Exhibition Review | Orry – Kelly: Dressing Hollywood

So I was a bit behind the eight ball with seeing the Orry-Kelly costume exhibition in Melbourne and while I’m entirely aware it’s over, perhaps making any type of review redundant, I loved it so much I feel the need to gush. The exhibition itself was much smaller than I was expecting, but this in no way effected how much I loved it or the fact I spent two hours in there. I don’t know what it is about the Golden Age of Hollywood that holds me in its thrall. Is it the glamour, the understated sexiness, the often iconic one-liners – all of which is enhanced by exceptional costuming.

Orry – Kelly was born in Kiama, New South Wales, developing his love of theatre when he relocated to Sydney at the age of seventeen. He later moved to New York to pursue acting where he shared an apartment with Cary Grant and designed costumes and sets for Broadway. After moving to Hollywood in 1932 he became the chief costume designer for Warner Bros until 1944. He also designed for films at Universal, RKO, 20th Century Fox, and MGM studios. His designs have graced some of the most iconic films of all time such as 42nd Street, The Maltese Falcon, Casablanca, Arsenic and Old Lace, Harvey, Oklahoma!, Auntie Mame, and Some Like It Hot.

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There may have only been a handful of costumes on display but what was there was stunning. The beading detail on the costume from Gypsy (1962) worn by Natalie Wood is exquisite, as is the beading on Rosalind Russell’s costume from Aunt Mame (1958). I couldn’t resist the smile that crossed my face while watching the show-reel of Orry – Kelly’s work. He has dressed some of the most beautiful and talented women in Hollywood and if you asked any of them they would have told you he made them beautiful, that’s what he did.

In a sense, I view wearing vintage as my own grown-up version of dress-up. Everyday I can transform myself into who I want to be with hair, make-up and clothing. This doesn’t mean that I in some way don’t like who I am or am trying to hide behind a persona, my personality shines through all my various incarnations, but I tend to agree with Shakespeare when he said ‘All the world’s a stage, And all the men and women merely players’ – I just choose not to define my role.

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Orry-Kelly won three Oscars for Best Costume Design for An American in Paris (1951), Les Girls (1957) and Some Like It Hot (1959). He was the most awarded Australian in Oscar history until 2014 when Catherine Martin won two Oscars for The Great Gatsby, combined with her previous two for Moulin Rouge! her four Oscars ensured she claimed the title from Orry-Kelly.

Each outfit on display was accompanied by a story around its creation. My favourite was regarding the women’s clothes for Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon in Some Like It Hot. Initially the men were just going to wear clothing that already existed but then they looked like men in women’s dresses which isn’t what they wanted for the film so Orry-Kelly designed clothes specifically for them. Tony Curtis said that he and Lemmon decided to put on hair and make-up in the ladies bathroom while in costume and the fact that not a single woman noticed them meant Orry-Kelly had done an amazing job.

A longtime alcoholic, Orry-Kelly died of liver cancer in Hollywood on February 27, 1964. His pallbearers included Cary Grant, Tony Curtis, Billy Wilder and George Cukor and his eulogy was read by Jack L. Warner.

Apologies for the poor quality images. I forgot to take my camera to Melbourne!

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Gypsy (1962)

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Some Like It Hot (1959)

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