costume design in America’s film industry,” says VMFA Director Alex Nyerges. “Cinema is considered by many to be the greatest and most broadly accessible art form of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, and this groundbreaking display of iconic costumes will offer a unique insight into the art of movie-making.”

Delicate work of conservation

The curator of the exhibition is Oscar-nominated costume designer Deborah Nadoolman Landis, best known for the costume design in Raiders of the Lost Ark and Blues Brothers. Tapping into her exclusive contacts, Nadoolman Landis culled together an extraordinary array of costumes, many of which have been stored in studio archives or in private collections and have never been displayed publically.

Prior to arriving in Virginia, Hollywood Costume was on exhibit in Australia. Moving delicate and historic costumes from continent to continent presented curators with a unique set of challenges. “Movie costumes are not designed for longevity and so many have suffered over time and either need conservation or very careful treatment in how they are displayed,” says Nicholson. “To this end, they are being shipped between venues on their mannequins to avoid the strains of undressing/packing/dressing. This necessitates massive crates and the use of sea freight rather than air freight to transport the exhibition.”

Photos and films also on display

In conjunction with Hollywood Costume, VMFA will also show Made in Hollywood: Photographs From the John Kobal Foundation. It features more than 90 photographs taken by the most important photographers working in Hollywood between 1920–1960. Beautiful vintage prints of silver screen icons like Clark Gable, Greta Garbo, Humphrey Bogart, and Gloria Swanson will be on display.

Larger than usual crowds are expected for the exclusive East Coast show. Museum officials urge patrons to purchase tickets in advance through their website. Tickets will be timed to prevent overcrowding and the last three weeks of the show are expected to be particularly busy. Tickets are $20; $16 for seniors 65-plus and adult groups of 10 or more; and $10 for students with ID and youth ages 7 – 17.

Special Hollywood Costume travel packages are available through Amtrak and at a variety of historic Richmond lodgings, including The Jefferson Hotel, Linden Row Inn, and Maury Place.

Travel and ticket information can be found at Tickets can also be purchased by calling 804-340-1405.