Hollywood’s biggest night is returning this Sunday after two years of pandemic-related disruptions. But right now, you can see costumes that were featured in Oscar-nominated films up close at the “Art of Costume Design in Film” exhibition at the Fashion Institute of Design & Merchandising (FIDM) Museum. This is the 30th year in a row that the exhibit is up.
Costumes from 22 Oscar-nominated films are on display, from Marvel’s “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings” to the San Fernando Valley coming-of-age piece “Licorice Pizza.” Among them, all five Oscar nominees for Best Costume Design, including “Dune” and “Cruella,” may be the ones to look out for.
FIDM Chair of Fashion Design Nick Verreos shares insights into the one-of-its-kind exhibition and costumes that won him.
What can people expect from the “Art of Costume Design in Film” exhibition?
Nick Verreos: As a part of the exhibition that we've been doing for 30 years, we also love to showcase the variety of genres of costume design. Not only will you always see period styles, you'll see sci-fi as well as contemporary.
We really want to educate the public that costume design isn't always about what people conceive it to be like Marie Antoinette costumes — although we have something similar to that with “Cyrano,” of course. It's also about T-shirts, jeans, and even little red shorts — as in “King Richard”'s little red shorts.
What are your personal favorites from this exhibit?
I have to be the Switzerland of costume design. They’re all my favorite, but I do especially love the Charles James’ red gown in “Cruella” and the Lady Jessica dress from “Dune.” In fact, the costume designer said that the Lady Jessica dress is probably the most expensive gown she’s ever made. And when you look at it, it could be on the Academy Awards red carpet.
What inspired the costumes in “Cruella,” and which ones stood out to you?
“Cruella” is all about Cruella before she became Cruella — when she was Estella. I think that put a lot of pressure on costume designer Jenny Beavan because this is a movie primarily about a young budding fashion designer in the 1970s London punk scene. I think that she really proved herself with this film.
Beavan says she thought about the clothing stores from that time period, such as Crocodile, Biba and Vivienne Westwood. She was also inspired by Nina Hagen, a German punk new wave singer.
I watched the film on a plane but I noted every quarter of an inch of the clothing. For me, it was perfection. I knew instantly it would be nominated.
There’s a particular red gown that we have on display — it’s a fire red gown. In the film, she attends this party, and the cloak over the red gown turns into fire. That red gown was actually inspired by a 1955 Charles James dress called the “Tree” gown.
Jenny Beavan says that one of her cutters, who she’s always used for many of her films, has been wanting to make that Charles James gown for some movie and finally said, “Darling, you can do it for ‘Cruella.’”
What other films made an impression on you with their costume design?
“Dune” was stunning. Just talking about it gives me costume goosebumps. It was designed by Jacqueline West as well as Bob Morgan. Two thousand costumes were made for the film. [West] said that [number of costumes] is more than [the number] used for “Star Wars” as well as “Ben-Hur.” She said she looked at different time periods [for inspiration], and when you look at the film, you see it. She actually said that she had to go 1,000 years in the past to go 10,000 years in the future.
The medieval times came into effect as an inspiration as well as the Templars and “Lawrence of Arabia.” It’s a futuristic vision of “Lawrence of Arabia” and how the desert planet dwellers would dress.
Even when you look at the Bene Gesserit, [West] said she was inspired by a modern version of the abaya or a Catholic nuns’ habit. I think it’s fascinating to look at the past to then look at the future when it comes to costuming.
Did any films have standout menswear?
[Menswear] is the peacock of fashion at the moment. I think that has spilled over into costuming. A great example of that is in “West Side Story.”
I love the way Paul Tazewell, the film’s costume designer, told the story of how he separated the wardrobe, the styles, the costumes for the two different gangs, the Sharks and the Jets.
You have the aspirational Puerto Ricans (the Sharks), and they’re more dressed. They’re dressed to aspire — more suits and more tailored ties because they want to do better for themselves and their people.
While the white gang, they’re dressed in workwear, denim, almost as they've given up when it comes to fashion.
One of my favorites actually in the exhibition is from “The Tragedy of Macbeth” from costume designer Mary Zophres. It’s Denzel Washington who wears it. There’s this gorgeous cloak coat that has little golden stars on it. That fabric actually came from the house of Valentino, so it’s a modern fabric for a period film.
And of course for all you Marvel fans, we have a lot of Marvel costumes and a lot of menswear uniforms from that.
Is the exhibit open to all?
Anybody can come in and experience the art of costume design. I think by charging a fee, you might limit who might be able to come.