Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Icons of Costume: Hollywood's Golden Era and Beyond

Everyone has a favorite movie. It could be a recent flick—or perhaps a classic from the 40’s or 50's with maybe Elizabeth Taylor or Clark Gable. The Icons of Costume: Hollywood's Golden Era and Beyond exhibit at the James A. Michener Art Museum gave me an opportunity to reflect on how many movies have brought so much pleasure to my life. Like the Grace Kelly Fashion Icon exhibit at the Victoria and Albert Museum, pictures of the movie stars’ outfits reminded me of a past elegance which we rarely experience in the “shoot ‘em up” movies of today!

It’s hard to say which star or which costume was my favorite. However, Esther Williams sequin gown was completely captivating. Her picture in a restaurant scene in the dress with two men in evening clothes told a story in itself if you let your imagination have a few moments to reflect on it. Other gowns worn by Barbara Stanwyck, Marlene Dietrich or Carol Burnett were stunning and fun as well.

Two ACI friends visited the Icons exhibit with me this summer and thoroughtly enjoyed it. Sherry Sklar came in July for a day and had a chance to meet Curator Erika Jaeger Smith, who graciously toured Sherry and some other friends. She described the difficulties of mounting the exhibit, especially having to cut down all of the mannequins because of the small waists of the early actors and actresses. Even Marilyn Monroe’s gold lame gown wouldn’t stretch around the currently sized display vehicles. We all remarked, “Wow! We didn’t have any idea that Rita Hayworth or Jane Russell had such small waists!” Sherry also felt the quality of the costumes and how well they had been preserved was noteworthy. She added, “The tour through Hollywood’s golden age was impressive in scope and focused on the early years of film-making. We saw many iconic costumes from movies so familiar on Turner Movie Classics. It was a delightfully informative afternoon that made you want to don a feather boa and strike a pose!”

Later in August, Barbara Payne was introduced to the James A. Michener Art Museum and Pennsylvania Impressionists artists. While she thought Redfield and Garber were terrific, she was especially enthusiastic about the costumes on display. Barbara didn’t waste a lot of time on the James Dean or Arnold Schwartzenegger outfits! I remember her saying, “The stars’ photographs alongside the costumes enhanced the exhibition.” Barbara was quite taken by the Elizabeth Taylor evening gown which she wore in her role as Vivien Leigh in “Gone with the Wind”. The green velvet one, sewn from the drapes! It was great to share a local cultural experience that was so beautifully done.

More than 55 costumes, used over the last 80 years of film-making, are still on display plus some fantastic pieces of jewelry, props and a number of hats. The Icons exhibit doesn’t conclude until September 5th. Designs by Edith Head, Adrian, Walter Plumkett and others represent high style and were an important tool in setting the mood and the historic period. I suggest that if you visit Bucks County, Pennyslvania, you try to catch the Icons of Costume in Doylestown!

A bonus to the Hollywood costume exhibit was a chance to see the designs of Michelle Berkowitz in the Pfundt Gallery. Michelle is a fabric artist of extraordinary talent. Her designs in some cases were exact to the period, such as a complete Civil War era dress, coat, bag and hat. Other items were mainly evening gowns of wonderful design and fabric which Michelle has worn to various events, mostly charity functions. Her husband, George Turak, always accompanies Michelle when she speaks in the Costume Gallery about her fabric art. He beams as she recalls details of her fabric or button selection and incidents which have happened while making or wearing her amazing dresses. A wonderful enhancement to the overall exhibit!

For more information on this exhibition, CLICK HERE

By Jane Jozoff
Photos: Barbara Stanwyck, The Great Man's Lady, 1942. Design: Edith Head. Black velvet gown, silver bugle beads. Private Collection. Provided courtesy of the James A. Michener Art Museum.  

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