2002 Review
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Wizards, Apes and Showgirls - OH MY!     - or -
A Review of The Art of Motion Picture Costume Design Exhibit at FIDM

Presented here is a totally biased and a bit tilted review of FIDM's movie costume display - both of the exhibit and a few of the costumes.  All obsession with Lord of the Rings costumes is intentional.

by Cat Devereaux and F. W. Evans

Anxious and impatient, we waited for the Fashion Institute of  Design and Merchandising (FIDM) to announce their "The Art of Motion Picture Costume Design" exhibit of the films from 2001.  Despite being seriously interested in costume, focus was on just getting to see the costumes from Lord of the Rings and Moulin Rouge.  (We quickly discovered that was a narrow-minded idea.)

Can you imagine a gathering of costumes from all the Oscar nominated films from 2001?  Add in the costumes from 15 other outstanding films for the year.  Then because it is the 10th year of the exhibit at FIDM, add a retrospective -- just a taste of the costumes from the last 10 years.  We thought we could image that.  We turned out to be very wrong.  There is a limit to how much one's brain can take in at one time.  So we have been back multiple times.

Entering the Museum Galleries on the Park you are greeted with a sexy Mae West gown.  Turn to your left to enter the gallery proper and you travel though 10 years of the movies.  Imagine seeing the Titanic's red  jump dress glistening with its jet beads next to Queen Elizabeth's heavily embroidered peacock dress from Shakespeare in Love.  Imagine the outrageous black feathered number from Priscilla, Queen of the Desert with the elegance of the Age of Innocence. Imagine you can get within inches of all of these to see the amazing detail.  Now, imagine turning the corner again and discovering that those are just the teaser to almost 100 other costumes on museum caliber display.

Lord of the Rings costumes first. Seven costumes: Two wizards, two humans, an elven queen, the dark lord and the tiniest ring bearer. 

It does not matter what else is on the platform, your eyes go first to Sauron. The complete suit of armor towers above everything else. And when you say head and shoulders above "everything", this is totally serious for this spiked, wicked outfit that looks to be 7 feet tall. Black armor, sharp spikes, intricate articulation, amazing acid-etched designs, seriously threatening, beyond even any images created in the film. He is posed so one arm reaches out and points to his demand while he holds his massive yet intricate magical staff in his other gauntlet.  

OK, enough pros... but it was that spell binding. The hand-formed steel plate armor was made to be scanned into the computer. It is far too dangerous to actually wear more than just a piece at a time. The suit is built to be poseable and the set-up people at FIDM had taken full advantage of this to create the drama. When you can see the armor up close you understand why no modern techniques of foam or fiberglass construction could have been used. Even though you are not an expert in armor, your mind knows the look of the forge worked, hand hammered pieces.

Aragorn is represented with his Strider outfit. Simple, yet detailed in layers of worn leather - a laced duster that has seen much wear, and mending,  a battered suede doublet, a silk shirt that was once black - long ago.  The wear and aging detail on this is amazing.

The other human is, surprise, Isildur. His armor is a mix of plate and real chain mail. Detailing is amazing.  He is 200 pounds of powerful battle dress.  According to the docents, he took 3 hours to dress - no instruction sheets!

If you attended the first two weeks, you saw that the wizards were represented without their over cloaks and beards which left them lacking.  This was completed by the 3rd week.   Saruman is regal in his long, finely piped layers.  Gandalf carries a shabby elegance. Having  viewed the costumes without the glorious amounts of hair, you realize how much their hair is a part of their costume.  These two also demonstrate the magic of film stock and lighting.  Saruman is dressed in shades of dark cream that shows dazzling white.  Gandalf the Grey wears brown except for his almost featureless light gray felt hat.  In the film he is not only gray, but his hat blends in with wonderful texture.

Their choice for Galadriel is interesting... but the longer you stared, the more you understood plain silk was transformed into the elven delight before us.  The dress is cream silk with an 8 point petal design of silver and white heavy tread that is chain stitched to form the expanding petals. Heavier white thread fills in the triangular gaps with a crazy stitch. Simple small pears surrounded by iridescent seed beads or alternately a clover design of iridescent beads with a pearl inside each of the points and one more at the center. The cream silk sleeves are embroidered only 3/4 the way up the arm.  It is a unique pattern of flowers and leaves from an imagined time.  Miniscule iridescent sequins are secured with seed beads to the points of the ferns, daisy petal flowers and inverted heart shaped leaves.  

Frodo's outfit seemed so diminished by all the other costumes. FIDM did receive the costume in two sizes but only put out the smaller one. It is shire outfit that he wears to Bibbo's party. Just shirt, pants and simple brocade vest.

What a way to start an exhibit!

Next to the LOTR display  were the wonderful vintage garments for Gosford Park.  The bias pieced gowns are to die for.  Their silks cling to the mannequins and flare with elegance of a by-gone era.

