Anyone who knows me knows that I love a good museum. Cool exhibits are guaranteed to pull me in, like a moth to a flame. I’m always sniffing out good museums and exhibits to visit, anywhere I go. Sometimes, even when I go home.
As it turns out, we have an awesome art museum in Detroit. The Detroit Institute of Arts has some amazing art, including a set of paintings called the Detroit Industry Murals by Diego Rivera.
But this summer, it wasn’t the painting I was visiting for. Every once in a while, there’s an exhibit that’s so awesome, even people who are only casual admirers of art find themselves being pulled in by a tractor beam. An exhibit developed by the Smithsonian Institute came to Detroit, and it caused quite a stir when it did. Many people I know showed up at the DIA, as we Detroiters call the museum, to meander through the exhibit. That exhibit: “Star Wars and the Power of Costume”.
I was always a big Star Wars fan. Princess Leia and Queen Amidala were everything I wanted to be: intelligent, independent, beautiful, and generally able to hold their own with anyone in the galaxy. And they were fashionable to boot. So the chance to see their outfits was irresistible.
The exhibit opened with the pairing of Queen Amidala’s iconic red dress with young Anakin Skywalker’s Jedi robes. From there, visitors were led through all the costumes in the galaxy.
Prominent in the exhibit were the explanations of how the costumer designers developed their ideas. I have to be honest, with the notable exception of the exquisite costuming in Outlander, I had never paid that much attention to what characters were wearing in TV shows and movies. It was very eye-opening to read what the artists had to say about the costumes they’d developed.
One of the most common explanations on the placards in the exhibit was where the ideas for the outfits came from. For example, the opulent dresses that Queen Amidala wore in the prequels were inspired by the over-the-top decadence of all the great empires of the world: British, Chinese, and western African. Because the outfits borrow a little from each one of those traditions, you don’t see it right away, but as soon as I read the placards, it made sense. I’d picked up on all of that by watching the movies, but the exhibit articulated my subconscious understanding of those outfits.
Not only that, but the concept art for the costumes was on display. If you ever question whether or not costume design constitutes art, take a look at some concept drawings. The level of detail and skill that goes into each one of those is astounding – I was especially blown away by designs and mock-ups of the intricate embroidery that was used in some of the costumes.
Of course, as much as I loved all of the outfits worn by Princess Leia and Queen Amidala, the highlight for me was Han Solo. Perhaps it says something about my feminism, but the swashbuckling space pirate was always the star of the show for me.
Okay, he still is. Being a pirate is a life goal of mine.
The exhibit has, alas, reached the end of its time at the DIA. In fact, the DIA appears to be the last stop for this exhibit before heading back to the Smithsonian. But, if you missed it, you can still check out the costumes that were displayed and some gallery views on the Smithsonian’s exhibit website.