FIDM continues to celebrate costume design fit for the small screen
Ten years ago, the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising Museum & Galleries in downtown Los Angeles helped change the perception of television costume design by devoting what’s considered to be the world’s first museum exhibition to the clothes worn on the small screen. Costumes and their designers were accorded new respect, and museums everywhere began to capitalize on the public’s fascination with extraordinary clothing.
Today, the exhibit “The Art of Television Costume Design,” presented by FIDM and the Television Academy, not only has earned steadily growing attendance, but it also remains the first and only continuous television costume museum exhibit.
“There’s never been anything like what we do anywhere in the world,” said curator Kevin Jones, who helps stage the show in a collaboration of museum staff and industry experts.
With a near embarrassment of Hollywood riches to choose from, organizers pared down their choices to 100 costumes culled from 23 shows airing on 17 networks or streaming services such as Hulu and Amazon. Also, the exhibit features Emmy-nominated costumes from six shows and looks from “Game of Thrones” and “American Horror Story: Hotel,” both recent winners of Creative Arts Emmys for costume design. (The 68th Primetime Emmy Awards ceremony will air live Sunday starting at 4 p.m. Pacific.)
The free exhibit, which is on display through Oct. 15, illustrates the vast range of time periods, characters, body types and costume design finesse required to meet the demands of television production. Jones shared some insights about the exhibit’s costumes and staging.
‘American Horror Story: Hotel’ (FX)
When Lady Gaga made her debut as Countess Elizabeth last year on the Ryan Murphy hit series, one incredible accessory nearly upstaged her — a crystal-encrusted mesh glove adorned with sterling silver scrollwork. Costume designer Lou Eyrich commissioned Los Angeles jeweler and designer Michael Schmidt to create the glove and its lethal switchblade feature. Just don’t try to touch it: That glove has a killer security setup. During the Sept. 10 ceremony for the Creative Arts Emmys, Eyrich picked up an Emmy for outstanding costumes for a contemporary series, limited series or movie.
Time-traveling heroine Claire Randall veers from 1945 to the 1700s and to the ’60s with stops in between, which makes for a delightful challenge for costume designer Terry Dresbach. Amid the tartans and woolens on display is a cream satin jacket and full black skirt — a stylized version of Dior’s famous 1947 Bar suit that launched the New Look. “It so epitomizes the 1950s, which referenced the 1860s, which was looking back to the 18th century,” said Jones. “Even if you don’t really know the history of dress, most people are going to know the famous Dior Bar photo.”
In a first for the FIDM television costume show, key accessories, such as shoes from “Veep,” are housed in acrylic cases that allow viewers to get a closer look. Footwear often doesn’t show up on screen, but at FIDM, savvy viewers may recognize the cobalt satin pumps that costume designer Kathleen Felix-Hager selected for the Veep herself played by Emmy nominee Julia Louis-Dreyfus. They’re the bejeweled Manolo Blahnik Hangisi-style 105-mm stiletto heel satin pumps that were first immortalized by Carrie Bradshaw in the first “Sex and the City” movie. Now that $965 symbol of fashion infatuation is presented as proper attire for the almost-leader of the free world.
Costumes from television shows set in contemporary times sometimes suffer from comparison to the excesses required of sci-fi and historical ensembles, but they’re no less demanding for a costume designer — or a museum staff. Costume designer Michelle Cole made the matronly character of Ruby played by Jenifer Lewis instantly recognizable by her vivid purple lace dress, jacket and coordinating hat. All costumes are considered museum artifacts, so they cannot be altered in any way. That’s why FIDM keeps hundreds of prop shoes that can be drilled to accommodate the posts that keep most mannequins upright. But don’t worry about the prized sneaker collection belonging to Andre “Dre” Johnson played by Emmy nominee Anthony Anderson. Visitors will get to see a single pair of Nikes from “Black-ish,” which museum officials say are in pristine condition.
The FIDM Museum & Galleries’ exhibit “The Art of Television Costume Design” is on display through Oct. 15. The museum, 919 S. Grand Ave. Los Angeles, is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday.