Dressing the Stars at The Bath Fashion Museum

It seems that the Bath Fashion Museum has always had a knack for reeling in the big stars, so to speak. Memorable highlights of the last few years included an exhibition of Marilyn Monroe’s dresses – complete with an authentic tyre mark where one dress had been caught by a car at a film premier – and a collection of glamorous dresses as worn by the late Princess Diana of Wales during the 16 years that she spent in the spotlight. In keeping with this, The Fashion Museum has gone all-out for its current exhibition, attracting a coterie of stars, as it were, to the chandeliered Assembly Rooms.

‘Dressing the Stars’ presents the best selection of British-designed costumes to appear at the Academy awards. Moreover, it is a salutation to the hugely underrated work of the costume designer who not only clothes the actors, but adds to the development of the character; the indication of age, status and circumstance, and the indication of a passing of time – all of which acts as an aid to the actor’s performance.

There’s an eclectic mix of sensational costumes from films that have taken a sturdy place in cinematic history; the dress and cape worn by Meryl Streep in The French Lieutenant’s Woman, the lilac crepe de chine evening dress worn by Bette Davis in Death on the Nile, a whole host of hefty and exuberant dresses worn by Cate Blanchett in Elizabeth, and the uniform worn by Colin Firth as King George VI in The King’s Speech (which looked much smaller than on the screen).

There’s a costume worn by Sir Laurence Olivier in his 1948 Hamlet, for which the costume designer, Roger Furse, was awarded an Academy Award for best costume design – the first Oscar to be awarded to a British costume designer.

One costume that drew the crowds was that of Captain Jack Sparrow, worn by Johnny Depp in Pirates of the Caribbean and accompanied by one of the costumes worn by Orlando Bloom as Will Turner. An incredible amount of work and detail had clearly gone into making the costume look weather-beaten and aged, from the faded hat and the fake chicken’s foot dangling from his belt.

There’s a fine selection of dresses as worn by Kiera Knightly in the 2008 film The Duchess; all of which, intricately detailed and superbly authentic, pay testament to the style of Georgiana Cavendish, Duchess of Devonshire, who was famous for her fashion sense (though infamous for her gambling).

Though the exhibition showcases the beautiful costumes and the talented work of costume designers, it also, with The Duchess in particular, highlights the small, though notable, roll that Bath has played in the world of film and cinema with its Georgian architecture being used as a backdrop to countless Hollywood scenes.

By Alexander Blanchard.

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