Reel Thing

Written by Niki D'Andrea Category: Valley News Issue: March 2014
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Phoenix Art Museum rolls out the red carpet for the highly anticipated Hollywood Costume exhibition.
Imagine standing as close to Marilyn Monroe's white cocktail dress as the subway grate she stood over for the iconic billowing skirt scene in The Seven Year Itch, or being near enough to Indiana Jones' jacket to smell the vintage leather. Both are within the realm of possibility at Phoenix Art Museum this month, as PAM presents the west coast premiere of the Hollywood Costume exhibition, featuring more than 75 costumes from films both classic and contemporary.

A century's worth of celluloid treasures – many on public display for the first time – will be up for ogling, including Dorothy's gingham dress from The Wizard of Oz, the Gryffindor uniform from Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, the motion-capture suits used in Avatar, the Cockney flower girl costume from My Fair Lady, the cowboy outfits from Brokeback Mountain, Christopher Reeve's Superman suit from Superman IV: The Quest for Peace, and the Edith Head-designed dress worn by Hedy Lamarr in Samson and Delilah (1949). Visitors to Hollywood Costume will get to see the latter dress, immortalized in black-and-white, in all its colorful, peacock-inspired glory.

The costumes have many different owners, which made corralling them a bit of a logistical challenge. Phoenix Art Museum is only the second location in the U.S. to host the exhibition, which was organized by London's Victoria and Albert Museum, and co-curated by renowned costume designer Deborah Nadoolman Landis – who designed the aforementioned Indiana Jones jacket. The exhibition is curated locally by Dennita Sewell, Curator of Fashion Design at Phoenix Art Museum, who points out in PAM's press release that the multimedia exhibition "truly examines, for the first time, the weight and importance of the costume designers' contributions to the development of a story, and the creation of a world unto itself."

The exhibition is divided into three acts: "Deconstruction," which looks at the link between clothing and identity and includes costumes from The Last Emperor and Fight Club; "Dialogue," which traces the collaboration between designers, directors and actors through costumes from The Birds, Edward Scissorhands and Gangs of New York; and "Finale," which boasts some of the most beloved costumes in moviedom, like the Monroe dress, the Batman suit from The Dark Knight Rises, and the green silk gown Keira Knightley wore in Atonement.

Tickets for Hollywood Costume, which runs March 26 through July 6, cost $20 for adults and $10 for children ages 6-17, and include general admission to Phoenix Art Museum, 1625 N. Central Ave., Phoenix. Call 602-257-1222 or visit


photos (clockwise from top left) courtesy of Universal/The Kobal Collection; Warner Bros./The Kobal Collection/Bob Marshak; Paramount/The Kobal Collection/E.R. Richee; Warner Bros.

1 Charles Middleton as Ming the Merciless in the 1936 version of Flash Gordon.

2 The cast of Ocean's 11 (2001) in costumes designed by Jeffrey Kurland.

3 Marlene Dietrich in the Travis Banton-designed suit she wore in Morocco (1930).

4 Christian Bale in designer Lindy Hemming's Batman costume from The Dark Knight Rises (2012).