Marilyn Monroe, or rather, the iconic dress you may have seen her wear in the 1955 romantic comedy, “Seven Year Itch,” is just one of 100 costumes you’ll see at the Phoenix Art Museum in downtown Phoenix if you get tickets to the spectacular Hollywood Costume exhibit before it ends on July 6.
First shown at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London in 2012, the show came to Phoenix this spring after more than five years of planning and preparation, which involved reconfiguring architectural space in the museum, using innovative use of technology and locating the costumes from 62 private dealers, collectors and museums from around the world.
Conceived by guest curator and Hollywood costume designer Deborah Landis, Ph.D., the exhibit presents an insider perspective on Hollywood costuming you wouldn’t ordinarily have access to, and all of it is shown in space the size of 16 school buses.
From the beginning when you enter what feels like a movie theater lobby, complete with marquee, music piped in and movie posters, plus a big screen showing popular movie trailers, to the end where you see gowns worn on the Red Carpet at Academy Awards shows, this special engagement portrays all the glitz and glam you might expect of Hollywood.
It also does a great job of furthering the Hollywood theme, divided the show into three acts:
Act 1 illustrates the designer’s job and includes enlarged copies of movie scripts within the backdrop of movie costumes from such films as “The Last Emperor,” “Oceans Eleven,” and “The Big Lewbowski.” You’ll learn that the script is the first thing a costume designer sees when assigned to a project. This part of the exhibit takes you through this initial creative process, including what might be involved in the research. More script-like displays on tripods explain more about how the chosen costumes came to be. You find out, for example, that The Dude’s bathrobe was purchased from a thrift shop.
Act 2 presents the collaborative approach that designers take with film directors and actors in order to create the perfect costume that brings their characters to life. In this part of the exhibit, you see directors (Martin Scorsese, for example), costume designers (Edith Head, for one), and actors, including Meryl Streep, discussing the work that went into the wardrobes used in their films. To make the interviews life-like, their famous faces from actual video interview footage are projected on screens fashioned onto chair-like props, making it appear they are speaking directly to you.
Act 3 is the finale. It’s the part of the show where you see the final product — the costumes themselves. And, yes, they are the actual costumes, only here, worn by custom-built mannequins. Attached at the top are the life-size heads of the actors who wore them projected on screen. If you look long enough, you’ll see just a hint of movement, a downturn of the face, a wink of the eye. From the silent movie era to today’s computer-animated films, among the characters, you’ll “meet” face-to-face if you go: Darth Vader, Cleopatra, Marie Antoinette, Fanny Brice, Dick Tracy, The Terminator, Rocky, Austin Powers, Superman, and Dorothy from the “Wizard of Oz.”
Using specific examples and innovative use of technology, including some 3D animation, you’ll experience a fascinating look at how Hollywood costumes are created, developed and used. And you’ll be reminded of the films you’ve seen and loved all your life. Music is provided. Popcorn is not. But I still give it 5 Stars.
Get your VIP Tickets at the box office or order them online: Adults, $20; Youth, $10.