Iconic costumes take a leading role at the V&A

First impressions count – and for actors, they count double. Aside from the rather crucial fact that they play an important role in determining whether or not we believe, for instance, that Johnny Depp is, in fact, a crazy pirate, costumes often tell you all you need to know about a character before they’ve even opened their mouths. Take Daniel Craig as James Bond or Meryl Streep as Margaret Thatcher in The Iron Lady; so much of what we understood about these characters came from what they didn’t say. And it’s this that forms the basis of the V&A’s highly anticipated exhibition, Hollywood Costume.

The exhibition showcases some of the most iconic costumes in cinema over the last century: perfect timing, considering that the British Film Festival officially kicked off this week. The first room showcases some of the developments over time, particularly in period films. So the outfit that Bette Davis wore as Elizabeth I in the 1955 film The Virgin Queen sits alongside the more recent costume that Cate Blanchett wore playing her in Elizabeth: The Golden Age in 2007.

But it’s not all about period costumes. The white dress that Marilyn Monroe wore in Seven Year Itch is there too, as is the outfit Michelle Pfeiffer wore in Catwoman and the yellow jumpsuit Uma Thurman wore in Kill Bill. Even Harry Winston, the exhibition’s sponsor, created a replica of the diamond necklace with a yellow sapphire pendant that Kate Hudson wore in How To Lose A Guy In 10 Days.

Alongside the more iconic outfits sits more subtle pieces like the simple outfit Matt Damon wore as Jason Bourne in the trilogy. The outfit, like many others in the exhibition, sits alongside a video that explains the costume designer’s thought process in creating it.

And that’s exactly what the exhibition was designed to do; celebrate the craft of costume design and, to a large extent, champion these unsung heroes that play such a vital role in the story telling process. “Other designers have to please the human eye,” late costume designer Adrian once said. “I have to satisfy the discerning eye of the camera, an instrument much more calculating than the human eye,” and it’s this that makes the exhibition such a must see.

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