Rambling: Meeting a hero

I've heard it said, never meet your hero, you will only end up disappointed when they don't live up to your expectations. Well, two nights ago I met one of my academic/professional heroes and it was beyond anything I could have hoped for.

For those who don't know, this year I am serving as one of the Programming chairs for the Arizona Costume Institute. It has been an incredible experience and I've met some really amazing and wonderful people. But, this month's program featured Dr. Deborah Nadoolman Landis, a costume designer, historian, and scholar whose work has inspired and influenced my research and the work I am currently doing in my studies at ASU. I've been so excited to meet her but as the time grew closer I became more and more nervous, mainly about saying something stupid and looking like an idiot.

Just to give you some background on Deborah and why she's so amazing...

- Hollywood costume designer responsible for classic looks from films such as Animal House, Blues Brothers, An American Werewolf in London, Three Amigos, Michael Jackson's video for Thriller, Coming to America (for which she was nominated for an Academy Award), and more. Oh, and Indiana Jones' famous fedora and leather jacket? Yeah, that's her work too as designer for Raiders of the Lost Ark. So even if you don't know her name, you've seen her work.
- Past president of the Costume Designers Guild, serving two terms for the organization.
- She has a PhD in the History of Design from the Royal College of Art.
- She is the David C. Copley Chair and the Founding Director of the David C. Copley Center for Costume Design at UCLA.
- She has written books about costume design including, Costume Design (here), 50 Designers/50 Costumes: Concept to Character (here), and my favorite, Dressed: A Century of Hollywood Costume Design (here), as well the the upcoming Filmcraft: Costume Design (here) coming in June and Hollywood Sketchbook: A Century of Costume Illustration (here) coming in October.
- She is currently curating the exhibition Hollywood Costume at the Victoria & Albert Museum in London, opening October 20th, 2012.

Now do you get why I was excited?

Ok, so now that you're caught up on this brilliant woman, let me go back to two nights ago, when I was invited to have dinner with her and Dennita Sewell, curator of fashion for the Phoenix Art Museum. The contents of that conversation will never be printed in public and are for me alone, but Deborah was beyond kind and gracious and the evening was amazing. It's always nice to meet nice people. I can only imagine what she would be like as a professor but if I had the chance to take one of her courses I would jump at it, I think she'd be wonderful. She, very patiently, listened to my research and the work I'm doing, and I think I came across as a relatively intelligent woman. The evening ended with her, very kindly, agreeing to sign my copy of Dressed, a book that has become the foundation of much of my research.

She signed my book! :)

The next morning I got to the hall where the 2nd Wednesday lunches are held and had the continued good fortune of sitting with Deborah at lunch and having a fun time with all the ladies and gentlemen at our table. Then at about 12:30 we all went into Whiteman Hall for the presentation about the exhibition she's curating at the V&A.

It started with Deborah calling volunteers to the stage and then deconstructing their outfits to show the difference between fashion and costume design and how costumers build character through clothing and accessories. As she pointed out, when a character comes on screen, they have already been living a life prior to their entrance and their clothing should demonstrate that in some way. The volunteers were great and really got into the spirit of the exercise.

Doing the "Deconstruction" workshop

Then the lights dimmed, and this is where I struggle with how to describe what happened next....

This exhibition is going to be unlike anything we've seen. Seriously, my brain was exploding just from watching the concept presentation, which is what Deborah was showing us. She had only seen it a week ago when it was presented to her in London last Thursday. Spanning a century of Hollywood costume design, this show will take viewers from the first stages of design, through collaborating with directors and actors, to a finale of classic film characters mingling at a cocktail part and an epic battle showdown. There will be lots of projection and use of visual effects and nearly every iconic character you can think of will be represented.

Some highlights:
- Sitting at a table with Tim Burton and Colleen Atwood discussing the Mad Hatter with the costume poised on the table above them. Other conversations will include Alfred Hitchcock and Edith Head, Martin Scorsese and Sandy Powell, and Mike Nichols and Ann Roth.
- Listening to Meryl Streep and Robert De Niro talk about how costumes effect building the character
- Holly Golightly, Marilyn Monroe from Some Like It Hot, Rose, from Titanic, and more at a cocktail party, while Nicole Kidman's famous costume from Moulin Rouge swings on a trapeze above.
- Epic finale battle between heroes and villains as Harry Potter, Trinity, Spiderman, Superman, Errol Flynn, Darth Vader and more battle it out.

As if I wasn't already excited to go to London this winter to see it! If you have a chance to go, you should. If you know anyone in the area, tell them to go for you. Fortunately there will be a book published to go along with the exhibition. For more information about the show click here.

There was so much more, but a lot of it is a blur. But the whole thing was amazing and by the looks of it, I might need to tour the show at least twice in order to fully process it all!

The audience had great questions afterwards and a few people had brought their copies of Dressed to be signed as well.

Finally it was all over and time for me to leave for class at ASU. If I didn't have several pages of notes and a picture with Deborah, I don't think I'd believe it really happened. I'm still pinching myself and after my conversations with her I'm throwing myself even deeper into my research. I think one of the most valuable and validating parts of this experience was understanding even further the importance of the research I do on dress and costuming. If I can one day produce a fraction of the scholarship that Deborah has I will know I have been a success.

Deborah Nadoolman Landis and I


  1. That is so awesome! I'm so glad you got to meet her! You have made some great connections lately. I also am so happy she was so nice & that the experience went so well. I think you definitely need that after some of your past experiences... You deserve it so much!

  2. It really was amazing. I had such a great time and Deborah was so kind and generous.

  3. So glad you had such a wonderful experience. I'm looking forward to the exhibit and going with you!

  4. Just read this and I can't wait to hear/read your impressions of the show at the V&A. Thanks so much for sharing this! --Amanda H.

    1. Thanks Amanda. It was amazing, and definitely got me very excited to see the show. I can't wait to fill you in when I get back.


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