Domestic Affairs: Designing Hollywood


Between the ages of about three and five my absolute favorite film was Singin’ In The Rain. To this day I will still watch the ‘Moses Supposes’ segment to cheer myself up at the end of a bad day. I have sometimes wondered if this is not the subconscious origin of my adoration for all things art deco. So, needless to say when I saw the original costume sketches for Debbie Reynolds in Singin’ In The Rain amongst the hundreds of sketches at FIDM Museum’s Designing Hollywood: Sketches from the Christian Esquevin Collection, it elevated an already astounding exhibition to one of my personal, all-time favorites.

Christian Esquevin

Christian Esquevin (exhibition guest curator) at the opening of Designing Hollywood: Sketches from the Christian Esquevin Collection

Featuring rare Hollywood costume sketches from the collection of author Christian Esquevin (Adrian: Silver Screen to Custom Label), FIDM Museum supplemented the beautiful sketches with pieces from their own collection including costumes, Photoplay magazines, and a rare, unfinished pattern for an unknown Katherine Hepburn film. These additions elegantly contextualized the sketches by showing the costumes from conception through fitting to finished garment, but also by placing the stars and what they wore in the surrounding social context of Hollywood’s golden age.


Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Unknown Film (1950s) Designer: Unknown Actor: Debbie Reynolds (b. 1932) Wool broadcloth, plaid silk twill & silk faille Hollywood Costume Collection, Recreation & Parks, City of Los Angeles FIDM Museum L88.1.11AB


Historical Epic Diane (Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 1956) Designer: Walter Plunkett (1902-1982) Actor: Marisa Pavan (b. 1932) as “Catherine de Medici” Silk velvet, silk satin, silk chiffon, ermine, faux pearls & rhinestones Gift of Maria Cole FIDM Museum Collection 2005.845.6AB/C


Installation view of Designing Hollywood: Sketches from the Christian Esquevin Collection


Cotton muslin pattern pieces created for a costume worn by Katharine Hepburn, RKO Radio Pictures, 1930s.

However, the real star of the exhibition remained the sketches from Mr. Esquevin’s collection. FIDM masterfully integrated these pieces from their own collection without overwhelming or upstaging the actual sketches. They instead emphasized the various sketches: period costumes across from a collection of period film costume sketches, etc.

Mr. Esquevin’s collection is nothing short of exquisite. I confess to being very surprised at the detail and beauty of many of the sketches. I have always loved fashion illustration — but this exhibition fully revealed the difference between fashion and costuming illustration. Fashion illustration is quick, simple, capturing shape and colour more than detail. The sketches in this exhibition were amazingly detailed, and yet each sketch is uniquely the designers’ own. Without having any prior knowledge of the subject, by the end I could identify an Edith Head sketch purely by her drawing style, before looking at the film name or the tombstone.


Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ (Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 1925) Designer: Harold Grieve (1901-1993) Actor: Ramon Navarro (1899-1968) as “Ben-Hur” Pencil, watercolor & gouache on paper L2014.2.7

Easter Parade

Easter Parade (Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer , 1948) Designer: Irene [Irene Lentz Gibbons] (1900-1962) Actor: Unknown Watercolor & gouache on paper L2014.2.33

The exhibition space is small, and yet the exhibition itself is not. FIDM masterfully used the space to flow well and to display so many sketches without overwhelming the visitors. Sketches are grouped to emphasize different aspects of costume design throughout Hollywood, whether it is an emphasis on the period or genre film throughout the history of film, or to examine the studios, or particular designers. This breaks up the collection into segments that are easier to take in, while also giving a more complete picture of what costuming for Hollywood is and entails.


Installation view of Designing Hollywood: Sketches from the Christian Esquevin Collection


Installation view of Designing Hollywood: Sketches from the Christian Esquevin Collection

The other great point of this exhibition is that each of these sketches — whatever it became, whoever drew it, wore it, or commissioned it — is a work of art in and of itself. I attended the exhibition with only a mild curiosity, and left with a new admiration of costuming for the art it is. And with a new perspective on at least one film I have loved all my life.

Designing Hollywood: Sketches from the Christian Esquevin Collection will be on display at the FIDM Museum main campus until December 20, 2014. It is definitely worth the visit.

Have you been to Designing Hollywood? What did you think? Do you have anything to share on the subject of costuming, or sketches? Please feel free to share your thoughts in the comments below. As always, if you have an event or exhibition you would like covered, feel free to share it in the comments or to email me.

Opening image caption: Installation view of Designing Hollywood: Sketches from the Christian Esquevin Collection

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