Cut! Costume and the Cinema: An Exhibit

This is the closest I could get to a movie set. The actual costume worn by prominent screen actors in period movies, that’s the current exhibit “Cut! Costume and the Cinema” at the Glenbow Museum in the centre of Cowtown. Some of the designs had garnered Academy Awards.

Since I could not take any photos inside, this outdoor poster is the only one that I could capture on my camera to give you a sense of what’s in the exhibit: 43 costumes from 25 blockbusters, worn by 30 stars. Mind you, just watching the clothes on headless mannequins is not the same as seeing them on real people with all the set and props you see on screen. So in a way, this is a deconstruction of the magic. However, to have such an exhibition come to Cowtown, I’m excited just the same.

All the items from the exhibition are from the renowned costume house Cosprop of London, England. I learn that for those representing a period before the sewing machine, they have to be hand sewn to reflect authenticity. And due to the cost and labor involved, costumes are usually altered from other existing costumes, seldom are they made from scratch.

Here’s a sample of what I saw, costumes worn by:

Kate Winslet as Marianne Dashwood in “Sense and Sensibility”

Renée Zellweger as Beatrix Potter in “Miss Potter

Emmy Rossum as Christine in “The Phantom of the Opera”

Maggie Smith as Constance Trentham in “Gosford Park”

Vanessa Redgrave as Ruth Wilcox in “Howards End”

Scarlett Johansson as Olivia Wenscombe in “The Prestige”

Colin Farrell as Captain Smith in “The New World”

Johnny Depp as Jack Sparrow in “Pirates of the Caribbean”

Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law as Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson

Keira Knightly as Georgiana and Ralph Fiennes as the Duke in the Oscar winning costume design of “The Duchess”

… and some others.

But what resonated most with me was that deep turquoise long dress worn by Natasha Richardson as Countess Sofia Belinskya, matching with Ralph Fiennes’s dark green plaid suit jacket in his role as the blind Todd Jackson in “The White Countess.” Looking at the costumes brought back scenes from that movie… the quiet resilience of Sofia, the white countess from Russia, now a refugee in WWII Shanghai, turning a new page in her life with the wounded but passionate ex-diplomat Todd Jackson. Just sad to know she’s no longer with us.


CLICK HERE to an informative video on the exhibit by the Boca Raton Museum of Art in Florida. A 5 min. virtual tour with commentary by Cut! curator Nancy Lawson. 

You may also be interested in these previous posts on Ripple Effects:

Natasha Richardson: Nell and The White Countess

The Merchant Ivory Dialogues

Howards End by E. M. Forster

Miss Potter for Christmas

Austen-inspired Acceptance Speech

Published by


If she’s not birding by the Pond, Arti’s likely watching a movie, reading, or writing a review. Creator of Ripple Effects, bylines in Asian American Press, Vague Visages, Curator Magazine.

12 thoughts on “Cut! Costume and the Cinema: An Exhibit”

  1. Oh, I hate to be insanely jealous but I am so insanely jealous! I hope that exhibit comes toward my territory but I’m not optimistic! I’ve always loved costume design, and except for that small bit about not being able to sew a stitch or really wanting to learn, I would have taken that as my theatre emphasis in college. Just to see all those… I’m simply drooling!


    I checked on Google that this exhibit has toured a few cities in the US, so you never know, it might just come to you some time. I found this video clip on it by the Boca Raton Museum of Art in Florida. It’s wonderful in lieu of actually seeing it… maybe even better since you’ve the curator explaining things to you. I’m sure you’ll enjoy it.



  2. It’s such fun to see you so excited about an exhibit like this. It isn’t my thing, at all, and I fear if it were in my backyard I wouldn’t go. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t wonderful and intriguing and a terrific opportunity for someone so deeply immersed in film.

    On the other hand, I’ll confess I went twice into Houston to the big annual boat show to see the original African Queen. 😉


    The original African Queen? That’s quite an exhibit you saw… worth driving into Houston twice. You see, these costumes are at best, true replicas of the period, none of them is original. But then in a way, their workmanship is an art in itself. What’s ironic is… I’m not into fashion at all, or costumes. So here, what attracts me is ‘cinema’. The exhibit has brought me close to a movie set and even the actors. But… did you get my phrase? “Deconstruction of the magic”.



  3. Wow – I would love to see an exhibit like that. Costumes are absolutely fascinating. The labour that goes into them must be formidable!


    Yes, you’re right about the labor intensive part… all the minute details. I’m afraid I’m not so much a fashion/costume buff, and know close to nothing about sewing. But, I enjoy reading the explanations on the displays which tell about the painstaking process in making each one. Some are much more elaborate of course, like the one worn by Heath Ledger as Casanova. You can see some images here.



