Tuesday, February 22, 2011


In Oscar season, it's all about the clothes

Look at this cool website I just discovered! For the last 17 years, the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising (FIDM) in Los Angeles has hosted an annual exhibit of the year's best movie costumes during Oscar season (February-April). The exhibit is not limited to the year's Best Costume nominees (although they are included), but covers films of all genres and budgets for an annual look at the most interesting onscreen clothes. (That's Arwen's coronation gown, designed by Oscar winner Ngila Dickson, and worn by Liv Tyler in The Lord of the Ring: The Return of the King, in situ at the FIDM exhibit from 2004.)

This years exhibit (costumes from 20+ movies from 2010, including all five Oscar nominees, up close and personal) runs through April 30. But for those of us not heading south anytime soon, the FIDM website provides a virtual online archive of its movie costume exhibitions. Not all of them; this year's and last year's exhibits are not yet online. Exhibits from 1997 and 1998 are represented only by a few fuzzy still photos. But from 1999 through 2009, the online collections expand to numerous photos images (many in drool-worthy detail) of an astonishing variety of films—the Elizabeth movies; the Lord of the Rings and Pirates of the Caribbean trilogies; Julie Taymor movies (Titus and Frida); Tim Burton movies; Austin Powers movies; Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon; Moulin Rouge; The Girl With the Pearl Earring; Chicago; Shakespeare In Love, and, well, the list goes on and on.

My only complaint is the lack of consistency on the site. In some featured years, only costumes from the five nominated films are online, while another year might feature costumes from 20 films or more. And no two of these online exhibits are organized exactly the same way; you have to do a lot of scrolling around and searching for appropriate buttons to access all the displays. Some have drop-down menus, others pop-up windows (the 2008 exhibit is only represented by a video featurette, where you can hardly see the clothes at all), but in most cases, if you can find and follow the prompt arrows, or the words "Enter" or "View," you'll probably see it all eventually. And it's worth seeing, especially the 2000 gallery, which features a side exhibit of costumes and accessories from the previous 100 years of film, from Fred Astaire's elegant dancing shoes to Sharon Stone's rude little white dress from Basic Instinct.

And let's face it, at Oscar time, it's all about the clothes. Me, I'm as much a sucker for the clothes worn to the ceremony as the clothes worn onscreen, so at this Sunday's Oscarcast (ABC, 5 p.m.), I'll brave the inevitable blithering of the TV interviewers to catch the red carpet fashion parade during the pre-game show. After all, by the time the actual ceremony rolls around, there aren't going to be that many surprises onstage, so we depend on the red carpet to deliver the drama.

My all-time favorite Oscar dress? Probably that luscious, faux-Edwardian teal green number that Kate Winslet wore the year she didn't win the Oscar for Titanic. To my amazement, this dress churned up a lot of controversy; self-appointed fashion Nazis lambasted it as too weird or matronly or something (this no doubt from the same pundits who used to complain that Kate Winslet—Kate Winslet, fer crying out loud!— was fat). But I just thought it was stunning, in a funky-chic retro way. After all, it's not like she showed up with a dead swan draped around her neck. (Which reminds me: I wonder what Natalie Portman will wear this year?)

You want to know how demented I am about the Oscars? For years, I've paid my own homage to the art of movie costuming by dressing up my vintage Barbie dolls as the Best Actress nominees. It began as something I did as a lark to spruce up the place back when Art Boy and I used to throw lavish Oscar Night parties, but then I started getting into the challenge of the thing. (You try transforming a Barbie doll into Kathy Bates in Misery. I dare you!) We don't throw those big parties any more, but I still find it therapeutic now and then, in a non-verbal, Zen sort of way, to costume the occasional doll.

Nominees in big, juicy, historical epics are the most fun to dress, of course; I was delirious the year both Gwyneth Paltrow in Shakespeare In Love, and Cate Blanchett in Elizabeth were in the running.

Not that the 20th Century can't be interesting too. This was my tribute to the nominees from the lurid '50s melodrama of Far From Heaven, the sassy, Depression-era '30s of Chicago, and the bohemian '20s and '30s of Frida.

And sometimes, it's all about the props, like the year Susan Sarandon and Geena Davis were both nominated for Thelma and Louise.

The Best Actor costumes are rarely as much fun, but I made an exception for Captain Jack Sparrow. I had to go to Goodwill and pop two bucks for a recycled Ken doll, but seriously, Ken never looked better.

So kids, in the spirit of this year's Best Picture nominee, Toy Story 3, the moral is, never throw your toys away. Recycle them to the Goodwill instead. You never know what sort of swashbuckling afterlife is waiting for them there!

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