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A new exhibition at London’s Victoria & Albert Museum may well be this season’s blockbuster hit.

Curated by Academy Award-nominated costume designer Deborah Nadoolman Landis, whose credits include films such as Raiders of the Lost Ark and music videos like Michael Jackson’s Thriller, the Hollywood Costumes exhibition showcases hundreds of outfits worn in some of the greatest films ever made,

Visitors will immediately feel the magic of the movies as they enter. A blaring soundtrack – an original score by English composer Julian Scott – pulls you in, while a montage of iconic Hollywood moments from films such as The Wizard of Oz and Avatar flash across a huge, floor-to-ceiling screen.

The first room – or Act One, as it is called – explores the importance of costume to a film’s storyline, explaining that the seemingly simple cowboy gear in Brokeback Mountain or the faded jeans and hooded sweatshirt worn by Matt Damon in The Bourne Identity required as much thought and are as integral to the plot as the beading and rich elaborate fabrics in period dramas like Shakespeare in Love and Elizabeth.

Act Two puts the collection of outfits -- on loan from film studios and private collectors worldwide -- in context, through video interviews with actor and actresses. Tippi Hendren describes how her green suit in Hitchcock’s The Birds helped her get into character, and legendary star Meryl Streep explains how she insisted her handbag in Iron Lady be filled with exactly the kind of items Margaret Thatcher would have carried.

The third room – or the Grand Finale -- is a collection of iconic costumes to please both fashion and film fans, such as Audrey Hepburn’s black dress in Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Sharon Stone’s dress from Basic Instinct, Uma Thurman’s Kill Bill ensemble and the  show-stopping yellow dress Kate Hudson wore in How To Lose a Man in 10 Days. Pieces of trivia are interspersed between the costumes: did you know that the ruby red slippers worn by Judy Garland in The Wizard of Oz were designed to contrast with the yellow brick road and show off the new wonders of Technicolor?

When you look carefully at each costume, they might look different to how they appeared on the big screen. The fabric on John Travolta’s white suit from Saturday Night Fever, for example, looks cheap and shiny, while the green dress Keira Knightley wore in Atonement is not half as striking up close. You realise that the magic of the movies is just that – an illusion that transforms the ordinary into something extraordinary purely for the silver screen.

Hollywood Costumes will run until 27 January 2013. Tickets can be purchased online.  

Malika Dalamal is the London Localite for BBC Travel 

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