Design school celebrates creative forces behind film

The Art of Motion Picture Costume Design exhibit at the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising is nothing new. In fact, the school’s museum, located at its Downtown Los Angeles campus, has been putting on the exhibition since 1993. This year, however, marks the 20th anniversary of the program, and the curators pulled out all the stops.

The exhibit features more than 100 costumes from 20 films, including all five of the 2012 Academy Award nominees for best costume design. Pieces of Hollywood memorabilia that are a part of the museum’s permanent collection are also on display.

Material world · FIDM is currently exhibiting costumes, designed by 2012 Academy Award nominee Sandy Powell, from Martin Scorsese’s Hugo. - Photo courtesy of Alex J. Berlinger/ABImages

“It has evolved into an institution,” Nick Verreos, a curator, FIDM professor and former Project Runway contestant, said. “We contact designers and studios throughout the year to have it in place.”

Curators looked for a wide variety of costumes when accumulating pieces for the exhibit, including science fiction, vintage and new garments. Equally important was predicting the Academy Award nominations ahead of time and making them a part of the show.

“They have a sixth sense of knowing the nominations,” Verreos said.

Obtaining influential designs like the 2011 Academy Award winning Alice in Wonderland costume by Colleen Atwood,  which greets viewers at the museum entrance, has become easier over the years.

“It was problematic 18, 19 years ago when no one knew what it was about,” Verreos said. “Now everyone is happy to be a part of it.”

The true standout of the show is the set of five 1920s inspired pieces from The Artist, designed by Mark Bridges, which start the exhibition. The costumes are bound to resonate with fashion-conscious viewers, as the shimmering velvet, fur accents and golden embroidery on the flapper-style dresses are reflected in many of today’s designer collections.

“They are so in,” Verreos said. “Gucci did all 1920s flapper shapes for fall, which is very much The Artist shape.”

Verreos also explained that all the pieces in the movie, except for the hats, were remade versions of vintage fashions. To do this, the cutter laid out the vintage inspirations and examined them before cutting patterns for the new garments. The result is immaculately clean and polished, taking the viewer directly back to the era that inspired the film.

Not all the costumes shown, however, have quite the aesthetic of a modern runway show. Verreos insists that showing the eccentric and often unwearable is part of the artistic aspect of costume design. Many women judge clothing based on what they would like to wear, but the objective of costume design is to make clothes that look like they came from the characters’ closets.

“Fashion is about embracing everything,” Verreos said. “You have to step back and not be personal about it. You have to ask yourself: Why is it jarring? What about it has an effect?”

This academic point of view is something Verreos and other professors instill in their students who use the school’s museum as an educational experience. Curators, in turn, make an effort to display designs by FIDM graduates, many of whom have gone on to design for motion pictures.

“We are grateful that there are FIDM grads that go through the costume design program here and are part of big and small films,” Verreos said. “We are always looking to share the space with them.”

Film buffs and general audiences are sure to enjoy the collection as much as fashion students. Walking through the display is like being a part of Hollywood magic, allowing one to meander through different worlds and eras during the span of a visit.

Though our culture has become fixated on the external image of Hollywood and the actors that put visions into action, this exhibit reminds viewers of the creative forces behind the films we love.

“The red carpet is such an important part of fashion today,” Verreos said. “But I love that costumes are back in the spotlight. There is another red carpet inside the movies.”

The Art of Motion Picture Costume Design will be on display through April 28 and admission is free to the public.