Monday, May 6, 2013

Gatsby Costume Event

Being a member of the Art Deco Society of Los Angeles has its perks.  One such perk is members exclusive events and we had one Sunday the 5th at a gallery in Culver City.  The event featured costumes, props, and sketches from the upcoming Luhrmann film, The Great Gatsby.

Now, before I voice my opinions about the event, I should provide a bit of background.  Among the LA area vintage community, there is a LOT of skepticism about this latest adaptation of F. Scott Fitzgerald groundbreaking novel.  From the casting, to the costumes, to the music... there is a great deal of room for achingly frustrating choices.

Having mentioned that, I have to say that I enjoyed--for the most part--what I saw at the event.  Historically accurate costumes?  Oh, heavens! no.  Not as such, though there were a few according to the sketches.  So why did I like what I saw?  Brace yourself for more extrapolation.

1920s?  Not so much
See, I understand that when telling a story visually there are concessions to be made.  On the page a writer can provide depth and insight that may be critical to understanding a particular character.  Yet when a story is told visually, other tricks must be employed to communicate hints toward personality.  Costume, hair, makeup are all areas that can help to evoke suggestions about character.  I recognize this.  I know that since its inception Hollywood has used costume to that end.  One of my favorite period costume designers, Adrian, built highly impractical and often fantastically costumes--even for "modern" stories and characters.  So to expect a major film to accurately represent the Jazz Age visually is setting one up for disappointment.
Spy that background!

What I saw at the event was spot-on in evoking character and personality.  I suspect readers who are familiar with Fitzgerald's work could have easily identified many of the novel's characters simply through the sketches of their clothes.  I certainly was able to do so.  (Alas, many of the sketches were not to be photographed, hence the lack of photo evidence here.)

Additionally, with a few exceptions the clothing paid homage to the silhouettes and styles of the 1920s. The average person would be able to immediately guess at the era from the clothes.  And lastly, all of the garments and sketches were gorgeous.  Catherine Martin is a wonderfully talented designer.

All that said, it may be telling that my favorite two items from the show were not Gatsby items.  The gallery used an authentic, antique Nouveau lounge built-in as a backdrop that was breathtaking.  In the same diorama was a reproduction chandelier.  Those two goodies took my breath away.  My photos do not do these items justice.  If you are in the LA area and are a fan of the era, do go and see them for yourself!

Despite my enjoyment of the costumes, please do not expect to see a glowing recommendation of the film.  I still suspect that I will love it (a rare possibility), or--most likely--I'll feel that it was a missed opportunity to tell a terrific story about an endlessly fascinating time and people.

Are you looking forward to Gatsby?

A few more photos:

Century Guild Gallery
6150 West Washington Boulevard
Culver City, CA 90232
Gallery may be by appointment only, check the site for details


  1. I think you always have to take Baz Luhrmann with a grain of salt. His portrayals, while not realistic or even true to the period he is recreating, are always visually stunning and texturally (not a word, but should be) rich and evoke a lushness that still rings true, even if it isn't. I think that is why the costumes resonated with you, though not historically accurate. Same with the music for this; I saw perform one of his songs from the movie, and it was a mash-up of 20s and his style, but it evoked that depth and glamour of the 20s that I think Luhrmann is going for. I plan on enjoying the movie for the entertainment that it is, and revelling in the background with full knowledge that it probably isn't period, but it sure is pretty.

    1. I agree with your assessment of BL and do not expect authenticity in the costumes. But from what I've read of the early reviews, I'm afraid of his treatment of the material. I am a fan of the novel and suspect that his story choices may render the story bland, trite, and cliche. Granted, I have enjoyed plenty of eye-candy films with lousy stories, but I may find myself offended should BL "ruin" Fitzgerald's work.



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