The Art of Costumes: An Interview with Nicholas Inglis
Nicholas Inglis is a long time classic movie fan who then took the passion for them to a whole new level. Starting in 1995, Nicholas started to recognize the importance of saving and preserving for the world the costumes that were made for classic movie masterpieces. Not just buying to have but truly understanding the significance each holds in our history of cinema and to keep them intact for new generations to see and enjoy. This constantly growing museum from hats, gowns and much more is a passion that Nicholas stays true with and now is a preservationist/record keeper for our adored movie stars, movie studios, motion pictures, and especially the designers of the era who will never be matched again. Designers such as Adrian, Edith Head, Walter Plunkett, Helen Rose, Travilla and countless others made these costumes come to life. The amount of man power that went into each costume with all details from top to bottom done for each star. Nicholas, I like to think is an archivist for our glamorous Hollywood past and is keeping it alive with ensuring these costumes thrive and are seen by many to have new generations understand and as well become fans of everything classic movies!
Interview by: Mason Williams
· What made your passion of collecting vintage film costumes come alive?
It all started with a catalog of entertainment memorabilia from Christies auction hose sent to me in 1995. The catalog was predominantly signed photos of the stars but in the last few pages of the catalog were screen worn costumes and props. Well I was hooked. Up until this time, I had no idea that you could even collect or own these kinds of treasures.
· At what age did you start collecting vintage costumes?
As a teenager I used to write to the stars and got replies with signed photos and letters. As a result I ended up collecting autographed photos and signed documents of the golden age of film. It was in 1995 that I got into the costume side of collecting. I was about 25.
· Was there a particular film or actor that got you into this area of collecting?
No it has never really been about the actor or the film. It was always the concept of a piece having been made for film, having come from the studios, having gone through the film process up to the final part of that process being its final use on the screen.
· What was the very first costume you acquired?
The first costume I ever acquired, were a pair of grey slacks worn by Ava Gardner in the 1956 MGM classic “Mogambo”. It was just a pair of trousers but to me it marked the beginning of this great collecting journey. I could hold it up to the screen with the film going and say “wow I am holding that in my hands”. It’s still a great thrill to receive pieces and as long as I keep getting that thrill, I will keep collecting.
· Is there any actors/actress’s/designer/film that you still have not acquired and would love to own?
Every collector I think has a wants list and I still have mine. For me its great ladies that I keep hoping for, Marlene Dietrich, Greta Garbo, Joan Crawford, Mae West. They are out there and come to market from time to time but they always do very well.
· What is your favorite costume in your collection and why?
My favorite costume is a red velvet two piece costume with fox fur trim worn by Barbra Streisand in the 1968 Columbia Pictures “Funny Girl”. I love it for many reasons in terms of the design, the look, how it appears on screen and of course who wore it. The gown is amazing to look at as a collector, it is also in great condition and displays well. The gown also came direct from Ms Streisand herself when she sold many of the costume pieces she had collected over the years. The money raised from those sales went to the many charities that Barbra is associated with.
· Where does your love of classic films come from?
I think it’s a family thing. I group up watching the classics, had them discussed with me and was taught about the stars and star systems. I also had an aunt and uncle that owned movie cinema so got to see the film growing up and at a very early age.
· How would you respond to the following question, “What is the importance of restoring & preserving vintage costumes important?
Costumes are to me, works of art. They are pieces of art to be treasured. There are so many facets that go into making a costume, from the design phase, the designer, the materials, the period of the costume, the workmanship that the final result on the screen appears effortless. I have always had a lot of respect and admiration for the costume designer and the art of costume design.
In reality, costumes were not made to last. They were made for a single purpose being to dress the star in order to perform their role on the screen. After that, the role of the costume had ended. It is really because of a handful of collectors who very early on, saw the importance of these pieces as treasures and really as part of cinema history that they have been recognized and preserved.
· What are some messages that you want to impart with both your successful blog and vintage costume collection?
I enjoy doing the blog and discussing the art of costume. I try to show them in their best light and with corresponding photos of the costume being worn by the performer and how they appeared on screen. I have received some wonderful compliments from followers of the blog and those interested in film costume, there are some wonderful people out there and it is great to see so much interest in film costume.
· Are any of your pieces been or planned to be on display to the public?
I hope to display these treasures as part of an exhibit for the public. I think that treasures such as these need to be enjoyed and not tucked away in boxes. I urge all collectors to make the effort of taking them out and putting them on display on any scale. They deserve to be enjoyed.
· What is the most memorable story regarding obtaining one of the costumes?
Not so much a story relating to one costume but to a group of costumes that I bought from a wonderful gentleman who I only had the pleasure of meeting and chatting for a very short time but it is something I will always remember. The way he talked about costumes and collecting is the way I always feel about it all. It is something common to collectors and when you come upon it, you recognize it right away. He was not only a collector but he got great joy in displaying his treasures for the public to enjoy. This is what it is all about. Not only collecting but also being able to show them to those who appreciate the magic of film costume.
