The long-awaited Academy Museum of Motion Pictures is now open in Los Angeles.
At the site of the old May Company department store, the 30,000-square-foot Renzo Piano-designed museum is dazzling inside and out, featuring a spherical theater reminiscent of a space ship and an outdoor terrace with one of the most expansive views of the Hollywood Hills in town.
Exhibitions cover the art and science of moviemaking without shying away from Hollywood’s complicated history. Curators carefully contextualize topics including the racist history of Blackface makeup, the mistreatment of women in the studio system decades before #MeToo and the plundering of indigenous cultures, including the sacred Nayarit replica statue used in Alfred Hitchcock’s film “North by Northwest.”
There is a lot to see and pore over, including a retrospective of Japanese filmmaker Hayao Miyazaki, and plenty of crowd-pleasing memorabilia. (Hello, ruby slippers! Hello, Rosebud!) And exhibitions and objects will be rotating in and out over time.
Here, WWD rounds up a few things that will be of most interest to fashion and costume lovers to see now.
1) Wild dress: No Academy Museum would be complete without a history of Hollywood’s most glamorous night. Twenty Oscar statuettes highlighting historic wins, clips of famous acceptance speeches and a timeline of notable snubs and firsts surround an exhibit of Oscar looks. For the 1986 Academy Awards, Cher asked costume designer Bob Mackie to make her a “wild dress” and he delivered with a black beaded midriff-baring gown and cape that is something to behold up close. There hasn’t been anything like it since.
2) $17 million watch: It may be the most valuable piece in the whole place. Rolex (the lead sponsor of the Academy Museum’s opening gala) helped secure the Cosmograph Daytona 6239 that was a gift from Joanne Woodward to Paul Newman. He wore it for years, with its iconic black crocodile wide strap and inscription, “Drive Carefully,” a reference to the actor’s passion for auto racing. The watch sold at auction at Phillips’ Winning Icons sale in New York in October 2017 for $17,752,500, and the collector who purchased it agreed to the museum loan.
3) Spike Lee’s style: The Director’s Inspiration gallery spotlights Spike Lee, with lots of fun memorabilia from his personal collection. One choice piece is the Gucci purple-and-gold Kobe Bryant tribute suit he wore to the 2020 Oscars, shortly after the retired NBA player died in a tragic helicopter crash. Another is the Ruth Carter-designed “Mookie’ shirt he wore in the 1989 film “Do the Right Thing.”
4) Not in Kansas anymore: The Art of Moviemaking gallery focuses on 1939 film “The Wizard of Oz,” showcasing all the behind-the-scenes crafts that bring a film to life.
Of particular interest are the contributions of costume designer Gilbert Adrian, including his blue gingham pinafores for Dorothy. One was worn by Judy Garland in the Technicolor scenes, and the other of a slightly different color was worn by Garland’s stand-in Bobbie Koshay for the sepia-toned, black-and-white scenes. They are both so beautifully stitched with charming rick-rack trim and puff-sleeve blouses underneath, it’s easy to understand how the MGM costume giant also had a successful fashion label.
Also not to be missed, the ruby slippers. One of four pairs used during filming, and thought to be the only pair used in the heel-clicking close-ups, the ones on display were purchased from private collectors for the museum by Steven Spielberg, Leonardo DiCaprio and Jan and Terry Semel.
5) Executive power: In the spirit of examining the complete and honest history Hollywood, a panel of text addresses the pain MGM studio head Louis B. Mayer inflicted on actresses like Garland. At age 16, when she was filming “The Wizard of Oz,” she was given pills to keep her energy up, and others to put her to sleep, beginning a cycle of drug abuse that continued until her death in 1969. She also said later in life that Mayer had abused her for years, which has new resonance in the #MeToo era.
6) Temple tiara. More than 40 costumes and sketches from the 1930s to today celebrate the art of costume design in the Identity Gallery. One of the most gorgeous pieces is Shirley Temple’s silver-wrapped cotton, sequin and rhinestone dress and starry bow tiara created by costume designer Gwen Wakeling for the 1938 film “Little Miss Broadway.” Filmed when Temple was 10 years old, it’s about an orphan who gets adopted by a theatrical troupe. Fun fact: Wakeling also designed Barbara Eden’s costume for the TV series “I Dream of Jeannie.”
7) May Queen. Designed by Andrea Flesch and worn by Florence Pugh in the 2019 film “Midsommer,” the May Queen costume weighs 30 pounds and features 10,000 silk flowers, including forget me nots, sweet peas and buttercups. One of the museum’s most recent acquisitions, the costume was auctioned by studio A24 in May, with the winning bid of $65,000. All proceeds from the auction went to support COVID-19 relief.
8) Makeup shame: One of the most shameful examples of Hollywood’s racist past, a display on makeup artistry explains how it was normalized in the early years of cinema for white actors to play characters of color, often informed by racial stereotypes, and privileging white filmmakers’ experiences over real-lived experiences. As evidence: several pots of Max Factor’s Pan Cake makeup, introduced in the 1930s, named after certain ethnicities, and almost entirely intended for white actors and extras. One shade is named “Minstrel,” an explicit reference to the practice of Blackface; others include Light Egyptian and Chinese.
9) Wakanda forever: Costume designer Ruth E. Carter has several pieces in the museum — and even designed a line of jewelry for the gift shop. For her Oscar-winning work on 2018’s “Black Panther,” she created the Afrofuturistic aesthetic of Wakanda, as seen on the stunning gold armor worn by the female warrior Okoye (played by Danai Gurira). Part of the the sci-fi-themed “Inventing Worlds and Characters” gallery, the costume draws inspiration from the traditional beading, dyeing and pattern techniques of African tribes, including the Himba, Masaai and Turkana.
Also in the gallery, Eko Ishioka’s incredible coat and boots designed for Gary Oldman in 1992’s “Bram Stoker’s Dracula.” With intricate gold geometric embroidery, inspired by the work of Gustav Klimt, they are couture-level gorgeous.