Beyond the Nest Reviews The History of Fashion Featuring the Hollywood Collection
-by Carol White Llewellyn
On Sunday night, I had the delight of attending Eastview Mall’s opening reception for The History of Fashion, featuring the Hollywood Collection.
Hosted by Gene London, a fascinating storyteller who has lovingly amassed one of the finest (and probably largest) private collections of Hollywood’s Golden Age, he shared stories of how his mother’s love of movies also became his passion at a very young age.
He wove tales of his early career as the host of a children’s television show called Cartoon Corners that aired in Philadelphia from 1959 to 1977 and that incorporated his love of storytelling and drawing. He eventually moved to NYC where he worked as a fashion designer and owned a retro clothing store. He also began collecting costumes, piece by beautiful piece, eventually filling steamer trunks and warehouses.
His eyes light up as he speaks of sultry scents wafting from the gowns when they're steamed and of trying to distinguish which perfume the actress might have been wearing at the time the fabric caressed her skin. As he speaks in a gentle, passionate voice, you’re there with him, almost smelling the heady scent yourself.
Gene has many wonderful stories. One he tells is of Joan Crawford visiting the station where he filmed his TV show. He asked her to autograph a gown that he thought was hers and that he'd discovered in a thrift store. When she declared it a knock-off -- hers were hand-sewn and this was machine-stitched -- she ended up sending him one of her cocktail dresses, which launched his collection as well as a life-long friendship. In fact, she invited the handsome young man to come to Hollywoond, where she would introduce him to studio head Louis B. Mayer. She was certain London would become a movie star. He did not mention what changed his calling, leading him to capture Hollywood, rather than be captured by it.
The collection of costumes on view at Eastview Mall is separated into two parts. In the Von Maur wing, we see the History of Fashion, from the early 1800’s through the Golden Age of Hollywood. As much as I love the beauty of this clothing, I, for one, am happy to have missed out on the cinch-waist corsets and many layers one was forced to wear, even while swimming or playing tennis.
The principle section, located in the Main Court, contains a stunning collection of sumptuous gowns and meticulously-tailored men’s attire crafted by some of Hollywood's leading designers. Some are “seconds” (meaning they were created in case something untoward happened to the original costume worn on the movie set during the shoot), a few are replicas, but the majority are originals, lovingly collected and curated over the years by a man whose passion for Hollywood’s Golden Age led him to purchase, at every opportunity, the garb of a glorious age…often buying gowns for $50 or $100 that would now sell for millions.
One of my personal favorites is the collection of costumes used in the 1939 Oscar-winning Gone with the Wind, that includes Scarlett’s famous gown, supposedly fashioned of green parlor drapes, in which she visited Rhett Butler in jail. There are costumes from Gigi, My Fair Lady, To Catch a Thief, Ben Hur, and more, that adorned such figures as Marilyn Monroe, Grace Kelly, Audrey Hepburn, Ginger Rogers, Vivien Leigh, Fred Astaire, Elizabeth Taylor, Charlton Heston, Greta Garbo, and other luminaries of the silver screen.
This splendid collection can be seen at Eastview Mall each day during mall hours through October 8. For a personalized “tour” – which I highly recommend – the renowned Mr. London will be on hand to share his love of Hollywood and the costumes that added to its sparkle, on Thursday, September 27 through Sunday, October 30, and on October 4 through October 8. Click here for his schedule. He will also hold two appraisal clinics on Saturday, September 29 and Sunday, October 7 immediately following the Hollywood collection presentation.
If you love costumes, history, or motion pictures, you will delight in this collection, and in the way the entertaining Mr. London brings stories of the Silver Screen to life.
For a look at Mr. London's early career, take a look at the video below.
Carol White Llewellyn is Editor of BeyondTheNest.com and the host and producer of Conversations with Creatives, a cable and online TV program that explores the arts and celebrates artists and their work.