  4. Oh man. I would love love love this. Because I love this post, and you’re barking up my tree. I think I would have loved to sew authentic costumes for films. I used to make Halloween costumes for Lesley, and they were as authentic as I could make them. One year it was Dorothy’s dress from the Wizard of Oz. Not terribly original, but I loved every bit of creating it, including finding red shoes at the local thrift shop and covering them with glitter.

    Hand sewing dresses for authenticity is wonderful. I so appreciate these touches when I watch a film.

    I love this post for its movie references, some of them I had not known of, and now I will add them to my queue, like “Miss Potter”! Beatrix is a favorite, but I never knew the film was made.

    Yes, so very sad to lose the lovely Natasha.

    You write wonderful posts, Arti. Thank you.


    1. Ruth,

      I know this kind of exhibits is right up your alley… the art and skills of costume making… and cinema too. You know, Renee Zellweger as Beatrix Potter is such a lovely film, one that has been overlooked. And Ewan McGregor is her publisher and love interest. Very sweet. He sings beautifully. After watching the film on DVD, I went out to buy the soundtrack. Do click on the link to my post on Miss Potter for more details.

      I wasn’t expecting memory of Natasha Richardson would resurface for me when I went to see this exhibit. But there they were, her long gown and Ralph Fiennes’s suit jacket placed side by side. I reread my post on that tragic day and all the comments… the ripples are still there.



      1. I have added “Miss Potter” to our netflix queue, and I look forward to it! I LOVE Ewan McGregor, especially when he sings. I saw him in “Guys and Dolls” in London, with opera glasses. His blue eyes looked fabulous even from the balcony. 😉

        Thanks, Arti.


        O lucky you… I haven’t seen him in person. With Miss Potter, you can see him close up. The song is lovely… led me to Katie Melua.



  5. This feel so up my alley! I’d be very curious to see Marianne Dashwood’s.

    I’ve only found that The White Countess was written by one of my favorite authors because of your comment on “When We Were Orphans” and needed to see it again. How fabulous is Natasha Richardson in it? And the chemistry with Ralph Fiennes? Loved it even more this time around.


    I just added at the end of my post, a link to a 5 min. video on the exhibit with the curator’s commentary. Do click on it … I’m sure you’ll like it.

    As for The White Countess, you just have to get the DVD. The Special Features section is priceless now, with interview of Natasha Richardson, her mother Vanessa Redgrave, and aunt Lynn Redgrave, talking about making the film. She outshines all others in the film, including Ralph Fiennes. And to think of the screenplay being written by one of our favourite writers, Kazuo Ishiguro, just makes it ever more memorable.



  6. What a fun exhibit to have seen! I wonder, does handsewing for authenticiyt really make that much difference on a movie screen? I guess if you are angling for an Oscar…


    Oh I think to the eyes of an expert, or even for someone who knows how to sew, it’s may be quite easy to notice in those close-up shots. Not only that, the costume designers have to choose the right materials too, to match the period, and even to see how it they drape differently. I appreciate their meticulous work and planning. As for awards, that’s always a bonus, isn’t it? 😉



  7. This sounds like a whole lot of fun. I don’t care about fashion much when it comes to what I wear myself, but I do like to see beautiful clothes!


    It’ll be more fun if they show video clip of the movies beside the exhibits. I’m not a fashion person, but this is theatre/cinematic arts, so there’s a difference. 😉



  8. What fun! How interesting that costumes are often made over from other costumes. Did you find any surprises? Like how much smaller or bigger they were in real life?


    What I found interesting is their sizes in comparison to each other. Like Kate Winslet’s costume is bigger than Renée Zellweger’s, which is petit. But Scarlett Johansson’s probably a size 0.



  9. Wow. I love how you call it deconstruction magic. Still, I think standing next to Jack Sparrow’s costume without him in it would still be thrilling (ok, I love pirate wear though admittedly I own none!) and the costume worn by Renee in Miss Potter (a movie I loved and completely without reason – oh, wait, it’s about a writer!!!) and Winslet’s from Austen’s Sense…
    Geez, a fabulous exhibit.
    How did your town win that?
    Thanks for keeping the entertainment world real for us.
    And I am grateful for the picture of the poster you got!!! definitely a Merchant Ivory image, non?


    LOL Oh, this may be Cowtown, but it’s already the fourth largest city in population in Canada, with over a million of us here. We do have a little bit of everything, albeit on a smaller scale than major cities in N.A.

    Merchant Ivory? Bonne idée, mais Ang Lee wouldn’t have it. I’d love to see them do a Jane Austen adaptation though, but too late now, unless 83 year-old Ivory is willing to go for it solo. 😉



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s