The exhibition charts the founding of the company by German tailor Daniel Angel when he came to London in 1813. He lived in the well known area of Seven Dials, near Covent Garden, which became home to many immigrants flocking to London and a marketplace for second- or third-hand goods. This is where Daniel Angel began his business with a second-hand clothing shop. He was a pioneer in the hire business, being one of the first costumiers to allow actors to borrow clothing for auditions.
The history of the company is scattered throughout the exhibition, amidst the different eras of costumes and expansion of the business. Making it through two World Wars and some legal difficulties, the company still stands today and continues to create and rent out costumes. The costumes themselves are carefully orchestrated in the space to take the viewer on a journey which details the development of the company as well as the evolution of film and television.
Many of the costumes are originals but where the original no longer exists, the costume has been recreated by the Angels team, who, through contextual research, have remade the costume using materials that would’ve been used at the time. This is an admirable feat and when walking amongst the glittering costumes, there is a respectable sense of authenticity to their method, which lends itself to an even more magical experience.
The costumes themselves span the 175 years Angels have been making them. There are stage costumes from their early work in the 19th century as well as military uniforms which they were commissioned to make, and even a variety of cinema ushers’ uniforms from the time when going to the movies was a sophisticated experience and rare treat for many. The detail in design for all these costumes and uniforms is quite spectacular and even the reproductions encapsulate the period they were produced in, taking the viewer back in time.
The diversity in costumes throughout the exhibition is both fascinating and a lot of fun. It hosts both Cate Blanchett’s elaborate costume as the Queen in Elizabeth and Judi Dench’s stunning dress as the Queen from Shakespeare in Love. Iconic costumes from Titanic, Mommie Dearest and Downton Abbey are on display as well as costumes worn by the likes of Meryl Streep, Noel Coward, Fred Astaire and Laurence Olivier. There are original costumes from the hit musical Wicked and even Peter Seller’s hat from the Pink Panther films.
‘Dressed by Angels’ is a visual feast and tells a compelling story about the history of the company and the journey costume design has taken through theatre, film and television. From the Ealing Comedy years, to the Swinging 60s, to theatrical musical blockbusters, this is a charming exhibition that both informs and delights, and will do for people of any age, which is reflected in the range of tickets from adults, children, concession, families, groups and school groups. Booking until 3rd January 2016, a trip to the Old Truman Brewery to see these stunning costumes and impressive exhibition is well worth it.