Celebrating the magic of costume design at ASU FIDM Museum


Costumes from the film "Barbie" — pink cowgirl and black cowboy outfits with white hats on mannequins — on display against a blue background at the ASU FIDM Museum in LA.

Costumes for Barbie and Ken, designed by Jacqueline Durran for the movie "Barbie," greet visitors to the ASU FIDM Museum's "Art of Costume Design in Film" exhibition. Photo by Alex Berliner

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“What a costume designer does is a cross between magic and camouflage," said the great Edith Head, who knew what she was talking about. Nominated a record 34 times, she won eight Oscars for her own designs. 

The exhibition "Art of Costume Design in Film" at the ASU FIDM Museum in Los Angeles gives the public a rare opportunity to witness the magic and camouflage of costume design up close. From "Killers of the Flower Moon" to "Poor Things" to "Barbie" to "Oppenheimer" and beyond, the work of brilliant Oscar-nominated designers is on view in the museum's galleries through April 20. Admission is free.

The costumes, which are on loan from the studios behind the films, were organized by the ASU FIDM Museum's Christina Frank, who conducted extensive research on each designer and their work. All of the Oscar-nominated films for costume design are represented, plus costumes from other 2023 releases, such as “The Color Purple,” “Wonka,” “Air,” “The Iron Claw,” “Saltburn” and “Maestro.”

At the exhibition opening on March 2, renowned costume designers like Michael Kaplan ("Blade Runner") and Caroline Eselin ("Moonlight") turned out to mingle with ASU students and faculty and invited guests. During a break in the festivities, ASU FIDM Director Dennita Sewell welcomed the crowd (more than 600 attended over the course of the evening) and introduced remarks from ASU Provost Nancy Gonzales and Cheryl Boone Isaacs, director of The Sidney Poitier New American Film School at ASU. Both ASU FIDM and the Poitier Film School offer degrees at the ASU California Center in Los Angeles, as does The Design School at ASU.

A few days after the opening event, but well before the Oscars themselves, Frank led media tours of the exhibition wearing a white shirt with puffy upper sleeves reminiscent of the clothing favored by Bella Baxter, the heroine of "Poor Things." It could have been a choice rooted in an inkling or hope that Holly Waddington, the designer of "Poor Things," was going to win the Academy Award March 20. (Waddington and her designs were the subject of a pop-up exhibition at the museum in November of last year.) Or, it could have been fashion: "I love big sleeves," Frank told the reporter who trailed her through the galleries.

Either way, Frank's choice of garment is proof that the magic and camouflage of costume design can linger long after the credits run and the lights come up.

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