Leading Australian fashion hotspot Melbourne is currently paying host to the globally touring ‘Hollywood Costume’ exhibition at its Australian Centre for the Moving Image. Playing homage to the greatest cinematic costumes stretching from the start of the movie era to the present day, the exhibit emphasises the power of costumes to make or break not just a scene, but a whole film.
From female, male, superhero to the supernatural costumes, there is opportunity for everyone to have that moment of glee when they instantly recognise designs from their favourite films. For every item on display, there is a fascinating explanation on why and how the costume was designed, along with recordings of candid interviews with the likes of Meryl Streep, Al Pacino and Martine Scorsese.
Although everyone costume deserves a nod, the most breathtaking and showstopping displays at the exhibitions which drew the biggest crowds were the famous dresses. It’s a list that is in no way exhaustive, but here’s a little walk down memory lane to revisit some of the most iconic dresses in film of all time.
The exhibition runs until August 18th, see here for more information.
Vivien Leigh – Gone With The Wind
Despite hardly being a practical mode of attire for whipping around the shops in, Leigh’s striking gown in Gone With The Wind endures as one of the most memorable of all time.
Affectionately dubbed “the curtain dress” (Leigh’s character, the feisty Scarlett O’Hara, has the dress made out of her curtains so she can look like a lady when she meets her beau), the costume symbolises O’Hara’s will to survive and determination to get what she wants. The creation of costume designer Walter Plunkett, the dress is almost entirely in green with a moss green velvet overskirt, a semi cape on the left shoulder, a drapery cord belt and a matching hat, and was worn by Leigh when she graced the cover of Time Magazine in 1939.
Audrey Hepburn – Breakfast At Tiffany’s
It was our own Audrey Hepburn who was the poster girl for this exhibition, wearing that little black dress from 1961’s Breakfast At Tiffany’s. Coco Chanel may lay claim to creating the LBD, but it was Hepburn’s turn in this flick which saw the popularity of the style sky rocket and continue as a global wardrobe staple.
Frequently cited as the most iconic dress in film in the twentieth century, the dress was designed by Hubert de Givenchy and epitomises timeless, feminine and quintessential Parisian chic. Fashioned from black Italian satin sheath, the gown features a fitted bodice embellished with cut-out décolleté, a gathered waist and a slit to the thigh on one side, along with matching black elbow length gloves and a classic string of pearls. The utter perfection and elegance of the clothes of Hepburn’s character, Holly Golightly, is deliberate as it is this beautiful exterior which is the perfect disguise to hide an inner sadness.
Kate Winslet – Titanic
The bluntly but accurately named ‘suicide jump dress’ was donned by lead character Rose DeWitt Bukater in the scene where she first sets Jack Dawson’s heart a racing, who saves her from leaping into the ocean from the deck of the doomed ship.
This exquisitely beaded gown, designed by Deborah L Scott, took more than a staggering 1,000 hours to complete, and features cap sleeves and embellished overskirt with black lace and tulle lined with red silk satin. Following Jack’s enlightening monologue on how cold the Atlantic ocean can get, it is in fact the floor length beading on Rose’s gown which she is seen tripping on before Jack heroically hoists her back onto the deck.
Nicole Kidman – Moulin Rouge
It was Kidman’s turn in Baz Luhrmann’s Moulin Rouge which saw her adored in an array of spectacular gowns, including the famous red corset creation by Luhrmann’s wife and costume design extraordinaire Catherine Martin, along with Angus Strathie. Worn by the tragic heroine Satine, this seductive, red silk satin dress laces up the back and boasts a deep-V bodice, A-line skirt, train, black lace lining, and a dramatic bustle; reflecting both Satine’s stunning beauty and her entrapment as a courtesan in the gilded cage of the Moulin Rouge. With the rouge hue also symbolising romance and passion, this is importantly the dress Satine wears for her defining duet with love interest Christian.
Keira Knightley – Atonement
This figure-hugging 1930’s style dress is one of the most famous gowns in film in the last decade and was designed by Atonement’s costumer, Jacqueline Durran. The striking emerald green shade was not only chosen for its wow factor, but also because it was symbolic of Knightley’s character; green is a shade which ultimately symbolizes temptation. Both in the novel and the film, it is this dress which plays a role in igniting the passionate affair which is central to the story, and in an interview with Entertainment Weekly, Durran said she felt this dress was the most important costume. “Instead of being constructed around Keira’s body the dress skimmed her frame and added to a feeling of semi-nakedness.” Backless and made of easily torn, featherweight silk satin, several copies of the dress had to be made for Knightley to wear throughout filming.