By Susan JAMES
Running through April 30, the annual exhibition of Oscar-nominated movie costumes is now on display at the Los Angeles Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising. Featuring 100 costumes from 23 films, including the five Oscar nominations, the exhibit runs the gamut from romantic “Cinderella” ball gowns to high tech “Star Wars” Stormtrooper armor to “Straight Outta Compton” blinged-out rapper wraps.
FIDM curators Kevin Jones and Christina Johnson, who mounted the exhibition, have plenty of war stories to tell about sourcing 2015’s iconic film costumes.
“People think that because the movie opened last month, the costume must be ready and waiting,” Jones said. “But the truth is, the film could have wrapped two years ago and individual pieces of a single costume that the designer put together for the movie, like those worn by Cate Blanchett [in her Oscar-nominated role for ‘Carol’], might already have been sent back to Rome, Paris, London or New York.”
According to Jones and Johnson, putting together the exhibition is like a treasure hunt where both individual costumes and even individual pieces have to be tracked down.
Then, too, the mannequins must be sized to fit the clothing, something that was especially challenging for Charlize Theron’s desert drab from “Mad Max: Fury Road.” In the film, Theron’s character has a signature prosthetic arm and Jones and Johnson had to find an inventive way to present the arm on their mannequin.
“We can’t clean the costumes either,” explained Johnson. “It would destroy the story. The dirt, blood and distressing is part of the story. Sometimes we can only handle pieces wearing gloves. Our goal is to bring the costumes to life as the designer intended.”
Paco Delgado, Oscar-nominated costume designer for “The Danish Girl,” explained the challenges of fitting dresses for tall and lanky Eddie Redmayne’s cross-dressing character.
“Eddie,” he confessed, “had to wear a corset.”
Another nominated designer Jacqueline West described the horrors of location shooting and costume construction on “The Revenant.” The film’s director Alejandro Inarritu insisted on using only natural light during shooting which West agreed would show the costuming off better.
“But,” she said, “that meant we had only an hour and a half a day to film. It was a two-hour drive to the location sometimes in 20-below-zero weather. We wouldn’t get back to the hotel until midnight.”
In one iconic scene actor Leonardo DiCaprio had to crawl across frozen ground to climb into a bearskin. It got so cold that West tracked down an expert in cutting-edge bicycle wear and bought LED thermal elements that could be sewn into the actors’ costumes to keep them warm. Sometimes, as when “Star Wars” actors were filming in 100-degree heat in the Arabian desert, this technology is reversed and coils of coolant are sewn into the costumes. It’s not just designing a character’s clothing anymore. Technology plays an important part.
Whether it’s Sandy Powell’s stunning blue gown for “Cinderella” containing three miles of fabric in the hem, Joanna Johnston’s elegant “Turandot” outfit for “Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation,” the modest but on-point look of the ’50s in Odile Dicks-Mireaux’s costumes for “Brooklyn” or the surreal Victorian fantasy looks designed by Kate Hawley for “Crimson Peak,” the FIDM exhibition, free to the public, showcases one of Hollywood’s most creative and collaborative arts.
FIDM is located at 919 S. Grand Ave. in Los Angeles. Exhibit hours are from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Tuesday through Saturday. The museum will be open on Monday, Feb. 29 and closed on Friday, March 4.
Admission is free to the public.