As the world enters its ninth month of quarantine, it would be an understatement to say that things have changed. Students spend their school days looking at a computer screen, Broadway shows have stopped running, and movie theatres across the U.S. are closing their doors permanently. Institutions like museums that once depended on high physical attendance for success must adapt to the new reality: a virtual reality. And though streaming services couldn’t be doing better at the moment, more quality content never hurts. I am thus pleased to hear of a new project from Netflix and the Brooklyn Museum.
From October 30 to December 13, 2020, in conjunction with Netflix’s release of the limited series The Queen’s Gambit and the highly anticipated fourth season of The Crown, the Brooklyn Museum has debuted a virtual exhibition featuring select costumes from both shows. Incredibly exciting is the opportunity for exhibition goers not only to see and learn about costumes from The Crown’s fourth season but to hear from Emmy-award winning designer Amy Roberts herself, who also worked as principal designer for the third season.
When I began to explore the exhibition for myself, I was surprised to find that it was both easy to use and beautifully, smartly designed. The instructions “drag down to enter” take you from the museum’s outer facade into the main hall, where costumes stand staggered around the room. The color white governs the scene – even the costumes from either show featured on the outside banners are white. White walls and floors paired with a large glass ceiling work together in creating a light, airy, and clean but not sterile space. One understands how spacious the room must be by the background noises of echoing footsteps.
If a certain costume catches your eye, you simply click on it to zoom in. As well as getting a closer look at the actual costume, you access a small number of neat features. Photo icons allow you to view details like hats and embroidery in sharper focus, while arrows at the mannequin base allow you to turn the costume, providing a 360-degree view. Some costumes also include clips from the show, giving you a better sense of how the outfit looks on its character. Finally, each costume features an icon that provides you with information on the costume, such as its designer, tailor, the episode in which you can find it, and a note on the costume’s significance and role in the character’s story.
With this exhibition, fans of The Crown have the opportunity to become better acquainted with the show’s characters and their personal stories. As an avid moviegoer, consumer of television, and lover of fashion and clothing, I have always had an affinity for the costume department, especially for period pieces. While working one summer as a costume intern for a film set in the 1950s, I learned that a tremendous amount of thought goes into costumes. For one thing, clothing must accurately reflect history through fabric color, type, texture, and cut. Then there’s also making sure that styling looks good on camera. I would argue that even more important is attention to story; how does this particular dress reflect the character of its wearer or the progression of the plot?
What’s wonderful about clothing is just how much it accomplishes; it draws comparisons, distinguishes characters from one another, and – most importantly – tells stories. Elizabeth’s costumes not only reflect the elegance and composure of her character but the state of her country. Gone are the pinks and lavenders of last season; just as Elizabeth has aged and the country has entered less optimistic times, so do her frocks settle into slightly more subdued colors like pale green. In the third season, Margaret frequently wears lively, vibrant colors that both reflect her personality and juxtapose her with the more austere, reserved, and responsible Elizabeth. This exhibition lets us know to expect a darker colored wardrobe to mirror a darker shift in her own life.
Season 4 welcomes the arrival of two new characters, Princess Diana and Margaret Thatcher, whose costumes reflect their overall status of “outsider” as they near the orbit of the royal family. Diana wears colors like red, black, and dark purple that the royals do not, highlighting a narrative that pits her against them. Both their wardrobes also reflect their personal journeys from unease and insecurity to certainty and confidence – Diana becomes a princess, and Thatcher becomes Prime Minister.
The museum and the streaming service work in tandem here, generating buzz for both the building and the series. A drop-down menu on the right of the screen even offers links to each episode of The Crown’s fourth season, including images of costumes from the episodes. So if you’d like to see a costume in action, you need only scroll over an episode number to find its matching costume.
Senior curator Matthew Yokobosky uses this opportunity to tie in objects and works of art from the museum’s collection to generate further dialogue on aspects of the costumes and topics explored in the show. For example, Hew Locke’s sculpture, entitled “Koh-i-noor,” a portrait of Elizabeth made from plastic toys, stands next to a parade uniform of the Queen. Aspects of both the sculpture and the costume represent certain facets of her personality and symbolize her renown internationally as well as her influence as a role model for someone like Diana.
Finally, fans of both The Queen’s Gambit and The Crown have access to an online panel with their respective designers and Yokobosky, in which they discuss what they wanted to convey with their costumes and, for Yokobosky, how to best integrate the museum’s collection into the exhibit. He also discusses the unique advantages which exist in making an exhibition virtual. For one thing, in many exhibits, costumes hang or sit flush against a wall, making it impossible to view them from the back. Furthermore, the hall used in this particular exhibition to stage the costumes could never be a viable option in real life, as the room’s large glass ceiling lets in much sunlight, which can fade the costumes’ colors.
If this exhibition does its job – and I believe it does – then you will leave excited for not only the new season’s costumes, but also the story. I hope, too, that it will make keener observers out of its audience who will pay greater attention to details and how they not only reflect the story and characters but add to them. I also believe that this installation will produce interest in the museum itself. Even if it isn’t possible to visit in person, there is so much to see online. I myself am experiencing this exhibition from Yerevan, Armenia – a continent away.
© Roza M. Melkumyan (11/14/20) FF2 Media
Featured Photo: Lady Diana stands in her wedding dress – Netflix, The Crown S4