Posts Tagged ‘Bowers Museum’

West Greets East: A Week That Changed The World

written by Robyn Wyman-dill

How fast time travels as it heads into the final days of the month. Before we begin a new chapter, let’s reflect and be enriched by occasions worth remembering again. Among those bookmarked is the ‘Wedding of the Century’ on July 29, 1981. On that day, the lovely Lady Diana Spencer wed Prince Charles – bringing a fresh persona to the Royal Family. In turn, the Princess spoke to the hearts of the public around the world. Everyone seemed to agree for once. Diana was love. Four years after the Princess stepped into the public eye, she crossed the pond on her first official visit to America with her husband, Prince Charles. That’s when royal fever broke out in Washington DC.

The ‘Diana’ appeal was so highly infectious, everyone wanted an invitation to dinner. Meaning the White House dinner. The not-so-lucky ones? They traveled abroad. Henry Kissinger, Oscar de la Renta and Ahmet Ertegun, Co-Founder and President of Altanic Records, took their wives to China. In case you didn’t know it, Henry Kissinger is a really big deal in China. Really big.

What prompted me to go to China at exactly the same time was a photography book, Eve Arnold: In China, that I kept on my coffee table. An American photojournalist, Arnold’s images of Marilyn Monroe on the set of The Misfits (1961) and photograph of First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy arranging flowers with Caroline(1961) had already cemented her reputation as a superb shooter. But, when she turned her lens on China, defining its beauty with pictures that spoke to your soul, I felt compelled to buy a camera(my first) and booked a tour to China. Read the rest of this entry »

That Which Sparkles Deep in the Heart

blog and photos by Robyn Wyman-Dill

Like diamonds deep within the Earth, Nelson Mandela sparkled deep within his heart.  Bringing a sense of beauty to a higher ground.  In many ways, these two inspiring phenomenons are very closely tied.  Read the rest of this entry »

Clothes to Suit Their Occasions

photos and blog by Robyn Wyman-Dill


If you are someone whose been dazzled by the sequins sewn on Dorothy’s ruby red slippers and now marvels at the turn of the century attire of the Crawley family in Downton Abbey, you are in for a treat.  The Bowers Museum’s current exhibition – “CUT! Costume and the Cinema” – presents five centuries of fabulous fashions with an informative look at the art of costume making from one of the companies that does it best.

Forty-three period costumes worn by likes of Keira Knightly, Johnny Depp, Daniel Craig, Kate Winslet, Sandra Bullock, Uma Thurman, Laura Flynn Boyle, Julie Christie, and Angelica Huston from 27 films will tantalize your eyes with their beauty and precision to details. The cinematic couture – on loan from the London costume house of Cosprop Ltd. – spans five centuries of period costumes seen in comedy, fantasy, drama, adventure and historical films.

Their creation is no easy task.

Each piece requires extensive research of the fabrics and styles of their era to establish authenticity in the character’s personality, age and social status. Every costume is custom-made by the finest seamstresses from around the world.  Dyers, embroiderers shoemakers, jewelry designers, lacemakers and milliners are employed to insure that the very best quality is found in every detail.  Oftentimes, it requires the handmade skills of artisans whose crafts have been handed down over decades.

These costumes are not only works of visual art, they are testament to the complexity and painstaking details that go into the layers of period dress.  Undergarments are carefully constructed to accomplish the correct look.  But, with one caveat.  They must not cause any discomfort to the wearer so that the actors will feel at ease performing in them. Ironically, these one of a kind creations are often transformed into new pieces for other productions because of time constraints and limited budgets.

As a safety measure, production companies generally request the designers to produce one to two identical copies.  (Film productions will require backups of their wardrobe – in case – the original is damaged and/or is slated to be worn in adverse climatic conditions).  A technique will often be brought into play to ‘weather’ outer garments to reflect the passage of time in a character’s journey as well as render the garments with a more realistic, worn look. The designer will advise the correct accessories for the garments and prepare the costumes for fitting.  Each piece is fitted perfectly to the actor.  Observing the average dress size on display, it appears most performers are rather petite creatures.

Cosprop, founded in 1965 by fashion designer and actor John Bright, and in collaboration with designer Jenny Beavan, has a resume of fine film credits.  The company has been the favored period style-house for Merchant Ivory Productions, the Weinstein Company, ITV(Downton Abbey), HBO, Universal Studios and Paramount Studios – to name a few.   In 1987, they won their first Oscar and a BAFTA award for best costume design for “A Room with a View.”  Since then Cosprop has built on its design excellence with such quality films as  Howard’s End, The Remains of the Day and Jefferson in Paris.  In 2009, they took home another Academy Award for Costume Design for The Duchess.

Now, if you should miss the Cosprop Company fashion show while it’s here, don’t despair.  You really haven’t lost out completely. The art world takes this stuff seriously.

The Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and the Victoria and Albert Museum in London have all featured major exhibits spotlighting clothing and fashion in film, theatre and television.

For the last 100 years, Western costumes in Los Angeles has also been seaming such fine productions as Gone With the Wind, The Sound of Music, South Pacific, Mad Men, Boardwalk Empire, Pan Am and Cecil B. DeMille’s 1914 film The Squaw Man.  They are the source for those sequins sewn on Dorothy’s ruby red slippers too.

As a fledgling wardrobe assistant on television commercials, I had the pleasure of working with Western Costumes in the 80s. One of the largest costume houses in the world, it has a 50,000 volume research library and 6,000 piece “star collection” archive. Their staff is very professional and friendly.

Best of all, it’s a wonderful place to get lost.

In 2012, the Costume Designers Guild presented Western Costume with a special Service Award honoring the company for its professional contributions from the silent era to the present. (Now, we’ve just touched the tip of the iceberg – in terms of accolades so for more factoids take a look at Adam Tschorn’s article at

But, should you ever have the occasion to meander through the Paramount Studios lot, take a detour from your tour. Head straight for the second floor of their costume department. No questions asked.  I think it will delight you as much as it did me to see those exquisite, glass-encased evening gowns worn by Elizabeth Taylor, Marilyn Monroe and Rita Hayworth from the Golden Age of Hollywood.

No wonder someone coined actors in clothes like those to suit their occasion – movie stars.

“Cut! Costumes and Cinema” now through March 10, 2013

Bowers Museum    2002 N. Main St., Santa Ana, California

Phone: 714-567-3600

10 a.m.-4 p.m. Tuesdays-Sundays

$13-$15 adults

$10-$12 seniors and students

free for children under 12
















blog and photos by Robyn Wyman-Dill

Deep in the heart of Santa Ana, California, the Bowers Museum has been enriching its community with the world’s finest art since 1936.

Thanks to Target Corporation, proud sponsors of “Target Free Days First Sundays”,  FABERGÉ: IMPERIAL JEWELER TO THE TSARS  is free to the public the first Sunday of every month. The exhibition – which runs through January 6, 2013 – is worthy of a journey there. Read the rest of this entry »