From Holly Golightly to Indiana Jones: Expansive V&A Exhibit Looks at Costumes in the Movies

Cate Blanchett wearing a costume designed by Alexandra Bryne in "Elizabeth: The Golden Age" (2007)
(Courtesy Universal/Working Title/The Kobal Collection/Greg Williams)

We never forget the clothes worn by the most iconic film characters: Dorothy’s blue-and-white gingham pinafore in “The Wizard of Oz,” Indiana Jones’s fedora and leather jacket, Holly Golightly’s floor-length Givenchy gown with necklace, gloves, and tiara in “Breakfast at Tiffany’s.” The costumes bring their personalities to life. The upcoming fall exhibition at London’s Victoria & Albert Museum, “Hollywood Costume,” seeks to reunite moviegoers with the costumes of the characters they once connected with onscreen.

For the past five years Deborah Nadoolman Landis, former costume designer, current head of UCLA’s David C. Copley Center for Costume Design, and senior guest curator of the exhibition, has been procuring more than 100 costumes for the show — which opens on October 20 — from collectors, motion picture studios, costume houses, and museums. In addition to the outfits from “The Wizard of Oz,” “Breakfast at Tiffany’s,” and the original “Indiana Jones” trilogy, the comprehensive exhibition will include pieces worn by Charlie Chaplin from the era of silent film to a dress worn by Bérénice Bejo in the 2011 hit “The Artist.” Set across three galleries, “Hollywood Costume” will show movie clips along with videos of conversations between the directors and costume designers, like Martin Scorsese and Sandy Powell. Other segments feature Robert De Niro and Meryl Streep explaining the role costumes play in film. 

“Costume design is an intellectual pursuit, it’s more about the conversation than the clothes,” said Nadoolman Landis, who, along with Academy Award-winning costume designer Ann Roth, spoke at a press preview in New York to promote the exhibition. The two discussed the process behind a job, from reading a script to meeting with directors to acquiring and creating pieces in order to help build a character. “The character happens and there’s no controlling it,” said Roth. “Once that happens, you know what to do.”

Click on the slide show to see pieces that will be featured in “Hollywood Costume,” opening at the V&A October 20.