Museum exhibit to showcase finery in film

Nancy Lawson, co-curator of the exhibit "Cut! Costume and the Cinema," shows off a costume that actor Robert Downey Jr. wore in the 2009 production of "Sherlock Holmes." The costume is one of 43 period costumes worn by famous film stars on display at the Museum of the Shenandoah Valley in Winchester. The exhibit opens to the public on Saturday. Rich Cooley/Daily
Radha Mitchell wore this dress as Mary Ansell Barrie in "Finding Neverland," 2004. Rich Cooley/Daily
Heath Ledger wore this costume when he played the part of Giacomo Casanova in the movie "Casanova." Rich Cooley/Daily

WINCHESTER – Cascades of fabric and complex embroidery deck period film costumes displayed in the “Cut! Costume and the Cinema” exhibit opening this weekend at the Museum of the Shenandoah Valley.

“Cut!” showcases the work of acclaimed London-based costumer Cosprop, which has provided costumes for many popular films in recent years. Several of the items on display at the museum come from films nominated for design awards and six costumes in exhibition helped earn “The Duchess” the 2009 Academy Award for Costume Design.

Other pieces of note include costumes worn by Johnny Depp as Captain Jack Sparrow in “Pirates of the Caribbean,” Emmy Rossum as Christine in “Phantom of the Opera” and Robert Downey Jr. as Sherlock Holmes in the eponymous 2009 Guy Ritchie film.

The intricately detailed and sometimes enormous costumes don’t simply give guests a chance to envision their favorite stars in memorable scenes; the timeline format of the exhibit also provides a historical perspective. Outfits on display show the presence demanded by women’s pannier-sculpted silhouettes in the 18th century and bear bold appliqués that reflect the Arts and Crafts movement in the early 1900s.

Exhibit co-curator Nancy Lawson said that costuming is one of the most important factors in setting the scene for period films and giving them the distinction that makes them so memorable.

“All these costumes … what they are doing, most importantly, is telling a story,” Lawson said. “In the fitting room when these actors put on their costumes … they really find their character.”

She said that Robert Downey Jr. asked designer Jenny Beavan to sew patchwork pockets into his suit on display to add to the chaotic and bohemian style of his character in “Sherlock Holmes.” Likewise, she said Johnny Depp would start getting into character as Captain Jack Sparrow from the boots up – literally.

Several costumes contain pieces from the period – Nicole Kidman’s dress from “The Portrait of a Lady” set in the 1870s bears a vintage pearl-embroidered front panel and Lawson assisted in the restoration process for beading on a turn-of-the-century dress worn in “Finding Neverland.”

The exhibit features a total of 43 costumes in styles from the 1500s to the mid 20th century complete with accessories – and those tempted to touch will be able to get their fix from swatches on the wall.

Julie Armel, museum deputy director of community relations, said the “Cut!” exhibit was a perfect fit because it combines pop culture and the more historical emphases of the museum in a single package that holds appeal for all sorts.

She said that “Cut!” serves to complement the “Face to Face” portraiture exhibit also on display at the museum. Those portraits give more comprehensive insight to the aristocracy who set the trends visible in the costume exhibit – which in turn provides the opportunity to see the lower half of typical costume worn by those in the paintings.

In honor of the exhibit opening, the museum will be holding a premiere party this evening with refreshments, dancing and entertainment apropos of the red carpet. After the exhibit opens on Saturday, adults can participate in interactive gallery talks and kids can get crafty at themed Gallery Explorers sessions.

IF YOU GO: The “Cut! Costume and Cinema” exhibit opens Saturday at the Museum of the Shenandoah Valley, 901 Amherst St., Winchester. Hours: 10 a.m. – 4 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday. Admission: $10 for adults, $8 for seniors and youth ages 13-18, free for youth 12 and under and museum members. Information and tickets:

Contact staff writer Rachel Mahoney at 540-465-5137 ext. 164, or

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