~ Posted by Kassia St Clair, January 24th 2012

Congratulations to Lisy Christl, Mark Bridges, Sandy Powell, Michael O'Connor and Arianne Phillips, who were all nominated today for an Academy Award. No, none of them are exactly household names. The Oscar nomination is for their work, respectively, on "Anonymous", "The Artist", "Hugo", "Jane Eyre" and "W.E.". They are all costume designers.

Each year at the Oscars, enormous publicity surrounds what actresses wear on the red carpet: from Chanel, Valentino and Calvin Klein to Marchesa, Versace, Elie Saab and Rodarte. But we never hear much about the people who design what's worn in the movies themselves.

This may change in the autumn. A new blockbuster exhibition, announced in London last week, opens at the Victoria and Albert Museum in October. “Hollywood Costume” will showcase more than 100 years of movie costumes.

It will contain the pinafore dress worn by Judy Garland in “The Wizard of Oz”, the curtain gown worn by Vivien Leigh in "Gone with the Wind", and the emerald silk dress worn by Keira Knightley in “Atonement”. You'll be able to see one of Marilyn's costumes from "Some Like It Hot" and Meryl's blue suit from "The Iron Lady". Not to mention Errol Flynn's tights from "Adventures of Don Juan" and Sylvester Stallone's shorts from "Rocky".

One reason, it's said, that actresses make such an effort to look glamorous on the red carpet is that it highlights what a great acting job they've done playing a very different character in the movie. But the point of the exhibition is a more serious one: to show how costume design in movies is an essential part of character and storytelling.

The best costume designs, therefore, you may not even notice. As Deborah Landis, the exhibition's senior curator, said at the press conference, “Movies are about people...not about clothes”. 

Award ceremonies, on the other hand...

Kassia St Clair is editorial assistant of Intelligent Life