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The main display at FIDM's "Art of Motion Picture Costume Design" exhibit
The main display at FIDM's "Art of Motion Picture Costume Design" exhibit
Alex J. Berliner / ©ABImages

Spinning Thread Into Gold: FIDM's "Art of Motion Picture Costume Design"

Our city, in large part built on the dreams of Hollywood moviemaking, has had a long history with metamorphosis. Transforming ordinary-looking actors into diverse characters such as 16th-century royalty (Mary Queen of Scots), 1970s rock stars (Bohemian Rhapsody) or Wakandan superheroes (Black Panther) is the duty of many film studio departments, including makeup, hair and props. But often the bulk of the job falls into the gifted hands of a costume designer who is cast into the role of magician, weaving spells through clothing to help tell a story. We are fortunate in Los Angeles to have a front-row seat to Academy Award season, and FIDM's exhibit, the 27th annual "Art of Motion Picture Costume Design," is instrumental in helping shine some light behind the scenes of this particular kind of movie magic.

Opening today and running through April 12, this free exhibition, downtown at the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising Museum, displays more than 100 costumes from 25 recent films, including creations from all five costume designers nominated for the upcoming 91st Academy Awards (to be handed out Feb. 24). Each wardrobe piece was designed to give identity and persona to a film character and in that way is an extension of the script. Though each stands alone beautifully as unique art, every piece is brought to mythological life when seen in context of its film.

A look from Mary Queen of Scots EXPAND
A look from Mary Queen of Scots
Nikki Kreuzer
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The costumes, displayed on blank-faced mannequins spread across three rooms of the FIDM Museum, show the intricacies and embellishments of each garment's textures, fabrics, colors and cut. And they are fascinating to view up close. Among the creations presented are jaunty striped numbers from Mary Poppins Returns, elaborate multilayered fantasy dresses made for A Wrinkle in Time, Victorian fairy-tale outfits incorporating leaves and flowers for The Nutcracker and the Four Realms, and coppery and green-textured streamlined attire from Aquaman as well as a vast array of finery and frippery.

Male costumery on display here proves almost as marvelous as the female fashions. Pieces designed by Oscar-nominated Alexandra Byrne for Mary Queen of Scots, for example, are quite surprising up close, with details coming to light that might not be noticed as you watch the movie — fabric that looks like black leather onscreen turns out to actually be black denim, for example.

Ruth Carter designed the costumes for Black Panther.EXPAND
Ruth Carter designed the costumes for Black Panther.
Alex J. Berliner / ©ABImages

Throughout the gallery, several interactive video monitors give glimpses into the costume design process and reveal the vision of the designers themselves, who talk about their creations. Providing this insight side-by-side with up-close viewing, FIDM's "Art of Motion Picture Costume Design" is both unique and inspiring. As the only annual exhibit worldwide to honor the costumes of current Academy Award–nominated films and their designers in one place, and it's a must see for movie and fashion fans alike. And it's right here in L.A. where dreams and dress up are both bigger and better than anywhere else.

FIDM Museum: 919 S. Grand Ave., downtown; Tue.-Sat., 10 a.m.-5 p.m.; free. fidmmuseum.org.

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