Last week, production design students (along with a few others), had the opportunity to check out the Hollywood Costume exhibit presented by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. The exhibit, which was organized by the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, is now at its final stop here in Southern California, after a two year journey all over the world.

The exhibit explores the pivotal role of costume design as a tool for storytelling. Bringing together more than 150 costumes from the Golden Age of movies to the present day, it was truly a sight to behold. The Academy even added about 40 new costumes specifically for this showing, showcasing the styles of some of Hollywood’s more recent blockbusters, such as
Dallas Buyers Club
The Hunger Games

The exhibit is curated by Deborah Nadoolman Landis, the Academy Award-nominated costume designer, whose credits include
Raiders of the Lost Ark
Animal House
. Landis was kind enough to be on hand to welcome the students before they saw the exhibit and to talk a bit about it.

students in a classroom

Curator Deborah Nadoolman Landis talks to students before the show

Landis told students that this was the biggest exhibition on this scale about costume design that has ever been put together. She started working on it in 2007, but it did not open until 2012 in London. Now, at the end of its tour, she is extremely proud how it all came together.

When asked about how she approaches her own costume design, Landis said “It’s not about what they look like. It’s about who they are. Where do they live? Where they popular in high school? Are they the middle child? Are they allergic to anything? I need to know who these people really are, because the character designs the costume. It’s all storytelling.”

A custom score was also created for the exhibition to help heighten the emotion. “The show was cut together like a Disney ride,” Landis said. “We created the show, and had someone come in to do the music that fit the length and theme of it.”

costumes on display

The costumes on display from the Indiana Jones films wowed students

It was amazing to see costumes from films we all know and love up close and personal. The mannequins were custom fit to accommodate the costumes themselves, so the clothes all kept their original dimensions. In addition to that, many of the costumes had images of the characters from the films themselves, roto-scoped out, so we could see how they looked on screen as well. In addition to that, there was fantastic use of image projection technology to go along with some of the costumes as well, making them really come alive.

two mannequins with screens as heads

I’m the king of the world!

In addition, it was helpful to have video vignettes of the various costume designers and directors speaking directly about how they came up with the designs, and how they collaborated together to make it perfect. It was great to see this for old classics like
The Birds
and newer blockbusters like
Django Unchained
. It definitely gave students a deeper appreciation for the work behind it.

“We don’t have a costume program here at Dodge, so having the Production Design and several Directing students go to the show and hear Deborah’s talk before hand was a fantastic opportunity,” said Professor John Chichester.

The show runs until March 2, and then it is closed forever. If you want to see some of these incredible costumes up close, now is the time to go before they go back into the vaults.

For more information about the exhibit, visit