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A Winning Exhibit : Display Has Some of Hollywood's Best Costumes, Including Dress From 'Bugsy' and Marlene Dietrich's Rhinestone Shoes


With Oscar fever in the air, costume lovers will relish "Hollywood and the Academy Awards," an exhibit of contemporary and vintage movie costumes, plus several pairs of Marlene Dietrich's Size 6 1/2 rhinestone-heeled pumps and Fred Astaire's top hat. The costumes are on display at the Fashion Institute of Design & Merchandising (FIDM) in downtown Los Angeles through May 15.

The title, however, is misleading because more than a third of the approximately 40 costumes were designed before 1949, the year that the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences first recognized costume design. And some of the others are a bit of a stretch--costume designer Edith Head received Oscars for several creations, but the dress she designed for Joanne Woodward in "A New Kind of Love" in 1963 was not one of them. (Her work in the movie did receive a nomination, however, which is not noted in the exhibit pamphlet.)

But the exquisite pieces from the '30s and '40s by design superstars Travis Banton, Adrian, Helen Rose and Head offer ample proof of why the academy decided to pay tribute to costumes, although of the four, only Head and Rose won awards.

Curator Maggie Murray, with the cooperation of the Costume Designers Guild, also assembled pieces from three of this year's nominated costume designs: Albert Wolsky's paper doll dress in "Toys," Eiko Ishioka's dragon-motif gown for "Bram Stoker's Dracula" and Ruth Carter's zoot suit from "Malcolm X."

Oscar winners from the recent past include: a lame dress worn by Annette Bening in "Bugsy," designed by Wolsky, who won last year; a dance costume from the 1979 "All That Jazz," also by Wolsky, and an elaborate gown worn by Michelle Pfeiffer in "Dangerous Liaisons," for which James Acheson won in 1988.

Many of the early costumes, including a "suit of lights" worn by Rudolph Valentino in the 1922 film "Blood and Sand," were drawn from the Hollywood Museum Collection of the Los Angeles Department of Parks and Recreation, which is housed at FIDM but has never been displayed.

"They've been in deep storage," said Murray, visual director of FIDM and chairman of the advisory committee to the Costume Council at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. "Little by little they're being restored."

One of the more unusual items is the "pumpkin seed dress," worn by Vanessa Redgrave in the 1967 film "Camelot." The dress, on loan from Warner Bros., was designed by John Truscott, who won an Academy Award for his work.

"The 10-foot train is literally hand-sewn with thousands of dried seeds--it's extraordinary," Murray said. "Truscott must have loved their color. I don't know what was in his head when he designed it, but it's as extravagant a dress as seen in any film."

FIDM, 919 S. Grand Ave., 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., Monday through Thursday. Free.

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