Johnny Depp’s swashbuckling getup from “Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl”?
Robert Downey Jr.’s three-piece striped suit from “Sherlock Holmes”?
One of the fabulous gowns Keira Knightley wore in “The Duchess”?
Check. Check. Check.
The latest exhibition at the Columbia Museum of Art has 43 period costumes from 26 films that collectively cover 400 years of fashion.
“Cut! Costume and the Cinema” is on view from Friday, Nov. 18 through Sunday, Feb. 19.
“It’s a chance to see history and art combined in an utterly unique way,” curator Catherine Walworth said. “For those interested in filmmaking and costume design, it’s a rare opportunity to see Academy Award-level work right here in Columbia.”
All of the costumes come from British costumer Cosprop Ltd., a company that has supplied costumes for 34 Academy Award-nominated films. Cosprop also created costumes for the popular television show “Downton Abbey.”
Some of the “Cut!” costumes were made with modern fabrics, others are completely period and some are a mix of old and new materials. But there are no zippers and no velcro. All the finishes are done by hand.
“How often do you get to see this kind of workmanship?” co-curator Nancy Lawson asked.
Lawson picked out the costumes for the show and travels with the clothes, installing them at each site. She fixes dress trains, zhushes lace-trimmed sleeves and bedecks the mannequins with jewelry as a finishing touch.
Many of the costumes are positioned so visitors can see the garments up-close and from all angles. Some pieces only made brief appearances in films or were shot just from the waist-up. The exhibit allows for careful inspection of the beading, embroidery and stitching, like the intricate ruching on Renee Zellweger’s green dress from “Miss Potter.”
“This is a mathematical nightmare to make this,” Lawson said.
Or Johnny Depp’s purposefully distressed pirate boots.
“They look like they’ve been in the briny deep,” Lawson said, adding that Depp had six pairs of boots made for the movie. The exhibit got one pair, he kept the other five.
Cosprop emphasizes attention to detail because of the vital role costumes play in period films.
“Costumes can be extremely important in terms of conveying information about character: personality, class, age, ethnicity and social milieu,” said Susan Felleman, who teaches art history and film and media studies at the University of South Carolina. Felleman has written books on the relationship between film and other visual arts. She and Walworth will give a talk at the museum on Friday, Nov. 18.
“The exhibition has inspired me to offer a new course on period film next semester,” Felleman said. “We’ll make a field trip to the CMA to see ‘Cut!’ before the exhibition closes.”
And while the CMA has featured costumes before, this is the first large-scale exhibit to fill six galleries, Walworth said.
“This is a new and exciting artform to bring to the museum. Fashion is such a difficult thing for museums to store and care for. It’s not a collecting priority at many museums, so for that reason it doesn’t get shown very often. Clothing can also be considered not as lofty as a traditional painting, but it uses all the same artistic principles.”
For example, the elaborate dress from “Land of the Blind” – a showstopper in its size and vibrant red color – “needed to be red,” Walworth said.
“It’s a political film. It’s a shocking color. That was an important choice for the costume designer in the same way a painter puts red in his painting, knowing the effect it has on the viewer.”
And if that doesn’t interest you, you can always come for the star power alone.
That is Daniel Craig’s “Defiance” jacket, Kate Winslet’s “Finding Neverland” dress and Heath Ledger’s “Casanova” frock coat.
Check, check, check.
The Duchess (2008)
Ever After (1998)
Finding Neverland (2004)
The Golden Bowl (2000)
Gosford Park (2001)
Goya’s Ghosts (2006)
Howards End (1992)
Jane Eyre (1996)
Land of the Blind (2006)
The Last King: The Power and Passion of Charles II (2003-2004)
Little Dorrit (2008)
Miss Potter (2006)
Mrs. Dalloway (1997)
The New World (2006)
Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day (2008)
The Phantom of the Opera (2004)
Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl (2003)
The Portrait of a Lady (1996)
The Prestige (2006)
Sense and Sensibility (1995)
Sherlock Holmes (2009)
The White Countess (2005)