Across the room, Satine,  from Moulin Rouge, high on her trapeze, taunts the other costumes .  A custom form of Nichole displays her Black diamond masterpiece of thousands of rhinestones. Her sassy Pink Diamond dress is also included among the 8 wonderful costumes.  

Three 3 incredibly glittery  can-can dancers show you a detail level  you could never see on the screen: The windmill dress, the harlequin and the baby doll are represented.   You get to see the lace detailing on the insides of the skirts.  Up to 9 rows of lace have been gathered and trimmed to present the wild surrealistic 1899 of the Moulin Rouge as seen though eyes a hundred years later.  

There are more costumes, the ringmaster, others from the play, but the dance hall dresses command the eye.  While not true 1899 costumes, their shear decadence with beading detail and hundreds upon hundreds of rhinestones scream out and pull you into the opulence and excess of the movie. 

The wedding dress from the play is elegant next to the wildness of the other.  Draped silk with wide swaths of trim from antique saris.  Gold and white, a wonderful contrast against the riot of color.

Harry Potter had a nice display of costumes and a set of the wands, but it did not hold up to the other 3 movies.  Harry's school clothes are impeccable. There are some wonderful details.  Ex: The Bloody Baron's outfit  is a copy of a suit from the Museum of London recreated in ghastly pale shattered fabrics.

The Affair of the Necklace, the 5th nominated film,  was hard to judge.  There was a pair of costumes there the first weekend that were underwhelming.  However, these were replace by the 3rd weekend with more ornate gowns.  These are lovely structured creations of 18th century France just before their revolution.  Up close you can see that the base embroidery has been created by computer and then over beaded, but looks like it would read wonderfully on the screen.

One other set of costumes to mention there that stopped us cold in our tracks: Planet of the Apes, a movie neither nominated for Costume or even more importantly Make-up. The ape costumes were an amazing combinations or layers, cutwork, fabric mixes and in their own way as complete as the LOTR costumes. The ape culture is brought to life with detailing down to the hairy toes in the custom made shoes. They had included extra banners and props from the movie. The masks have each individual hair added separately. The gorilla soldier armor is amazing. At times 300 extras were in these complete suits of including masks and armor. These are made exactly opposite from the hand pounded metal of LOTR by using foam construction to form light weight but richly 3-D armor.  

Now only singling out these does not lessen the other costumes that were on display from First Knight (which is wonderful in person) to Ocean's Eleven where every suit, dress, shirt and show was tailored from scratch for the actors. Each had their own amazing reason for being present with the other wonderful garments.

The entire display at FIDM is wonderfully up to the standards of a museum quality display.  There were three rooms of amazing mannequins.  Their docent tours add rich details.

There is one major disappointing item for the whole display.  There is no exhibit book.  In some ways it is understandable given the ownership and copyright issues of all the outfits and the limited time they would have to produce the book.  However, since no photography is allowed, the whole exhibit disappears when the show closes.  Individual books for movies do not display the costumes in this way or even photograph the details they way they would be done for a book, or even post cards.  It is a sincere wish that either the exhibit be preserved for posterity.  Pictures cards could be bought by the visitors... or at least let them snap photos with no flash... Do not let the memory just fade!

In summary, if you're really into costumes it's wonderful to see all the various designer's works and different styles and views on clothing. Also the craftsmanship on some of these costumes is absolutely amazing. A good movie costume is as much craftsmanship as design in my opinion. Granted they are not meant to be worn on the street but they still have to stand up to the stress of shooting and the constant cleaning that is required.


If you are within a jaunting distance of Los Angeles, it makes sense to come to not miss this exhibit. For the costume purest, even a day trip from San Francisco, without frequent flyer miles should be considered.

We will just repeat what we said before, come see this... if you at all possibly can. It is spectacular to say the least. FIDM has outdone themselves again.

Exhibit Details: 

bulletMonday February 18th - Friday, May 3rd, 2002
bullet Monday - Saturday, 10:00am to 4:00 pm
bulletWhere: Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising (FIDM) - Museum Galleries on the Park.  (9th and Grand)
bulletCheck out the full page of Exhibit Details.

Costumes from 20 different movies: Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Rings, Moulin Rouge, Harry Potter, Gosford Park, The Affair of the Necklace, Ali, The Man Who Wasn't There, Planet of the Apes, Zoolander, Spy Kids, Ocean's Eleven, Original Sin, The Princess Diaries, Kate and Leopold, The Royal Tanenbaums, Pearl Harbor, Dark Blue World, A Knight's Tale, Legally Blonde, and The Shipping News. 

Also costumes (from their permanent collection) from Bram Stoker's Dracula, The Age of Innocence, The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, Restoration, The English Patient, Titanic, Shakespeare in Love, Topsy-Turvy, and Gladiator. 

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This page last updated 07/27/09