Interview: Nick Inglis, Collector of Vintage Film Costume

Today’s interview brings you a collector of outstanding vintage film costume from Hollywood’s golden era, blogger Nick Inglis of The Vintage Film Costume Collector.


Nick Inglis, pictured above, with some of the gems of his collection of vintage film costumes.  From left to right:  Jane Russell gown from “The Revolt of Mamie Stover” (1956), Toni Collette costume from “Connie & Carla” (2004), Esther Williams from “Take Me Out To The Ballgame” (1949), Linda Evans gown from “Dynasty” (1980s), Barbra Streisand from “Funny Girl” (1968), Judy Garland from “Easter Parade” (1948), Gladys Swarthout from “Romance in the Dark” (1938), and Ethel Merman from “Call Me Madam” (1953).

Lauren Michel: How long have you been collecting, and why?

Nick Inglis: I have been collecting original screen worn costumes and props for the past fifteen years and it has turned into quite a passion.  For me, it began with one or two costume pieces and over the years has turned into the collection it is today.  I came across an old auction catalogue selling film costumes one day and literally stated, “I didn’t know that you could own things that appeared in films.” I have been hooked ever since.

Pictured above:  A suit of Elizabeth Taylor’s from the 1951 film “Father’s Little Dividend”, sequel to “Father of the Bride” (1950).

LM: How would you describe your collection, and your blog to someone who has never heard of it before?

NI: The blog came about as a result of many people asking to see the collection and wanting to see photos of some of the pieces. The site gives me a chance to display some of my treasures, talk a bit about them and really for people to see how amazing film costume is, how it is really a form of art and how these very talented people created film history in terms of what the stars wore. The blog is a tribute to the designers of yesteryear as well as to the pieces of costume history that have been lucky enough to survive.

Pictured above:  A suit of Judy Garland’s from the 1948 film “Easter Parade.”

LM: You have turned into a bit of an historian when it comes to collecting film ephemera, even helping major auction houses around the world with identifying and cataloguing costumes for sales.  What can you tell me about the history of this unique hobby?

NI: Costume and prop collecting started more or less with the MGM studios in Hollywood in 1970 going into liquidation and the studio being forced to sell off their vast collections of costumes and props to the public. This started off an entertainment collecting frenzy. I was one when the auctions were held, and wish I could have been there. I would have been paying far better prices then than what I have to pay today!

A pair of Ruby Slippers from “The Wizard of Oz”, for example, sold at auction for $15,000 US, which was considered a lot to pay back even back then. I would estimate that if a pair came up for auction today, they would certainly reach the million-dollar mark.

It is films like “The Wizard of Oz” and “Gone With the Wind” and later, films like the Star Wars episodes, Indiana Jones, or the Terminator series that are usually the most desirable in terms of interest to collectors. Today there are dedicated sales in costume and props in most major auction houses, and sometimes if you are lucky, they pop up on eBay too.

Pictured above, a costume of Claudette Colbert’s from the 1934 film “Cleopatra.”

LM: Of all the treasures in your collection, which is your favourite?

NI: It would have to be a period gown [pictured above] worn by Claudette Colbert in the 1934 version of “Cleopatra” produced by Cecil B. DeMille at Paramount studios. The gown is very delicate now and over the top in terms of its art deco design. The fact that it has survived is a miracle.  Costumes for the most part were made for the moment, to be used on screen and that was the end of their use. They were later reused in other productions by the studios and could be altered, cut up or even dyed for later use. If a costume from a film remains largely the same as it appeared on screen, it is pretty much luck. Costumes were very much designed for one purpose only, to appear on film. No one really cared what happened to them after that.  It is really only a handful of dedicated collectors around the world who have taken up the challenge to locate and preserve these treasures.  I am happy to be one of them.

Pictured above:  A period coat and vest worn by Marlon Brando in his role as Napoleon Bonaparte in the 1954 film “Desiree.”

LM: Of the Hollywood studios, do you have a favourite whose costumes you prefer to collect?

NI: If I were to choose a favourite studio that I loves to collect from it would have to be the MGM studios. I don’t think anyone made films better than MGM in terms of production quality and design. A lot of the pieces I have been lucky to find were made for MGM productions and I now own costumes worn by some MGM greats, including Grace Kelly, Judy Garland, Frank Sinatra, Lana Turner, Greer Garson and Ann Miller.

Pictured above:  Jack Hawkins in the 1959 version of “Ben-Hur”, and a helmet from the film.

LM: What can you tell me about the kinds of costumes you like to collect?

