Exhibition Report:
Dressing A Galaxy: Star Wars Costumes Exhibition
The Fashion Institute of Design & Merchandising Museum & Galleries, Los Angeles, CA

PadawanRose, JediJen, Diana

When Star Wars first broke onto the world scene in 1977, the very idea of "costume design" was not as it is today. True, there were movies which were nominated for their "space age" or "historical period" designs. But no one thought of it as a high-profile thing, per se, especially for a movie like our beloved Star Wars, which felt so right and so real that we never really questioned why the characters were dressed as they were. They just were, and besides, look at those ships fly!

In addition, the budget was so paltry and the limitations so high that "costume design" in the GFFA consisted of whatever they could get cheaply. Even Princess Leia's dress was not "designed" for the film — it looks like a Halston-style knock-off, based on the wedding dress of Princess Anne of Great Britain (and her hair, too!) which had been designed by Maureen Baker. (The real princess's dress had influenced wedding dresses for the 1970s; the timing is right — Anne was married in 1973. Not a coincidence!) The X-Wing pilots wore orange jumpsuits because that was the cheapest, most plentifully available jumpsuit, and it was a high contrast to the black Imperial pilot costumes (notice there were only two Imperial pilots in the original film? Probably couldn't get more costumes!).

But with the debut of the prequels, suddenly the GFFA became ... different! The Old Republic was a rich, diverse place. Digital effects technology ensured that anything could be created almost directly from a designer's imagination. There would be many world's visited and shown, making the starkness of the original trilogy an even more shocking contrast. The difference would beg the question, "What happened here??" And of course, therein lies the tale of the rise and fall of Anakin Skywalker and Darth Vader.

Designers like Ian McCaig filled the galaxy's cultures with visual brilliance. And then it fell to craftsmen and artisans and specialists to translate and adapt those drawings.

As for costuming, that task was headed by Trisha Biggar, who seems to have been overlooked by the Academy of Motion Pictures & Sciences for her prowess and hard work. She was in charge of not only making sure the designers' designs could be worn, but also for filling in the designs for extras and others to fit in with the worlds and events they occupied. Biggar purchased the fabrics, commissioned the crafting, oversaw all fittings, made decisions on the hows and whys, was in direct communication with George Lucas as well as the designers, and produced thousands of costumes for myriad actors of all shapes and sizes and prosthetics.

So, when an exhibition for the costuming work of Trisha Biggar and others was announced by Lucasfilm, us Hutties clamored for information! Alas, because of commitments to see other exhibitions, not all of us managed to see the short-lived "Dressing A Galaxy" show, held in Los Angeles at the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising Museum and Galleries. But some of us did!

Unlike other motion picture-based exhibitions, non-flash photography was allowed in the galleries. And unlike another exhibition, a book with details of this show was published: Dressing A Galaxy: The Costumes of Star Wars by Trisha Biggar! It's a lush book with beautiful photographs of the costumes on display, as well as digitally rendered costumes, notes from actors and animators, and details and close-ups of the costumes themselves. The work needed to create these costumes in the lived-in galaxy of George Lucas's visions not only required globe-trotting to acquire fabrics and details, but many of the costumes required custom-woven fabrics, custom-cast metal and resin work, revision of existing fabric, and constant adaptation to suit the vagaries of the filmmaking process. There are stills from the movie, but these seem freshly viewed here — from a costuming perspective. What a treat!

Note that this is a hard cover book and thus is not cheap; there is an even less cheap version of the book out too, a limited edition which includes a slipcover, fabric swatches, a cast replica of a Wookiee belt buckle, a DVD, extra pages and booklets, Trisha's costume "archeology" notes and passport stamps for her travels to find all the fabrics and notions ... well worth the $300 price tag for serious costuming students and geeks! Get the book if you can, or hope that the paperback version will come out soon!

There was a big line to get into the exhibit at the FIDM, populated with people of all ages and some big fans — you know, geeks like us! But I think we were the only ones who were there for over three hours at a time, looking at our copy of the book and comparing the costumes to the photos. To make it simpler (and undoubtedly to promote sales) they had Trish Biggar's book in each room. There was also a guard in each room, who were really serious about not reaching over the glass to touch the costumes. They had sensors that went off if one got too close. And they were serious about no flash pictures — if your flash went off, they descended on you immediately, and out you went, and you weren't let back in. But at least we could backtrack from room to room. However, once you left for the giftshop, that was the end of your stay in the galleries.

I think by the time we left we were practically on first name basis with the guards! They noticed us coming back repeatedly, and THEY asked US questions about the costumes and the movies, and we told them all we knew! Apparently, they weren't Star War fans, but they really enjoyed our geeky passion for the GFFA and got a big chuckle over it. We just plainly told them we were big geeks. (Better to admit the obvious, eh?)

