20 October 2012 – 27 January 2013
From Charlie Chaplin's iconic 'tramp' costume to the yellow jumpsuit worn by Uma Thurman in Kill Bill, over 100 of Hollywood's best-loved costumes will be on display in the V&A's major autumn exhibition.
Deborah Landis, veteran designer and senior curator for the show, described the process of putting it together as being like assembling the biggest jigsaw puzzle in film history – having to become a 'costume archaeologist' – a fitting description from the woman who picked out the fedora and leather jacket for Indiana Jones.
The show will investigate the costume designer's creative process, the great director-designer collaborations of the big screen and the changing social and technological context of this often-overlooked creative tranche of the industry.
Costumes on show will span the history of cinema. There will be outfits made for leading ladies Grace Kelly, Marilyn Monroe, Bette Davis, Elizabeth Taylor, and Meryl Streep, and also making an appearance will be Scarlet O'Hara's green curtain dress as worn by Vivien Leigh in Gone with the Wind and Audrey Hepburn's black Givenchy evening gown from Breakfast at Tiffany's.
Superheroes who will have to go naked for the duration of the show include Spider-man and Batman; one serious coup is the latter's outfit from this year's film The Dark Knight Rises. There will be baddies: Darth Vader, Ming the Merciless – and goodies: Indiana Jones, Jack Sparrow, Harry Potter, Russell Crowe's costume from Gladiator and a pair of Errol Flynn's tightest tights – not to mention animations – Jessica Rabbit and designs from James Cameron's Avatar. A host of lavish period creations includes costumes from The Last Emperor, Titanic, Elizabeth: The Golden Age, and Cecilia Tallis's unforgettable green silk charmeuse gown worn by Keira Knightly in Atonement.
The 'holy grail' of the search, says Landis, was being lead to a vault in the catacombs of the Bank of England, where she was solemnly handed the gingham pinafore worn by Judy Garland in The Wizard of Oz. Inspecting the dress, in order to verify its authenticity, Landis discovered that it was 'made terribly'. Remarkably, considering that the film was made at the height of the 'golden age' of Hollywood, the designer Adrian had made the dress by hand using a treadle machine, exactly as if it had been done by Dorothy's Auntie Em, back in Kansas.