The Metropolitan Museum of Art has had no trouble attracting crowds to its spring exhibit at The Costume Institute, “China: Through the Looking Glass,” recently extending the show through early September.
Still, on Monday, Nicole Kidman was on hand for some extra promotional oomph. As the star of a string of films featuring acclaimed costume design, several of them the result of collaborations with Oscar winner Catherine Martin, the actress was brought in to discuss the importance of clothing in the creation of a performance. The exhibit itself uses Chinese films, like “In the Mood for Love” by its artistic director Wong Kar Wai, to illustrate the evolution of Chinese style over the years and its influence abroad.
Vogue international editor at large Hamish Bowles walked Kidman through many of her past appearances both on screen and on the red carpet, starting with the famous chartreuse column dress she wore to the 1997 Academy Awards, a dress which Joan Rivers infamously described as “the ugliest green you’ll ever see.”
Kidman, though, saw things differently.
“I remember Madonna coming over to me at the after party and saying ‘Best dress, best dress,’” the actress recalled.
Along with fashion designers, the actress also has longstanding relationships with some of the most celebrated costume designers working today including Martin, who was nominated for Oscars for the Kidman films “Moulin Rouge!” and “Australia,” and Ann Roth, who worked on “The Hours,” the drama that won Kidman her only Oscar.
“As an actor you really go in blank. I really believe in trusting the designers. I believe in going in and saying, ‘Change me, morph me in to something else,’” she said.
For instance, when working on “The Hours,” Kidman did not want to be cast in the role of Virginia Woolf.
“Don’t ever listen to me!” she said. “And I tried to talk Stephen Daldry out of casting me for the role. I wanted to play the role that Julianne Moore went on to play. Stephen was like, ‘Absolutely not.’ And I show up for the costume fitting and Ann said put on these shoes, put on this dress, and there was a handkerchief in the pocket. And suddenly the character was there.”
On perhaps the opposite end of the sartorial spectrum, Kidman is also quite used to donning corsets and the like, for example, in “Moulin Rouge!” and “Portrait of a Lady,” which incidentally was nominated for the costume design by Janet Patterson.
“Anyone who’s worn a real corset with whalebones will know you can’t eat in them…and you can’t sit or else it will dig into you. They have a leaning board, so you lean,” she said, laughing. “It’s a glamorous life isn’t it?”