The Art of Film Fashion: ACMI Melbourne Celebrates Hollywood Costume Design

The Art of Film Fashion: ACMI Melbourne Celebrates Hollywood Costume Design
(Source: Pieces of Victoria)

The most celebrated aspect of the Hollywood film industry is undoubtedly the actors and actresses who bring the characters they play to life. But how far would these stars and starlets get without the myriad of talented people working behind the scenes to give them the best possible atmosphere and environment in which to portray their characters?

One of the most important behind-the-scenes roles of any film is that of costume designer, yet how many of the most famous Hollywood costumes could you associate with their creator. The answer is most likely none. Cue the fantastic exhibition Hollywood Costume, a celebration of iconic Hollywood movie fashion that has just opened at Melbourne’s Australian Centre for the Moving Image (ACMI).


Developed by London’s Victoria and Albert Museum, Hollywood Costume brings together 100 of the most memorable movie costumes from some of the most famous Hollywood films. From the iconic Dorothy Gale outfit from “The Wizard of Oz” to the Jack Sparrow costume worn by Johnny Depp in the “Pirates of the Caribbean” to Lindy Hemming's high-tech Batman suit worn by Christian Bale in “The Dark Knight Rises,” Hollywood Costume is a veritable encyclopaedia of film fashion. Other highlights of the exhibition include Superman's cape and undies, Holly Golightly’s gloves, and Queen Elizabeth's regal outfit as worn by Cate Blanchett in “Elizabeth.”

“When a character and a film capture the public’s imagination; the costumes can ignite worldwide fashion trends and influence global culture,” explains eminent Hollywood costume designer and “Hollywood Costume” Senior Guest Curator Deborah Nadoolman Landis. “Cinematic icons are born when the audience falls deeply in love with the people in the story. And that’s what movies, and costume design, is all about.”

There is no denying that the costumes worn by some of the most revered and respected stars of the big screen played a significant role in the expression of character, identity, time, culture, and place – perhaps more than people realise. These iconic costumes are more than mere items of clothing; they play an integral part in the integrity and believability of a film. This is what Hollywood Costume aims to convey.

Although Australia is far from the bright lights of Hollywood, many people may not realise that one of the most celebrated Hollywood costume designers of the last 100 years, Orry-Kelly, was born in Australia. Orry-Kelly (1897-1964) won three Oscars for his costume beginning in 1951 with his costumes for “An American in Paris,” then again in 1957 for his contribution to George Cukor's classic 1957 film “Les Girls,” and last but not least in 1959 for his costumes for the iconic romantic comedy “Some Like it Hot.” The dress worn by Marilyn Monroe (Sugar Kane Kowalczyk) in “Some Like it Hot” is one of the highlights of the Hollywood Costume exhibition.

Looking at some of Orry-Kelly’s amazing costume sketches in the collection of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art it becomes apparent that Orry-Kelly was as much an artist as he was a costume designer. The attention to detail and theatricality of his sketches reveal just how much time and effort he invested in his designs. One of the best examples of Orry-Kelly’s talent is his costume sketch of Una Merkel as Lorraine Fleming in the Warner Brothers Production “42nd Street.” The sketch is a work of art in its own right, a beguiling portrait of a character that is so skilfully rendered that the costume itself is all that is needed to convey the character and personality of Una Merkel’s role.

An exhibition of Hollywood Costumes wouldn’t be complete without the opportunity to see some wonderful Hollywood movies, and what better place to see a film than the Australian Centre for the Moving Image.  In conjunction with the Hollywood Costume exhibition, ACMI will show two films for which Orry-Kelly was the costume designer: George Cukor's musical “Les Girls” starring Gene Kelly and “Auntie Mame,” a riches-to-rags-back-to-riches tale featuring Melbourne-born Coral Brown as Vera.

To see the full program of events visit the ACMI website here

See Hollywood Costyme highlights from the V&A London in the video below