Posted by Bethan Holt, Fashion Junior at Large

"There is no fashion in film" declared Deborah Landis, curator of the V&A's new Hollywood Costume exhibition at yesterday's launch. With that statement, I may as well stop writing now. Except that there is film in fashion because some of film's greatest costumes will also go down in history as being distinctly indicative of the fashion of their time, or certainly of a particular look that the film itself may have spurned. I loved the quote from Walter Plunkett, costume director on the 1936 film Mary of Scotland. He said that after filming "all the Elizabethan ruffs were missing from the wardrobe department. The wardrobe girls and actresses had taken them home to wear with black dresses because of the flattering effect on the face." In a similar way, I think we can all own up to having emulated a favourite film character, whether that's doing tartan skirt suits like Cher in Clueless or thinking it might be fun to wear a frilly dress with Converse like Kirsten Dunst as Marie Antoinette in Sophia Coppola's film.

See THAT dress from Atonement as well as Keira's costume from just-released Anna Karenina. Jacqueline Durran was Costume Designer on both films 

The fact that we so often want to dress like someone we see in a film is the same reason that we look twice at someone in the street and sort of want to be them. That doesn't come from fashion as such, but from how that person is wearing their outfit. Landis commented yesterday that "costume is not about clothes, but about creating authentic characters". Obviously, in a film we get to know those characters rather better than we do a girl or guy walking down the street but I think it's still the same thing which is probably why- as I realised looking around the exhibition yesterday- costume design is such an incredibly important, quite unsung job in the scheme of film making.

Fight Club costumes at the V&A
Hollywood Costume is a brilliant exhibition which is so much more than "frocks on dummies", as Landis's co-curator Sir Christopher Frayling put it. Visitors are subtly guided through three "acts", during which we hear from designers themselves as well as actors and directors. There are some great installations which focus on particular relationships which the costuming process engenders. For instance, there are filmed conversations between famous directors and their costume director collaborators like Alfred Hitchcock and Edith Head as they reflect on their partnership. Award-winning costume designer Ann Roth comments "People always say to me, oh! A costume designer, what fun! And I really don't remember having fun in my life" which emphasises very succinctly Then further on,  we see Meryl Streep discuss the effect which costume has on her ability to take on her character. It's all incredibly fascinating and immersive, dissecting the role of costume in shaping and signposting characters.

Judy Garland's magic ruby slippers

The last room is stunning- I won't spoil anything for you because I really think you should go. But let me just tell you that my heart skipped a little bit when I saw the final exhibit, the original ruby slippers from Judy Garland's Wizard of Oz costume. Those shoes still inspire so many people today, whether that's because of how they look or what they mean- it's probably both of those things, actually. But that moment demonstrated to me the power of film costume and all the happier to have learnt a bit more about it.

Hollywood Costume is on at the V&A from Saturday until 27th January 2013


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