Blockbuster ensembles

November 7, 2013
Yvonne Blake’s iconic superhero cape, boots and one-piece are part of a new exhibit at the Virginia Museum of Fine Art. Made of stretchy fabric, the suit is one of several Christopher Reeve, above, wore shooting 1978's "Superman: The Movie." Yvonne Blake’s iconic superhero cape, boots and one-piece are part of a new exhibit at the Virginia Museum of Fine Art. Made of stretchy fabric, the suit is one of several Christopher Reeve, above, wore shooting 1978’s “Superman: The Movie.”

Superheroes, Elizabethan royals and Hitchcock heroines don’t normally travel together by ship (or in any other manner). But that’s exactly how dozens of the clothed mannequins starring in the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts new exhibit, “Hollywood Costume,” slipped into the country. (Since the often elderly textiles are fragile, they must be stored on dummy forms, in huge crates too large to fit on a plane.)

The decades-spanning, cinematic show — a blockbuster from London’s Victoria & Albert Museum — uses those glamorously outfitted figures to delve into how clothes make the (fictional) man or woman.

Nearly 100 ensembles and garments — Indiana Jones’ leather jacket and fedora, a pair of Scarlett O’Hara’s flouncy bonnets from “Gone with the Wind” — dwell in a space set up like an old-timey soundstage. “These costumes provide the chance to see the textures and finishes you wouldn’t see on film up close,” says Doug Fisher, the VMFA’s coordinating curator.

The exhibit goes to visually arresting lengths to show the major role costuming plays in creating a character. One section uses clothing and video to explore how costumes have helped Meryl Streep and Robert De Niro morph into such figures as Margaret Thatcher and Jake LaMotta, as in Streep’s transformation for “The Iron Lady” via prim suits and De Niro’s spot-on, in-the-ring outfits from “Raging Bull.”

It’s hard not to be a bit star-struck wandering past Spider-Man in a typical crouch or a dummy dolled up in Marilyn Monroe’s sexy white “subway” dress from 1955’s “The Seven Year Itch.”

And that’s the point, really. “These costumes are iconic objects, all that remains in some cases from these movies,” says Robin Nicholson, VMFA’s deputy director for art and education. “People identify so strongly with them.”

A Star Trek

Richmond is the only East Coast stop for “Hollywood Costume,” so pilgrims must choose a 100-mile trip down I-95 or a two-hour, forty-minute train ride to Virginia’s capital city. Amtrak and the VMFA have sweetened the deal: Buy one round-trip ticket and the second’s 40 percent off. See vmfa.museum/AMTRAK for details.

Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, 200 N. Boulevard, Richmond, Va.; Sat.-Feb. 17, $20; 804-340-1400.

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