At long last, The Academy Museum of Motion Pictures will open its doors to the public on Thursday, September 30, 2021. Located in Los Angeles, this exciting new museum is the largest in North America devoted to exploring films and film culture. This brilliant new museum also emphasizes the importance of costume design and costume designers’ essential roles in the film industry. I was honored by The Academy Museum with an invitation to tour the exhibitions before the public, and I’ll just say, it was worth the wait!
It felt like a dream walking through the halls of The Academy Museum, full of costume surprises around every corner. Though I walked in with an idea of what I would see, I constantly came across acquisitions that made the hair stand up on my arms.
We first moved into a large gallery containing a chronological walk-through of Academy Awards history from 1929 to the present, an overview of the origins of the Oscars and the Academy, memorable wins and infamous snubs, Oscars fashion, and wraparound screens showcasing significant acceptance speeches.
The moment I knew I was in for quite the magical evening was when I came across the infamous 1986 Bob Mackie ensemble Cher wore to present an award at the Oscars. I was standing in the presence of one of the most famous outfits to grace a red carpet! Me being a Cher super-fan, I felt like I could have passed out. Luckily for me, Assistant Curator J. Raúl Guzmán (and my brilliant guide for the evening) was there to catch my fall.
We then proceeded on to The Identity gallery. The Identity gallery was the museum’s shining North Star for those who love and respect costume design art. Within this gallery, there are more than forty costumes and costume design sketches on view representing a wide swath of film history from the last century, including Lady Sings The Blues (1972), The Wiz (1978), Frida (2002), Us (2019), and Rocketman (2019). In addition, there is a display highlighting a single costume designer, which opens with costumes designed by Mary Zophres. And yes, you will see The Dude’s bathrobe ensemble worn by Jeff Bridges in The Big Lebowski (1998).
There was one costume; however, I could not take my eyes off. Honestly, I never imagined myself stepping into the presence of the famous May Queen gown designed by Andrea Flesch worn by Florence Pugh in Midsommar (2019). Honestly, images don’t even do this gown justice, and I would say just seeing this gown is worth the price of admission.
The fun continued as we made our way through The Academy Museum and into The Encounters gallery, full of unique costume design. This gallery looks at the artistry that brings the worlds of sci-fi, fantasy, and horror to life, featuring original set pieces, costumes, and iconic characters, including C-3PO, E.T., and R2-D2. There were some showstopping costumes in this exhibit that I have always wanted to see, such as the iconic Edward Scissorhands costume by Colleen Atwood. Of course, no exhibit would be complete without the famed Dora Milaje armor worn by Okoye (Danai Gurira) in Black Panther by Academy Award-winning costume designer Ruth Carter.
One of the most magical moments within The Academy Museum took place in The Encounters gallery as I approached a costume that still sends chills down my spine. Why it was none other than one of the infamous gowns worn by Gary Oldman in Bram Stoker’s Dracula. What else is there to say? It was powerful and actually brought me to quiet tears. I was happy I snuck away from Assistant Curator J. Raúl Guzmán for a moment so that he couldn’t see me quietly having an emotional moment.
The Academy Museum of Motion Pictures dedicates quite a lot of space to the legendary costume designer, Eiko Ishioka. On my tour, I got to see Ishioka’s Oscar she won for her costume design work on Bram Stoker’s Dracula, the envelope and card to announce her well-deserved win, and even the Japanese poster for Francis Coppola’s 1979 film Apocalypse Now, designed by Eiko Ishioka.
Aside from all of the fantastic costumes I have shared with you, the seven-story, 300,000-square-foot museum will open with:
- the 30,000-square-foot core exhibition Stories of Cinema, offering celebratory, critical, and personal perspectives on the disciplines and impact of moviemaking, past, and present
- the temporary exhibition Hayao Miyazaki, the first museum retrospective in North America of the work of the acclaimed filmmaker and Studio Ghibli
- The Path to Cinema: Highlights from the Richard Balzer Collection, with selections from the world’s foremost holdings of pre-cinematic optical toys and devices
- Backdrop: An Invisible Art, a double-height installation that presents the painting of Mount Rushmore used in North by Northwest (USA, 1959)
- And The Oscars® Experience presented in the East West Bank Gallery, an immersive simulation that lets visitors imaginatively step onto the stage of the Dolby Theatre to accept an Academy Award®.
I cannot recommend this experience enough. I could have spent all day in this museum. Actually, I kind of did spend all day, and I still don’t think I saw everything I wanted to. This museum recognizes the importance of costume designers and gives proper credit to the incredible designers around the world, past and present, for their imperative contributions to film. Tickets are available now, so please head to the website for The Academy Museum and reserve your spot today!
Thank you to The Academy Museum of Motion Pictures for inviting me to experience this brand new museum, and thank you to Assistant Curator J. Raúl Guzmán for sharing your infinite knowledge with me as we explored this one-of-a-kind experience.