‘Star Wars’ costume exhibition is a clothes force

The “Star Wars” movies transport audiences to a galaxy far, far away, but thanks to the Detroit Institute of Arts, people don’t need to travel too far at all to get a closer look at the iconic costumes and creatures that gave the movies their signature look.

There’s still time to see “Star Wars and the Power of Costume,” which runs through Sept. 30 at the DIA. The exhibition features more than 60 original costumes from the first seven films in the “Star Wars” series, along with dozens of sketches and costume pieces that show how costumes evolved from the artists’ imaginations and George Lucas’ vision. See Yoda, BB-8, an Ewok, C-3PO, Chewbacca and other creatures from the film’s universe as well.

 This vignette at the Detroit Institute of Arts  shows characters from the “Star Wars” films in action,  giving audiences a chance to see the costumes  in a more cinematic setting.


Organized by the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service, in partnership with the Lucas Museum of Narrative Art and in consultation with Lucasfilm Ltd., this display is a celebration “of creativity, imagination and artistry,” said Myriam Springuel, director of SITES.

“The wealth of materials and stunning costumes … provided the perfect (basis) for an exhibition,” Springuel said.

Although “Star Wars” is set in an imaginary galaxy, the costumes borrow elements from international fashion and history, one of the topics that the exhibition explores. For instance, DIA Interpretive Specialist Melanie Parker said that Darth Vader’s helmet was inspired by Samurai helmets.

“Visitors will discover surprising and unexpected stories that will lead to a (new) look at the costumes,” she said.

It’s pop culture, but it’s also fine art.

“We wanted to create an exhibit that brought new audiences to the DIA,” said DIA Director Salvador Salort-Pons.

The exhibition is particularly fitting for the DIA because the museum has been home to the Detroit Film Theatre art movie series since January 1974. The theater’s history is even longer than that. Elliot Wilhelm, the DIA’s curator of film programs and an exhibition curator, said the DIA is one of the oldest museum venues to show film — the DIA’s auditorium was built in 1921, and it showed films “in their infancy.”

Costumes are one of the ways filmmakers introduce and define their characters.

“The costumes give us an immediate impression of the character, even if those are turned on their heads later because you can’t always tell a book by its cover,” Wilhelm said.

Film screenings and other special programs have been organized by the DIA in conjunction with the exhibition.

Of course, this is a must-see for the legions of “Star Wars” film fans, but it’s also fascinating for other movie buffs, as well as followers of fashion.

“Some of these costumes are haute couture,” Springuel said. “They are very high design and high art. It is a quality of the way in which they were designed, the way in which they were sewn so the costumes would hang and flow properly.”

She said high-end Japanese silk was used for the Jedi robe because of the way silk looks and moves on film. It might not be evident on the screen, but it can be appreciated in person.

“You see details that you don’t see in the films,” Springuel said.

Vintage wool from the World War II era was used for Obi-Wan Kenobi’s Jedi robes in “Episode I: The Phantom Menace,” but when the cloak was doused in water during filming, the cloak shrunk considerably, meaning that the costumers needed to acquire a great deal of this special fabric and make multiple cloaks, because they were ruined with each take. That’s one of the many insights visitors will get into the costumes.

Wilhelm said the DIA wanted to make sure that visitors could get a good look at the costumes, so it opted not to put them behind glass.

“We thought it would be more astounding to be able to get up close,” he said. “Some of these things are made for selfies.”

The DIA’s unique exhibition design includes interactive elements and a portrayal of the villainous Darth Vader in a way that Wilhelm said he hopes will be frightening enough to “scare children.”

“The most exciting aspect of the exhibition, to me, is you see … the creative process,” Wilhelm said.

Springuel said this is the sixth and final stop on the exhibition’s tour, which started in January 2015.

“This exhibition is sure to inspire more than a few new filmmakers and artists, and more importantly, inspire creativity in all of us,” Springuel said.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *