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Oscar-Nominated Costumes on View at Fashion Institute of Design & Merchandising
Costumes designed by Colleen Atwood, from the film "Alice in Wonderland", are seen on display at the 19th Annual "Art of Motion Picture Costume Design" exhibit at the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising Museum and Gallery in Los Angeles. AP Photo/Matt Sayles.

By: Sandy Cohen,AP Entertainment Writer

LOS ANGELES (AP).- Helen Mirren's Elizabethan dress from "The Tempest" is covered with gold and silver zippers, all the way up to its ruffled collar.

The hat that made Johnny Depp the Mad Hatter in "Alice in Wonderland" was crafted from imported Italian leather woven with gold threads, and it was sized to fit the fluffy orange wig he wore beneath it.

The costumes from "True Grit" were made new, then aged to look more than 100 years old, while much of the clothing from "The King's Speech" were original pieces from the 1930s.

Film fans and fashionistas can get an up-close look at these Oscar-nominated outfits and nearly 100 other movie costumes at L.A.'s Fashion Institute of Design & Merchandising's 19th annual Art of Motion Picture Costume Design exhibition, on view now.

The FIDM Museum & Galleries collects and displays movie costumes to allow future fashion designers and the public to see the creativity and craftsmanship behind the clothing that makes memorable characters on screen, says curator and fashion historian Kevin Jones.

"Costumes perform. They're often the first thing that speak to the audience, before the actor even speaks," he says. "They set the time, the place, the economic status. It's the great power of costumes for film."

Oscar-nominated costume designer Mary Zophres spent months researching the look and style of 1860s Arkansas, where the adventure tale "True Grit" takes place. Once she became fluent in the era's fashions, she ordered multiple outfits made for each character, then had the new clothing aged to appear almost 140 years old. So Jeff Bridges' giant overcoat from the film only looks shabby.

Historical costumes are more expensive to produce, Zophres says: "The earlier you go, the more money it costs."

Production on "The King's Speech" started less than six weeks after Jenny Beavan was hired to design its costumes, so to outfit the royal 1930s drama, she rented as many original pieces as she could from a costume house in London. What she couldn't find, she made, including the suits worn by King George VI (Colin Firth) and several dresses worn by the Queen Mother (Helena Bonham Carter).

For a picture set in the recent past, it's common for costumers to use a mix of rented originals and custom-made new pieces, Beavan says.

"The concept is that I do a drawing and then it gets made and I walk around being sociable with the actors," she says. "It's not about a two-dimensional drawing. It's about a three-dimensional person, their body language, their involvement, their personality."

The clothes have to consistently fit the character, plus fit in with the landscape and lighting in the scene, Jones says. Costumes help establish who a character is over the duration of the film and how they fit into the overall story.

It can be particularly challenging when some characters exist only electronically, says Colleen Atwood, who has designed costumes for many Tim Burton films and is nominated this year for her work in his "Alice in Wonderland."

"Tim kept wanting more real things as opposed to just digital things, so I ended up making more and more things," she says. "And then dealing with the scale, the things that shrank and grew and giant heads and all that. It was all new technology to me, which was really exciting and fun, and it's just a project really close to my heart just because I've loved the book so much from the beginning."

The FIDM exhibit features four of Oscar's five costume design nominees, even though it was assembled before Academy Awards nominees were announced.

"We have a 98 percent success rate," Jones says.

Other featured costumes include several dazzling (and bedazzled) outfits worn by Christina Aguilera in "Burlesque," Leonardo di Caprio and Ellen Page's clothes from "Inception" and an outfit for each character in "The Kids are All Right." Some of the most eye-catching costumes include those from "Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time" and "Clash of the Titans."

Members of the community — including Oscar voters — are invited to visit the free exhibit Tuesday through Saturday until April 30.

"Hollywood is part of our community," says Barbara Bundy, director of the museum located in the downtown fashion district. "Designers can come through and see the costumes up close before voting."

Copyright 2011 The Associated Press.

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