NI: Costumes in film are very much considered pieces are art today and there are collectors around the world who collect for different reasons. Some collect a particular star or designer, others collect a certain genre and some even just collect from the one film. I pretty much collect from films I like or performers I like. I tend to collect from film epics and have costume pieces from films such as “The Ten Commandments” and “Ben–Hur”.

I must confess to a bit of a thrill that I get when I am able to watch a movie and point to a costume and say, I own that!

Pictured above:  A Barbra Streisand costume from the 1968 film “Funny Girl.”

A factor which has also drawn me to this hobby is the workmanship, design and skill that have gone into making these costumes that end up appearing on screen usually for a very short period of time. This piece here worn by Barbra Streisand in “Funny Girl” [above] and designed by Irene Sharaff, for example appears on screen for a very short time however, would literally have taken weeks to put together in terms of design, construction, and final use on screen.  They are preserved on film forever.  I consider myself lucky to be able to preserve the original costume pieces.

LM: How do you store your collection, and has storage space availability affected your choices in what you collect?

NI: They are preserved, in storage, reclined in acid free tissue paper and boxes. They sadly don’t get much of a public airing, which is a shame as they are pieces of art and deserved to be displayed for all to enjoy.

Pictured above:  A period hat worn by Kathy Bates in the 1997 film “Titanic.”

The good thing about costumes is that they do store well and don’t take up too much space. I am lucky I don’t have an interest in colleting major pieces of furniture used in film, as I really could never store them.  I know people who do collect them and really they become part of their home furniture and are used daily. They are really pieces of working art and make great dinner conversation to point and say what films they appear in.

LM: Like most collectors, you probably have a story of the greatest thing you found, probably for a song.  Can you tell me about that?

NI: The great thing about this hobby is that you never know what piece is going to be waiting around the corner next.  I am always just happy to see pieces that have survived, some sadly in poor condition, however there are still dedicated collectors out there who preserve and restore these treasures to their former glory.

My biggest surprise purchase was a pair of boots I found on eBay with the name  “Judy Garland” in them. They were Western style boots. I only paid a few hundred for them.  A little research when they arrived revealed that they were made for her role as Annie Oakley in “Annie Get Your Gun” for MGM studios, but she was sadly dismissed from the role due to illness. I even found a test photo of Judy wearing the shoes. It’s great for collectors when they can not only find treasures but find them at a great price!

LM: I’m sure you have a story about ‘the one that got away’, something that you wish you had bought, which continues to haunt you.  What can you tell me about that?

NI: Regrets in collecting are always there. Not having gone that extra bid at a sale and missing out on a treasure or two. At the end of the day you have be happy with what you have and happy in the thought that you have preserved a few more pieces of film history. My biggest disappointment was not bidding further on a Greta Garbo gown worn in “Camille”. It was one of the earlier lots in the sale so I wanted to pace myself and stopped bidding. I did come away with many other treasures from that auction that I love so it is always a bit of give and take when it comes to collecting.

Much of what was made for film has been destroyed forever. Poor storage and the fact that most fabrics will eventually deteriorate if not preserved makes the availability of good pieces rare.

Nick would like to display his pieces for the public and is always looking for those interested in showing his collection. Until then continues to do his part to preserve these pieces of film history for present and for future generations.  “And no,” he says with a smile, “I don’t wear them.”

If you have costumes you would like Nick to look at or are considering selling, please feel free to contact him at thecostumecollector@hotmail.com.

 

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4 Comments

  • Christian Esquevin April 15, 2011 12.08 pm

    Thanks for interviewing Nick, a great collector and dedicated champion of Hollywood film costume design. It’s also great that he points out not just the excellence in design but that the fabrication of the costumes themselves was of a very high order at the studios. It’s not easy and its very expensive to pursue his hobby. Thank you Nick for your dedication in preserving history film history.

     
  • Mari April 15, 2011 01.21 pm

    I would assume that Nick knows about this auction, but I thought that other readers might also be interested in owning pieces of film history – http://profilesinhistory.com/hollywood-memorabilia-auction-44/hollywood-memorabilia-auction-44

    The auction includes sketches, animation cells, costumes, props, memorabilia, production-team clothing, prosthetics…. ^_^

     
  • The Lady Eve July 26, 2011 05.07 pm

    I have come to Nick’s blog relatively recently and remain in awe of his stunning collection. This interview has given me insight into the origins of his interest in collecting. I applaud his dedication to the preservation of these treasures.

     
  • Melody Veylupek February 07, 2015 12.36 am

    Could you tell me where to find and buy the valued costumes Jane Russell wore it?

     

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