We spent an hour in the shop, too, and got to meet with the students of FIDM — we told them how lucky they were! Some of them put the costumes on display, but most were not fans of the GFFA (although they admired and respected the costuming displayed here). One guy was a big fan, thought, and actually went to C3 in Indianapolis, costumed as a fighter pilot. Too bad he didn't meet Jedi Jen there with her Padmé costume.

For those of us who made the trek, going to Los Angeles was a dream, and the exhibition itself was breathtaking! We took so many pictures, and not all of them made it to this report, only the ones which "came out" best — not being able to use a flash in the darkened rooms is very limiting, but here are some of our photos and notes from our wanderings through the galleries:

This picture was taken in a room showing a line-up of Padmé Amidala Naberrie's dresses, even the ones which were not seen in the final releases of the movies.

Note the backdrop of Theed City, Naboo.

This is the famous "Peacock Dress," one of the beautiful gowns designed to hide Padmé's pregnancy while she was a senator on Coruscant. Breathtaking! As we moved from one side of the dress to the other, the color did change from blue to brown and back again, almost like a shimmer. This fabric was pleated by Biggar after purchase to give it more of a cameleon-color quality. A piece was on the wall where one could touch and see close-up the finished fabric swatch.

The headdress is included here, since it was part of the costume, and thus under the province of Biggar and her crew rather than of "makeup."

The burial tableau was in small room and it was pretty dark, and these are the photos which came out best from that set.

This cloak was worn over the belly-revealing outfit that Padmé wore in the deleted scene where she takes Anakin home to meet her family. One couldn't really see the outfit, but this cloak was awesome! It was made from a panne velvet and what looks like cut-outs was actually a pattern that was made by ironing out the velvet with a stencil over it.

This was the costume of a Twi'lek opera attendee, who arrived on the arm of a powerful senator. Such a short scene for such a beautiful dress!

The front is all seed beads. The side panel under the arm is very sheer, so the character looks like she has nothing on. The rest of the dress is made of very light sheer creamy color fabric. Very work-intensive!

Couldn't pass up a Wookiee picture for the Wookiee Hut. The costumes are very tall! The piece of wood in between the two costumes is apparently based on a South Pacific weapon of war.

A close-up of the black leather-and-lace "corset dress" Padmé's wore to dinner with Anakin Skywalker, when she was hiding on Naboo from assassins. My reproduction came pretty close to the real version of this dress, which was actually designed by George Lucas (though Biggar constructed it, of course). In particular, the necklace or scarf was a good duplication.

This is the wall in the gallery where we could look at fabric swatches up-close and touch them. Note that costume sketches are shown alongside. I went back several times to touch!

By the way, check out the T-shirt; it was my daughter's idea, and she asked Mom to make it a while ago. After some washing the letters get frayed, but given the rag-tag nature of the Rebellion, it's a good detail, don't you think?

In the weeks leading up to this exhibition, the costumes made a big, big splash at the start of New York City's "Fashion Week," the annual event that kicks off the fashion "season" for models and merchandisers. George Lucas himself attended the catwalk-centered display of Biggar's costumery at the Ziegfield Theater in NYC's theatre district. Models walked, swirled, posed ... and yet these models were no Padmé Amidala. For those fans who attended, it was all about the costumes, so the lack of Natalie Portman in those dresses was forgiven. But for those fans were are pure GFFA wonks, it was kind of poignant; the fanfic-wise among us started thinking ... is this a show that Vader would have viewed privately, from his many trunks of his former wife's finery? (See, anything turns into fanfic!)

We had so much fun going to L.A. — every aspect of it — and we wish we could go back again. The FIDM was the highlight of the trip, but we tried to do the tourist thing too. We walked everywhere we could, took a bus tour, and we even took the subway to Hollywood and walked around on Hollywood Boulevard.

We really didn't stay in the best part of town (big cities are expensive!) but the hotel we stayed in was nice, but there were no places to eat close-by. We stayed in the fashion district to be close to the FIDM, of course, and were able to walk to it and the fashion district to shop. Next time, we will rent a car, now that we have a sense of this big, big town!

It was a splendid exhibition, and kudos to FIDM for doing such a good job with the displays. And many, many thanks to George Lucas for pushing forward the idea of honoring the costuming crews for these wonderful movies! Trisha Biggar may not have won any Oscars, and shame on them for overlooking her skill and genius. In our galaxy here at home, Biggar rocks!

Website images (left column) from starwars.fidm.edu
Book image from amazon.com
Photos of Princess Anne's wedding dress from theroyalforum.com
Photo of Princess Leia Organa from starwars.com
All other images, PadawanRose & JediJen

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