Today we decided to avail ourselves of a last opportunity to view the 12th “Outstanding Art of Television Costume Design Exhibit” at the FIDM Museum in Los Angeles and while we had to deal with some large crowds, it was definitely worth the time. As a general thing, we like the costume exhibits that are put on at the FIDM Museum because the location is convenient, parking is relatively easy to find, and the admission is free. Yes, free! 🙂
Getting in a quick picture between mods of visitors…
Although we tend to focus on shows set in the late 19th and early 20th Centuries, we’re not oblivious to other eras and genres and upon entering we were greeted by some artfully designed outfits from the show The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel:
While 1950s fashions may seem to be light years apart from the late 19th Century, they both share the characteristic of carefully sculpted silhouettes (helped along by proper foundation garments) and as such represent the design ethos of careful, deliberate design effects, something that was not to re-emerge until the 1980s (albeit in a somewhat re-worked form).
Next, were the costumes from The Alienist. We’ll start with the men’s outfits:
The above is a fairly functional sack suit and it pretty much fits for 1896 although there’s a couple of details that we find questionable. First, the use of bright colored and/or patterned silks, wools, and cottons for vest fronts was more of an 1860s style and by the 1890s, fabrics tended towards more conservative patterns and colors, often matching the rest of the sack suit (but not always). Second, the use of insets on the collar/lapels is somewhat questionable- from the extant period examples we’ve examined, this seemed to have been a style element reserved for more formal frock and tail coats. Perhaps this was an attempt to emphasize the character John Moore’s upper class status.
Next, we see a frock coat suit worn by Dr. Lazlo Kriezler:
The use of a bottle green wool is interesting in that it’s a little outside of the norm but not implausibly so and the silhouette holds up well. The button holes on the collar is an odd embellishment but it’s hard to notice on screen.
And now for the women’s costumes, at least those worn by Dakota Fanning as Sara Howard. First up is a day dress:
In terms of silhouette, this dress follows a fairly conventional 1890s day dress style and the silk brocade fashion fabric suggests a better sort of afternoon/visiting dress. However, the sleeves seem to be lacking for a dress that’s supposed to date from 1896. The mid-1890s saw the gigot, or leg-of-mutton, sleeve in full boom and for the most part, had far more fullness than what’s on this dress. Granted, some gigot sleeve styles could get seriously over the top but nevertheless, for a dress worn by someone of means, this is not an area that would have been skimped on; these just appear perfunctory. Finally, in its defense, the plum and magenta color combination is an excellent one and the hats further enhances this although the hat doesn’t appear to have been worn, at least to the best of our recollection (somehow, when it comes to film and TV, hats are usually the first thing to be discarded).
Final note: When we first viewed this costume at the FIDM Museum, we noticed that the bottom of the bodice was unbuttoned. We thought this was some attempt to model the bodice details but when we found the above picture, we saw that it had been worn that was in the production. The only reaction we can summon is NO. These dresses were meant to be work with all the fasteners closed; it simply doesn’t read correctly. Perhaps there was a fit issue that prevented full closure and there was no time to fix it but still, it’s simply sloppy.
Next, we seen an evening dress:
Due to the crowds, I was unable to get a good frontal view so here are a few additional ones that we found online:
The concept illustration.
One interesting thing we noticed with this evening dress was that the bodice included spaghetti straps in the production but this was lacking in the actual garments when it was on display. Style-wise this evening dress does give a very rough 1890s silhouette but that’s about all that’s 1890s about it. The worst element is the pleated bodice- the pleats are not only not historically correct, but they make the bodice look ill-fitting. The sleeve and neck treatment also don’t help- The strips of velvet swags are loosely tacked onto the bodice front and limply hang off the shoulders with no attempt to really follow the wearer’s silhouette. The overall effect just looks sloppy. Finally, no real attempt was made to properly create the gored skirts that were the basic element of any 1890s evening dress:
Here we see a loose gathering of fabric. Once again, sloppy. Just for comparison, let’s take a look at an original evening dress circa 1892 – 1896 that features a pleated bodice:
M. Laferriere, Robes et Mantaux, Evening Dress, c. 1892 – 1896; Kent State University Museum (1983.001.0173)
Close-Up, Rear View
While style elements may vary, the key is that the total dress is tidy with smooth lines. Nothing appears to have been added without purpose. Now, perhaps the rumpled bodice in the production was hiding a lack of corseting (can’t say for sure here but often leading actresses insist on not wearing corsets in productions and usually the director will go along with it, even though it ruins the bodice silhouette).
In contract to the ball down is this walking suit that unfortunately got almost no air time:
Overall, the silhouette reads mid-1890s and the construction is excellent, especially in lining up the stripes between the sleeves and cuffs. The jacket/skirt/waist combination was very characteristic of 1890s day wear and the costume designer definitely got it right. The only issue is, like the above day dress, is the sleeves- they could have been larger, extending out from the shoulder more.
Overall, it was a commendable attempt and definitely deserves recognitiion. Well, that’s it for now- we’ll have more soon.
(To be continued…)