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Thursday, 18 October 2012

Leading Ladies - the V&A Hollywood Costume Exhibition

Nothing like a good film Dear Readers, to inspire, terrify or delight. Of course, being a mannequin, presentation of image is as important to me as the main story itself. The sets, music and costumes (like all good supporting actors) come together to set the scene, giving ambience to the storyline and adding to the subliminal character of the actors.
The news then, that the V and A were to mount an exhibition of some of the most iconic costumes from the last century of filmmaking and that Proportion London and sister company GEMS STUDIO were to construct the mannequins for the exhibit, has led me to stalk the workshops all year in the hope that I might get a close up view of some of the sartorial treats in store. Sadly this has not been the case, since like the V and A exhibition “Hollywood Costume", the precious garments themselves must literally be kept under wraps until the very last minute.  But, ever the sleuth, Miss Mannequin has continued to stalk, capturing a box brownies worth of images of the mannequin making process and preparation for the recent launch. This is indeed, the secret life of mannequins!

For just a moment, imagine “The Wizard of Oz” without Dorothy’s gingham dress, “Gone with the Wind” without Scarlett O’Hara’s drawing room curtain dress, or Robert de Niro’s “Taxi Driver” character Travis Bickle, without that infamous army jacket! All those fabulous cinematic images and more are clearly etched on our minds and instantly recalled when we think of our favourite films. As Hollywood Costume Designer Ann Roth so succinctly put it “I don’t dress movie stars. I dress actors who are playing characters.” In this way the costumes become almost as important as the players themselves.

During the preparation and construction process of any memorable costume figure, the ingenuity of the proportion/gems team is frequently tested to the max. Studio Manager Sam Hoye employs many varied techniques to get the perfect pose. For instance, Uma Thurman’s gravity defying, “Kill Bill” karate kick was freeze framed with some very creative armature and sculpt work. From the initial doll-size maquette, utilising tiny wooden articulated artist’s mannequins to show correct positioning, right through to seeing the final figure wearing the toile of the catsuit – this process is truly fascinating.

Audrey Hepburn’s much loved “Breakfast at Tiffany” character Holly Golightly, achieved just the right note, slight and understatedly chic, the final elfin figure looked fantastic in her custom made toile.

Tippi Hedren’s lead character in the famous Alfred Hitchcock adaptation of Daphne du Maurier’s “The Birds” swoons with fright, yet still manages to maintain a certain glamour in her repressed tweedy two-piece.


Nicole Kidman’s character in Baz Luhrmann’s delightful jukebox musical “Moulin Rouge” is so memorable as the exotic scarlet songbird Satine. Seated high on the swing above the heads of the sombrely clad throng of enthralled characters below her, the mannequin presented another interesting challenge for the proportion / Gems team. Sam stated ”every figure is unique in pose, body shape and from a conservation aspect”.


These examples are just some of the many figures and costumes on show. I have had such fun recording the project through the eyes of the workshop, but you Dear Reader must attend the exhibition and see for yourself these devastating costumes and where they fit into the magical world of Hollywood storytelling.

Let me know which one was your favourite......

Hollywood Costume, is sponsored by Harry Winston and runs at the V and A until January 27th 2013.
For more information and to book your ticket, visit www.vam.ac.uk/hollywoodcostume

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