This time around the Hollywood Costume collection has taken up residence at Phoenix Art Museum until July 6, 2014 and offers a comprehensive collection of costumes from some of the most popular and important films of the last 100 years of cinema. While the costumes are breathtaking, the audiovisual components and display accompaniments are a work of art unto themselves.

The Hollywood Costume collection was curated by costume designer Dr. Deborah Nadooolman Landis (“Raiders of the Lost Ark,” “Coming to America” and wife of producer and director John Landis), Sir Christopher Frayling (Professor Emeritus of Cultural History, Royal College of Art) and set and costume designer and Victoria and Albert Assistant Curator, Keith Lodwick. The exhibition was designed by Casson Man of London. Years of archive searching and scouring private collections went into procuring these costumes. Hollywood Costume is organized by the Victoria and Albert Museum in London and Phoenix Art Museum is its West Coast debut.

Costumes have each been painstakingly placed on specially positioned mannequins, many of which have a flat-screen TV of the star’s head (in character) placed atop the costume. The subtle movement of the character’s head gives life to the costume. In one display, the Don Juan character as played by Errol Flynn in “The Adventures of Don Juan,” is engaged in a sword fight with Captain Jack Sparrow from “Pirates of the Caribbean.”  By displaying the costumes posed in such a manner, it gives new respect as to how actors must move and engage on screen in costumes that are sometimes bulky, massive and elaborate. Other costumes such as Frankenstein’s massive overcoat (worn by Robert De Niro in Mary Shelly’s “Frankenstein”), Indiana Jones’ jacket (from “Raiders of the Lost Ark”) and Captain Jack Sparrow’s elaborate pirate coat from “Pirates of the Caribbean” show how the art of “teching” (weathering, aging or otherwise treating a costume to give it a particular look) is a skill that further helps develop and give insight to a character.

One thing that struck me as I walked through the exhibit is the intricate detail of the costumes. It was interesting to see how those costumes played into the film characters and what the costumes relayed about the character and how we perceived them. I dare you to walk by the outfit worn by Indiana Jones in “Raiders of the Lost Ark” and not automatically hear composer John Williams’ theme song blaring in your head as Indy runs through the ancient temple dodging darts and a massive rolling boulder. Every display evokes images, sounds and memories from some of the biggest films ever made.

Phoenix Art Museum 1 Small_framed.jpgThe ship-boarding dress worn by Rose in “Titanic” is so buttoned-up, straight-laced and restricting that, in person, it gives you the sense of just how Kate Winslet’s character truly felt smothered. “To me, it was a slave ship taking me back to America in chains…,” recalled character Rose DeWitt Bukater in the film and the costume certainly reflects that sentiment. The iconic yellow track suit worn by The Bride in “Kill Bill” gives you some indication of the intense action and movement that actress Uma Thurman had to go through to portray her character.

The oldest costume in the collection is an exquisitely beaded dress from the 1920 film, “Sex” and the newest costumes are from Oscar nominated film “American Hustle.” Other costumes of note include a Superman costume from “Superman IV: Quest for Peace;” full suit costumes from “The Blues Brothers;” a warrior tunic from “Gladiator;” a couple of breathtaking gowns from “Cleopatra;” and a few wild and zany black and white suits from “101 Dalmatians.” In fact, there are many pieces in this collection that were worn by actress Glenn Close, who attended the premier of the collection at Phoenix Art Museum in March 2014.   

An accompaniment to the Hollywood Costume exhibition is the Hollywood Red Carpet collection housed in the level just above the costumes in the Ellman Fashion Design Gallery (if you don’t immediately spot it in the museum, just ask any of their helpful docents). Designer gowns from Glenn Close (Zac Posen), Amy Adams (Oscar de la Renta), Jessica Chastain (Giorgio Armani) and Renee Zellweger (Carolina Herrera) light up the room. The intricate details, especially in Ms. Adams’ gown, were simply stunning and it gave me further appreciation on just how much thought and handiwork goes into the creation of these red carpet gowns. Thoughtfully displayed alongside stills of the stars wearing their gowns, it was remarkable to ogle each one as a piece of art. My personal favorite was a deep green (with perhaps just a subtle hint of aqua) fitted Zac Posen creation that Glenn Close wore in 2011, with a knee-high mermaid flare that was simply stunning. I’m not sure if I was more impressed from the expert structure of the gown or just thinking of how Ms. Close was able to walk in such a curve-hugging ensemble.

Hollywood Red Carpet collection is co-curated by Dennita Sewell, Phoenix Art Museum’s Curator of Fashion Design and Dr. Deborah Nadoolman Landis, a renowned costume designer and historian. The gown collection is a beautiful sister display to the Hollywood Costume collection.

Whether you are a movie buff, fashionista or just appreciate the work and art of costuming, the Hollywood Costume collection is simply extraordinary and not to be missed. The exhibit runs now through July 6, 2014 (Hollywood Red Carpet runs through July 27, 2014) at the Phoenix Art Museum located at 1625 N. Central Avenue. Tickets include museum general admission and are $20 for adults, $10 for children 6-17 and free for those under 6. Advanced tickets are available online at or by calling 602-257-2124.

Native Arizonan Lynette Carrington is an award-winning freelance writer and currently contributes to more than 30 publications in-state and nationwide. She loves Arizona and the many diverse travel and cultural opportunities our state presents to locals and visitors.

Lynette is a part of the Arizona Office of Tourism's Guest Blogger Program and was gifted tickets to this exhibit by the museum. 


Phoenix Art Museum 1-Costumes from the film “Titanic.” Image courtesy of Phoenix Art Museum

Phoenix Art Museum 4 - © Twentieth Century Fox/The Kobal Collection/Merrick Morton. Costume Designer: Michael Kaplan

Phoenix Art Museum 5-Holllywood Costume will be on display at Phoenix Art Museum through July 6, ’14.