It is to the collectors of yesterday who the collectors of today owe a great deal. If it weren’t for them, the majority of these treasures would no longer exist. The sad reality is that these treasures will one day be no more. Fabrics and textiles will eventually deteriorate and disappear. Mabye not in our lifetime or the next, but eventually. Until then each collector does his or her bit to preserve and conserve until it is time to pass on to the next collector.
· What is the process of properly preserving vintage costumes?
To preserve a costume, you have to be aware of what you have. You have to start to know fabrics, what makes a up a fabric, which ones are sturdy and can be stored hanging, which are not and must be reclined. Dirt is also an enemy of the costume. They must be expertly cleaned and stored in order to ensure their future. The reality is that costumes are man made fibers and will eventually disintegrate and disappear. Until that time, it is up to the collectors of today and tomorrow to continue to seek out, identify and preserve cinematic history.
· Please share your three favorite costumes and the story behind them.
I have a pair of boots that were designed for Judy Garland to be worn in the film “Annie Get Your Gun”. Garland was dismissed from the production and replaced by Betty Hutton so only the costumes and little of the original filming remains in terms of Garland and the film. I was lucky enough to pick up the boots on eBay. It was just one of those cases of right place and right time.
I bought a Lana Turner costume worn in the 1956 period drama “Diane”. The costume is worn in a scene where she teaching the prince, played by Roger Moore, how to fence. I showed the costume to Lana’s daughter Cheryl Crane who told me the great stories of her being on set the day of the shooting of that scene and about the costume. It is great when you get these stories to keep with the costumes as they really bring them back to life.
I have a costume worn by Judy Garland in the 1948 MGM musical ‘Easter Parade’. It is such a wonderful film and the costume is worn in two great production numbers, the ‘Fella With An Umbrella’ song and “I love a Piano’. Whenever I watch the film I am amazed that I have such a wonderful piece from an MGM musical classic. I have Michael Siewert, an amazing Garland collector to thank for that one. He has been able to put together one of the largest collection of Garland costumes in the world. Another example of some of the great collectors you come across in this hobby.
· What do you find your most preferable method in obtaining new pieces for your collection (ie auction houses, eBay, private estate sales)?
I have found some great treasures on eBay over the years. It was a lot easier when eBay was starting out as there was less competition for them, but if you look you can pick up some treasures. Otherwise it is through the auction houses or through other collectors.
· Have you ever found a gem of a vintage costume where the seller had no idea what they had?
I picked up a white satin coat that was lined in bright orange fabric and totally lined on the inside in orange sequins. It was sold as a white coat and I picked it up for $50.00. I later found it in the Carol Channing and Pearl Bailey special “Carol Channing and Pearl Bailey On Broadway” 1969. Pearl Bailey wore it in a medley of songs with Carol Channing including Hello Dolly. So there are treasures out there to be had. You can see it here:
· Do you have a particular actor and/or designer that are your favorite to collect? If so, why?
I don’t have a particular actor however as a collector my collection is predominantly made up of period costume. In terms of that genre there was no better than Walter Plunkett. He designed for many memorable films including ‘Gone With The Wind’ and ‘Singin In the Rain’. I have quite a few costumes designed by Walter Plunkett and each one is unique in its own special way. He is truly one of the designed greats.
· In your opinion with such grand designers in the golden age of cinema such as: Adrian, Walter Plunkett, Edith Head, Irene Sharaff, Orry-Kelly etc…who is a personal favorite and why?
· As of this moment we have large auctions that were recently held from huge celebrities such as Debbie Reynolds and the estate of Elizabeth Taylor, is there anything from those collections that you would love to have as part of your personal collection and why?
I keep getting drawn to the period pieces, which Debbie Reynolds seems to have a lot of! I kept my eye out for the period treasures and was lucky to come away with a few. But yes I do get drawn to the period treasures. The more over the top the better! As a collector of vintage film costume, I thought that both auctions were just amazing! My only wish now is that the items are going into the right hands, to be preserved and displayed for future generations of film lovers to enjoy.
· To get to know Nicholas better, who is your favorite classic actor, actress, film, director, genre and film that captures that best costumes?
I have always had difficulty in answering the question who is my favorite actor or actress or what is my favorite film. I like a lot of performers from a number of films and all for different reasons. I do have multiple costumes from a number of actors including Elizabeth Taylor, Lana Turner, Judy Garland, Susan Hayward and Maureen O’Hara so I expect I am drawn to these stars as performers and their films.
The genre I am most drawn to is the biblical epics. I have pieces from film such as Cecil B DeMille’s “The Ten Commandments” made in 1956.
If I were to pick a film that captures the best in terms of costume, it would have to be “Singin In the Rain”. The film goes through a number of different periods and era’s and very much made the most of the film color process available at the time. The costumes on screen look amazing. It is a joy to watch on the big screen and now with these films having been restored to their former glory, the results on screen are amazing. Plus the costumes are designed by Walter Plunkett so another great reason to call it one of my favorites in terms of costume.
~ Interviewers Note: Below is one famous outfit in Nicholas Inglis costume collection. This one is from the 1957 MGM motion picture; “Raintree County” in which Elizabeth Taylor wore. The famed costume designer Walter Plunkett designed this gem where we have the gown today in its splendor along with the original sketch from the designer.