Old Hollywood Fashion at Home in Neiman Marcus

The curtain dress. Oh, the curtain dress.
In celebration of the AFI Dallas International Film Festival, Texas fashion institution Neiman Marcus has collaborated with The Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas to present the unique AFI event Through the Lens Clearly: Icons & Images from The Harry Ransom Center.

Through the Lens Clearly showcases a very cool hodgepodge of relics and regalia from classic Hollywood with a special focus on wardrobe and photography. Five of the six floors of the couture capital of the South have been eloquently integrated with exclusive icons of the film industry. The classic layout of the flagship Neiman Marcus integrated with the gallery-style displays (for the most part) flow seamlessly, creating a window shopper’s paradise of glitterati paraphernalia.

However, beyond the alluring materialism of celebrity and film, Through the Lens exposes the behind-the-scenes process of filmmaking, and this is the exhibit's most titillating element. Long before pre-production houses were dominated by Power Macs and frantic interns, an elementary style of creative collaboration existed and this nostalgic process of creation remains magical. The voyeuristic adventure of this exhibit unveils the mechanics of famous Hollywood magic -- and that’s fantastic for those with an insatiable curiousness as to how things work.

For example, on the second floor, we are invited to view not only the stunning and timeless dresses of Vivian Leigh wore as Scarlet O’Hara, but also captivating still shots and story boards of the epic film Gone With the Wind. (Please note, due to the delicate condition of the original costumes such as O’Hara’s blue velvet peignoir and her green “curtain” dress, the garments on display are replicas. The Ransom Center displays the originals.) The hand crafted “scene conception paintings” and delicately drawn Walter Plunkett costume sketches are genuine and intimate examples of just how organic the filmmaking process once was. Stretched across the quaint gallery-style back wall are makeup stills of the Gone With the Wind cast. The black and white photographs look, from a glance, like 19th century mugshots; each character gripping a chalkboard informing us of his or her name, role and scene. The photographs are an interesting reminder of the excruciating methods common to old-school styling and scene preparation.

Also, elaborating on the procedural joys of creating are tons of pages of original screenplays, notes and scribbles from Westside Story and Hitchcock classic Spellbound. The manuscripts are spread across the walls and display counters for patrons to get insight into the writer's thought process. It’s pretty remarkable to see the skeleton of these films after viewing the final products. A peek into a writer or director’s mind is always fascinating.

The fifth floor tribute to movie paraphernalia is also cool and kitsch – like a vintage Flatstock convention. The majority of the printed media was recovered from the Interstate Theater Company, which owned and operated hundreds of movie houses during the Golden Age of Hollywood.

Other highlights of the exhibit include a collection of Robert DeNiro's clothing worn throughout his career. His army-green Taxi Driver jacket and leopard print Raging Bull robe are draped across mannequins, and nestled in with the latest in men’s fashion trends. It can be a bit tricky to decipher the exhibit from the actual layout and design of the sales displays, but this spot-the-relics game makes it fun. While perusing the high-dollar Valentino collection (for me, only seen before in the pages of Vanity Fair) you get to brush up on the history of film artifacts and acting careers. Also, the sixth floor restaurant, The Zodiac, boasts an extraordinary collection of movie star glamour photos. From Carmen Miranda to Spencer Tracy, the framed photo collection hovers over the linen laced dining tables invigorating the eatery with the charming sophistication synonymous with the dazzling draw of Hollywood. -- Krissi Reeves

Through the Lens Clearly runs daily (except Sundays) through April 12 at Neiman Marcus (1618 Main St., Dallas).

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