The Costume Council at the Los Angeles Museum of Art helped celebrate the centennial anniversary of Western Costume Co. with a June 20 panel discussion and pageant that unspooled in front of a capacity crowd of 600 at LACMA's Bing Theater.
Among those who turned out to fete the North Hollywood-based costume house were costume designers Arianne Phillips ("Walk the Line"), Janie Bryant ("Mad Men") and Deborah Hopper ("J. Edgar") and fashion designers Jeremy Scott and Louis Verdad. Bill Haber, the usually press-averse sole owner of Western Costume for 17 of the company's last 100 years, also was there.
The evening's program, titled "Western Costume Company: The First 100 Years" started with a free-flowing discussion that had Bobi Garland, Western's archivist and research library director, moderating a panel that included Western's president, Eddie Marks, costume designers Ellen Mirojnick ("Wall Street," "Basic Instinct") and Carol Ramsey ("Meet the Fockers," "Mr. & Mrs. Bridges"), costume supervisor Jim Tyson ("The Right Stuff"), Western's milliner Harry Rotz and shoemaker Mauricio Osario.
Among the things those in attendance might have learned about the costume house (as did we): that Western had probably made more clothes for John Wayne over the course of his career than for any other actor, that the celebrity whose presence seemed to cause the biggest stir among the staff was Roy Rogers, and that the oddest manufacturing request made of the company was to put disappearing zippers into a hat (for "G.I. Joe"). (We also learned exactly what the Costume Council, the group of well-dressed folks who organize such events, is all about. The goal, one of the evening's speakers explained, is "to raise funds for and awareness of the world-class costume collection" at LACMA.)
But the highlight of the night was the pageant that followed: 42 costumes -- presented on live models -- that covered every category of costume ("ancient times," "action heroes," military") for both men and women, which resulted in scenes where Zorro crossed swords with Robin Hood, General Patton and Napoleon tried to outflank each other, a cadre of cowboys raised their flasks to a bonnet-wearing incarnation of Katherine Hepburn, with Laurel and Hardy left to pick up the pieces.
Some of the instantly recognizable outfits -- Scarlett O'Hara's green velvet drapery dress, Cleopatra's shimmering golden sheath dress and Dorothy's "Oz" pinafore were exacting re-creations, many made for the event, while others (garments that had screen time in "Titanic" and "The Artist") were the same ones that appeared on-screen.
The pageant ended with the presentation of a signature look from each decade of the last 100 years, ending with a forward-looking dress intended to symbolize the next 100 years. The "21st-Century Dress," was a bedazzled, back-baring, thigh-grazing Art Deco-inspired confection designed for the occasion by Ellen Mirojnick and modeled by her daughter, actress Lili Mirojnick.
If Western Costume's future is anywhere near as bright and sparkly as the vision team Mirojnick put forth June 20, consider the next 100 years all but sewn up.
-- Adam Tschorn
Photo: Models on the red carpet at a June 20 LACMA event celebrating Western Costume Co. wearing period costumes representing five of the 10 decades Western Costume has been in business. Credit: John M. Heller/Getty Images