Museum exhibit brings costumes to Durham worn by Hollywood’s finest

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By Krystal Sidzyik, Senior Staff Writer

The Durham Western Heritage Museum is currently hosting “Cut! Costume and the Cinema,” an exhibit featuring costumes worn by more than 30 actors in 27 different films.

The exhibit displays five centuries of fashion and style as interpreted by award-winning costume designers. Some of the costumes museum-goers will see have been worn by famous film stars like Johnny Depp, Keira Knightley, Daniel Craig, Kate Winslet, Sandra Bullock, Uma Thurman and the late Heath Ledger. Each costume is from a period film. A period film attempts to accurately depict the clothing from a specific time period.

Some of the films featured in the exhibit include: “The Duchess,” “Sherlock Holmes,” “Sense and Sensibility” and “Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl.”

“Costumes play a critical role in the success of any period film,” according to the exhibit’s brochure. “They set the scene and establish authenticity and ambience. They also reveal clues about a character’s status, age, class and wealth as well as his or her role in the story. Such is the case with the 43 costumes featured in the exhibit.”

The exhibit is presented by Exhibits Development Group in cooperation with Cosprop. Cosprop is located in London and specializes in the creation and provision of period clothing in films, television and theater. Cosprop is one of the world’s leading costume houses. The company has supplied costumes for 24 nominated films, including “The Duchess,” which was awarded an Academy Award for costume design in 2009.

“Having access to Cosprop’s exquisite collection was an exhibition developer’s dream,” said Amy Sietz, founder and CEO of Exhibits Development Group. “We felt as if we were bringing the costumes back to life, as if we gave them a voice to tell their story.”

The costumes in the exhibit are all custom-made and selected from a stock of more than 100,000 costumes and accessories. Each costume is exquisite in its own way. Knightley’s silk ball gown she wore as the Duchess of Devonshire in “The Duchess” makes you thankful that corsets are no longer a fashion must.  Knightley’s waist measured 23 and a half inches in the movie. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, the average woman’s waist size in 2011 was 37 inches. One museumgoer couldn’t believe she was staring at a costume Heath Ledger wore in the film “Casanova.”

“He’s Heath Ledger,” said Lindsey Rosenbalm-Penry, a viewer of the exhibit. “He was insanely attractive and it’s sad that he passed away, so it’s neat to look at something he once wore in a movie.”

The exhibit also features an array of lectures and programs for interested viewers. One of the upcoming lectures includes a “provocative” discussion that focuses on stories highlighted through films in the exhibit. The first story is “A Farewell to Arms” led by moderator Lee Myers on Saturday, January 28. The lectures have limited seating, so reservations are required and can be made by calling (402) 444-5071 or emailing reservations@durhammuseum.org.

“Cut! Costume and the Cinema” is a fun and exciting exhibit that allows museum-goers to experience costumes up-close and personal.

“It was really interesting to see what actors and actresses actually get to wear and how tall and what sizes they are,” Penry said, “I would have liked to have seen some costumes that weren’t from period films though, too.”

The exhibit runs from Dec. 3, 2011 through April 29, 2012. Admission is $8.

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