Going to the movies is a great way to get out of the blistering Arizona heat, but Phoenix Art Museum’s Hollywood Costume exhibit, on display through July 6, is worth skipping the theater to see.
Although it features 100 costumes spanning 100 years of movie making — including Dorothy’s pinafore from “Wizard of Oz,” Darth Vader’s cape and helmet, and Indiana Jones’ hat and jacket — the exhibit is about more than famous clothes. It’s ultimately about the art of costume design and the pivotal role costume designers play in creating the film personalities we all know and love.
Envisioned and curated by Deborah Landis — the designer responsible for the costumes in “Indiana Jones” and “The Blues Brothers” — the exhibit takes viewers through the three stages of the design process: creating a character, collaborating with the director and presenting the finished work.
“This was an extension of everything I love,” says Landis, who spent five years working on Hollywood Costume before it opened in 2012 at the world’s premier design museum: London’s Victoria and Albert Museum. It was the biggest exhibition in the museum’s history, drawing 268,000 people in 14 weeks.
“It’s the synthesis of my practice as a costume designer and my scholarship and doctoral dissertation,” says Landis, whose passion for her craft comes through palpably in the exhibition, which makes its final stop in Phoenix before being dismantled.
Like a movie, Hollywood Costume unfolds gradually, giving visitors time to absorb each phase of the design process and the close proximity of famous outfits like Spiderman’s suit, Beyoncé’s dress from “Dreamgirls,” and Matt Damon’s clothes from “The Bourne Identity.”
According to Richard Jensen, the architect who designed the exhibit’s Phoenix installation, this cinematic pacing was intentional.
The costumes are displayed on 12 platforms, which are approximately the size of a UPS truck. Fitting them in the building was tricky, Jensen says, but the real challenge was coordinating them all in an elegant way.
“The best thing I could do was choreograph it like a movie,” says Jensen, who paced Landis’ exhibit perfectly, drawing vistors into the exhibit with a glimpse of Nicole Kidman’s outfit from “Moulin Rouge,” then surprising them with a large-screen montage of classic movie scenes, then drawing them through a sound stage door with a glimpse of Spiderman crawling down the wall.
From there, it’s hard not to be enchanted by the clothes, the multimedia displays and the feeling that you’ve snuck behind the silver screen, if only for an hour, to see how magic is made.
Landis hopes “to inspire the audience” with this exhibit and, once you see it, you’ll agree with us that she does.