Wednesday, 13 July 2011


I spent
 last evening in the Assembly Rooms at the opening of the most fabulous exhibition - 'Dressing the Stars' - British Costume Design and the Academy Awards.  This exhibition is dedicated to award winning costume from some of the most iconic films.  It was opened by Sir Christopher Frayling - Rector of the Royal College of Art - who gave a great opening speech, as one would expect.  Here was a man who really gets it about costume and the designers and makers.  People who are very often overlooked and are often at the bottom of the credits list at the end of a film.  He stressed the importance of these talented people whose job it is to put clothes on the back of the actor and create a believable character.  Of course he was preaching to the converted as far as I am concerned!  Historical Fashion is my all consuming passion  and there was plenty there last night.  The photograph shows the dress worn by Gwyneth Paltrow as Viola de Lesseps in Shakespear in Love - a film I watch over and over .  The work in this dress is amazing.  On very close inspection you can see that for the stomacher and tassets of the bodice the designer has used fragments of antique Indian embroidery.  This embroidery is of metal wires and threads and is still mounted on the original background fabric.  The cleverness here comes from the choice of colour for the fabric of the dress which is almost identical to the background fabric of the embroidery, and this has just been trimmed very carefully and then mounted on to the dress fabric.  I spent a long time looking at this dress and thinking about the process involved.  The first being to find the correct type of embroidery to turn something into a plausible Elizabethan bodice.  Which came first I wondered, was it the embroidery and then the whole thing  built around that or was it the dress fabric. Or was it all already in the costume department in various boxes just waiting for the right project?  I know as part of my experiences at the big Textile Fairs that Film and Theatre designers spend endless hours trawling through boxes and boxes of trims, fabrics and buttons, beads, ribbons to find just the right finishing touch.  The reward for this is visible in the end result.  Using period trimmings and textiles make such a difference to creating a plausible costume .  Sandy Powell was the Designer for Shakespear in Love and she was well rewarded with an Academy Award for Best Costume Design  and nominated for a BAFTA Film Award for Best Costume Design in 1998.

Sir Christopher was right - its about time due credit was given to the thousands of costume designers and makers for their vision and skill.