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Living LA: Hollywood Costume Exhibition

Having recently moved [back] to Los Angeles, I've been trying to take advantage of the awesomeness that this city has to offer. As a way to share my adventures and encourage myself to do more things, I'm starting a new segment called Living LA. In each post, I will talk about an event or place in LA that you really should check out. It'll cover all sorts of things from great restaurants to museums and even maybe a few pop-up niche events I care about. If it's your cup of tea, awesome; if not, well fuck it. Let's explore LA together.


As a creative writer and avid film buff, I'm mildly obsessed with the entertainment business. There are few things more enticing than a movie that can grab my attention and hold my emotions at its whim. A good movie invokes an air of imagination so strong that you can be invested in the characters of the story even after the last credits have rolled across the screen. To accomplish this task, a production company needs a team of experts in their craft; from the director and writers all the way to the individual actors and film editors. Yet, there is one key piece of the puzzle that is often overlooked by many viewers when they find a movie they love. While this piece gets as much screen time as all the actors combined, it still ends up largely undervalued in the success of the film as a whole.

Costume design for movies reaches back to the very beginning of cinema. Before special effects, or CGI, and even before sound was introduced, the look and costumes of the actors on screen were being meticulously planned and designed to help immerse the audience into the imaginative worlds told by Hollywood's legendary storytellers. Luckily for us, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (the guys who bring you the Oscars!) have teamed up with the Victoria and Albert Museum in London to open the doors to the intriguing world of costume design.

From October 2nd, 2014 until March 2nd, 2015, The Academy in LA is hosting an exquisite exhibition focused on the many talented people and inspiring costumes of some of your favorite movies. The exhibit, which is sponsored by costume and set designer Swarovski, contains some of the most iconic costumes of modern cinema while offering an in-depth and extremely informative look into the world of design within Hollywood.

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You start the adventure outside on a mock red carpet where you can snap a few pics with a huge faux Oscar statue before walking past a tuxedo clad security guard and on to the the ticket counter. Tickets are $20 each ($10 if you're a student) and are staggered at 15 minute intervals to prevent overcrowding. While the Academy recommends ordering tickets online, my experience showed it wasn't needed, so feel free to just show up and buy tickets there if you don't mind waiting a bit. My wife and I actually ran into issues while ordering online and ended up spending 15 minutes at the counter while group after group of people streamed past, buying their tickets in person.

Once inside, you're met with one of the most artistic media and technology enhanced exhibits I've seen in recent years. While this may be a costume exhibition, it is not just an open warehouse with a bunch of clothes placed on dull mannequins. Every display is complimented with some form a projected media, offering a captivating mixture of moving headshots with video projected onto 3D surfaces.

The exhibition is broken into four galleries. In the first, you'll dive into the history of costume design in cinema and grab a sneak peak at some truly classic outfits such as Charlie Chaplin's Tramp. Each costume is accompanied with a display, which provides technical details on the outfit, the movie it was worn in, as well as some quotes from the designer or actor about how the costume fit into the role of the character. As you progress through this section, you'll learn more about how the experts design characters for the story at hand through the skillful art of costume composition and construction. You'll also get the chance to see a few more favorite costumes up close, including outfits from The Adams Family movies, Fight Club, and Indiana Jones! They've dedicated the Indiana costumes to an entire display wall, offering a comprehensive breakdown of Indy's costume and how it was brought to life by the film's designer. Very interesting!

Moving on to the second gallery, you'll focus in on the creative collaborations between the actors, directors, and designers that helped to bring their characters to life. While this section is fairly short, it was probably my favorite purely for its unique use of video projection onto props and 3D surfaces coupled with alternating clips of interviews given by the creative teams. The display does an amazing job at telling a cohesive story from the intermixed perspectives of the pair of individuals involved and you'll almost refuse to believe the people talking in the videos had done their interviews separate from their counterparts.

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In the third gallery, you'll find a collection of costumes from the early 20th century and into the 21st. This section is more than just a jumble of characters though. If you follow the signage, you will progress through the story of the changing contexts of costumes in cinema. You'll learn about some of the ridiculously restrictive rules in place for actor's outfits in the early days of Hollywood and walk through the various genres of film produced through each milestone in cinematic history. It's quite unfortunate that photos are not allowed by the general public because here you get to be up close with so many well known costumes from iconic movies that your phone may feel like it's burning a hole in your pocket. The gallery culminates on a massive display dedicated to the costumes worn by Meryl Streep. Here, again, the exhibit curators have done an amazing job of presenting an informative yet entertaining display about the works of the famous actress and how she used her costumes to bring her characters to live.

The fourth gallery acts as a sort of grande finale, presenting you with a few dozen more costumes from pretty much every major motion picture of recognition in the last seventy years. Here you'll see everyone from Marilyn Monroe and Han Solo, to Neo, and Rocky Balboa. Every display is matched with an informative plaque about the costume and topped with a projection of the corresponding actor's face atop their outfit. If you've ever wanted to get close enough to your favorite movie character to count the cross-stitched threads of their jacket, this section is for you.

In all, the Academy's Hollywood Costume Exhibition is an extremely unexpected surprise set up right in the heart of Hollywood, California. While some of the people around us were breezing by each mannequin at a record speed, I would strongly recommend you take the time to read each display carefully. It'll be well worth the time and you'll come out of it feeling that your $20 was extremely well spent. They say that every outfit a character wears has a story. This exhibition proves that statement through and through.

The Hollywood Costume Exhibition is located right next to the LACMA and across from the Peterson Auto Museum. I highly recommend anyone who has an interest in cinema or simply enjoys learning about something new should go check it out before it's gone for good.

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