EXHIBIT REVIEW: V&A’s Hollywood Costume Exhibit

Geek Syndicate was lucky enough to get a sneak peek at the V&A’s Hollywood Costume exhibit, featuring costumes from cult films throughout the ages. The exhibition is open now but we were excited to get the chance to go look at some legendary costumes ahead of the milling crowds.

We were pretty excited about this exhibition, so let’s start with what impressed us – unsurprisingly, it was the costumes that took centre stage.

While there were myriad issues with the layout (which we’ll come to later), the arrangement of some of the outfits was inspired, bringing the costumes to life rather than expecting today’s internet-addled, attention-deficient users to actually imagine stuff.

The costumes that were posed separately were those that had the best effect. Two costumes from Coppola’s Dracula (Dracula himself and Mina Harker) were posed so it looked like Gary Oldman was about to take a bite out of Winona Ryder, while the iconic green dress Tippi Hendren wore for Hitchcock’s The Birds was being attacked by said naughty birdies, making the whole costume come to life.


However, while we loved some of the creative ideas behind the exhibit, the layout was such that it ruined most of the experience. Lots of costumes were clumped together, so you couldn’t get a good look at the detailing, and some (like the Titanic costumes) we almost missed as they were shoved behind others.

And while some ideas were well put-together, the order was often perplexing. For instance, two beautiful Vivien Leigh costumes from Gone with the Wind were in completely different sections of the exhibit.

There were some costumes from the likes of Indiana Jones, Darth Vader and Ming the Merciless to draw in the geeky crowd, but these too were very disparate. If we’re honest, those that want to get their geek on would be better off going to the London Film Museum, with its Alien Queen and more Star Wars related goodies.

And while the highlights of the exhibit were impressive, there was a lot of ‘filler’ going on for a collection that’s taken years to put together… did we really want to see Borat’s suit or an outfit from Legally Blonde 2? If this was a free exhibition, we’d understand, but at £14 a ticket we expect to be wowed and really get a sense of atmosphere with these outfits, which sadly wasn’t present.

However, we did like the technological effort put in to help bring the costumes more to life: for instance, the majority of the outfits have a small flat screen above, with the head of the actor who used them staring out at you from the screen. They even moved slightly which made the whole exhibit feel like you were walking around looking a bunch of moving Harry Potter photographs.

Some other displays had interviews set up with Meryl Streep and Robert De Niro discussing a selection of costumes they wore, and the exhibit also had a selection of interviews between Tim Burton and Martin Scorsese on costumes from their films Sweeny Todd and Gangs of New York respectively, which helped give much-needed context, especially for those without an insane interest in iconic films.

There were plenty of highlights with the Hollywood Costume exhibit; for instance, many were given the care and attention they merited for their contribution to the silver screen. We also loved the use of video to help explain some things and add depth, in a manner similar to DVD extras.  However, clumping so many impressive costumes together made the exhibit lose its impact and at £14 for a ticket, it just didn’t feel worth the outlay.

If you want an up close look at Dorothy’s Ruby Slippers or to see just how tiny Marilyn Monroe really was, then head on down to the V&A museum, but otherwise this exhibit left us feeling a little cold.


Reporter: Sara Westrop

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