After a forgettable day at work in London, amidst a January cold snap and inches of snow, Samantha met me at the office and we left early for the start of my surprise birthday weekend.
I knew we were staying in London, on Thursday Sam had asked me to pack an overnight bag, which I’d dutifully trundled through the snow into London. Come Friday night and I was very happy to be staying in the city; no worries about being stuck on a stranded train in a snow drift near Haywards Heath.
We boarded the District line at Blackfriars, and headed West. “So where are we going?”, I asked. Samantha, unlike usual, kept shtum, she wasn’t revealing anything. From Earl’s Court we followed her printed directions to our ‘nh hotel’ and checked in. It was a stylish room that overlooked a snowy garden. Before sitting down we were off again, back on the District line, to South Kensington.
From the tube station we took a tunnel, past throngs of people leaving the nearby museums. To my surprise we passed the Natural History Museum, and continued on to the V&A. Sam had tickets to the Hollywood Costume exhibit, with a 6:45pm entrance. A little early, we perused the ancient sculptures, foreign artefacts, the gift shop and the Japanese Lolita costumes.
The exhibition itself was marvellous. It was split into three acts, “deconstruction” — the research and process behind a costume, “dialogue” — the collaborative process between designer, director and actor, and “finale” — a room filled with memorable costumes from the most famous of films.
“Costume designers are storytellers, historians, social commentators and anthropologists. Movies are about people, and costume design plays a pivotal role in bringing these people to life. ‘Hollywood Costume’ illuminates the costume designer’s process in the creation of character from script to screen including the changing social and technological context in which they have worked over the last century.”
In deconstruction we examined costumes: a Charlie Chaplin outfit in brown dusty colour; Michael Kaplan’s Fight Club designs and Tyler Durden’s famous blood stained red jacket; The Dude’s bathrobe from The Big Leboswki; Jason Bourne’s ‘blend-in’ style; The Addams Family, including Wednesday’s sword-ed dress and Morticia’s spider sequinned number; four outfits from Oceans Eleven; a selection of Elizabeths from assorted interpretations; and Indiana Jones with whip, customised Fedora, worn leather jacket, dusty shoes and gun holster.
Each came with an insight into that specific costume design process; for instance, how Indy’s hat was customised so his face could be seen, and how his jacket was sandpapered to look worn, and how the whole piece was put together to look like an old adventure flick, from a simple Spielberg sketch.
In dialogue we listened to actors, directors and designers talk about their costumes. From The Birds, to Natalie Portman in Closer and Tim Burton talking about Sweeney Todd. They spoke from life sized screens, the seats positioned opposite to them made you feel there, as part of the conversation. It was beautifully put together.
The room opened out to two more exhibits, a collection of genre costumes — period, sci-fi, computer generated, where, obviously, Darth Vader was the star of the show; and a collection of Meryl Streep and Robert De Niro costumes from their movies; Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, The Iron Lady, etc.
Beyond was the third room, the finale. This room was filled with costumes of all the famous characters you could imagine, classics that have defined the memories of millions. From Kate Winslett’s Titanic costume, with its enormous purple hat; to action heroes Spider-man, Batman, Terminator, Hans Solo, Superman, Bond, Neo in the Matrix, Harry Potter and the yellow tracksuit from Kill Bill; to Keira Knightley’s dress from Atonement, Holly Golightly from Breakfast at Tiffany’s and Marilyn Monroe’s dresses from Some Like it Hot and the infamous billowing white dress, behind a protective glass screen.
That was excellent. Simply fantastic. In the tacky Hollywood gift shop outside we discussed our favourite moments, and examined design and fashion books. I couldn’t help but wonder how I would define a costume for myself, and what message I want my clothes to put across. Perhaps when I go clothes shopping next time, if I consider it a design process, I might enjoy it a little more.
The museum was closing now, open late on a Friday, but shutting now it was 9 o’clock. We stepped out into the cold streets of Kensington, hungry for some dinner. We stumbled on Comptoir Libanais, a Lebanese restaurant with an exciting menu, and teaming with diners. Seated at the far end Sam enjoyed a Lamb and Prune tagine, and I had the lamb and harissa burger with Lebanese fries, which were simply scrumptious.
We walked the snowy, icy streets of Kensington back to our hotel. It wasn’t even my birthday yet, and I was having a fabulous time.