Unlike anywhere else in the world, the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising’s Museum & Galleries pay tribute to the power of costume design in an exhibit that gathers costumes from the most noteworthy costumes of 2015. Visitors to the downtown college can see more than 100 costumes from 23 films, including the five nominated for a costume design Oscar.

Costumes may be silent storytellers, but their creators have a lot to say. Designers and insiders shared details about the costumes at a festive event marking the recent opening of the exhibit at the downtown Los Angeles college. As you might expect from the makers of movie magic, there’s a lot more than meets the eye.

Here are 10 costume details that you might not catch, even on freeze frame.

  1. The Revenant

The takeaway: Everything is real.

The story: Oscar-nominated costume designer Jacqueline West made every costume as historically accurate as possible. At the event, she pointed out the bear claws and elk antler tips used for decoration and coat fasteners, the Hudson Bay blankets fashioned into coats, the hand-stitched hides, and the otter-as-talisman for mercenary fur trader John Fitzgerald.

What you can’t see on screen: An entire otter pelt forms Fitzgerald’s hat. The nose points down his forehead; the claws frame his head; and, a detail unappreciated on film, the tail trails down his back. “Otters are crafty animals that survive in all kinds of conditions,” said West. “They make the most of their environment. They’re great businessmen in the wilderness.” 

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  1. The Danish Girl

The takeaway: Some artists use paint, others use vintage fabric.

The story: Oscar-nominated costume designer Paco Delgado was on hand to point out that he used many items from his personal collection of vintage fabrics and trims, including the silver, sequin straps that hold up Gerda’s watery blue gown.

What you can’t see on screen: The first costume Eddie Redmaybe wears as Lili is designed to emphasize the male body beneath. The wrap-front makes his shoulders look broader and flat chest look even flatter. The last dress he wears as Lili is a soft, floral velvet, cut with generous pleats and figure-enhancing folds that are so feminine, it might be mistaken for one of his wife, Gerda’s.

The Danish Girl_Paco Delgado_FIDM

  1. Cinderella

The takeaway: You can’t have a fairy tale without sparkles.

The story: The skirt of Cinderella’s ball gown is covered in thousands of tiny Swarovski crystals that when combined with the iridescent underlayers, make the gown seem to glow. On film, the dress becomes a moving river of light and color.

What you don’t see on screen: The petticoats that extend the skirt to enormous proportions by contrast make the waistline of actress Lily James seem inhumanly small.

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  1. Carol

The takeaway: Great figures are built, not born.

The story: Oscar-nominated costume designer Sandy Powell gave Cate Blanchett a silhouette that referenced the hourglass silhouette of Dior’s New Look, but swapped in a straight skirt in keeping with the character’s streamlined style.

What you don’t see on screen: As in the 1950s, Powell achieved the ideal shape with body-shaping undergarments. The jacket on display has a padded peplum to shape the hips.

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  1. Mad Max: Fury Road

The takeaway: In the dystopian future, the tool shed is the new accessories counter.

The story: Costume designer Jenny Beavan made the most of Charlize Theron’s statuesque figure. As Imperator Furiosa, Theron rocks trashed parts like they’re couture.

What you don’t see on screen: Furiosa’s famous prosthetic arm is an artistic wonder–a mechanical collage of leather straps, mesh hose, electrical cable and socket wrenches.

  1. The Hateful Eight

The takeaway: Even in 70 mm Panavision, fake fur is pretty convincing.

The story: Costume designer Courtney Hoffman gave her band of traveling ruffians the kind of rugged Old West style that fits with the hyper-reality of a Quentin Tarantino tale.

What you don’t see on screen: The trim on Daisy Domergue’s coat and the entirely of Demián Bichir’s knee-length overcoat are faux fur. No animals were harmed in the making of that lapel.

  1. Pitch Perfect 2

The takeaway: Flips and flash can be compatible.

The story: Costume designer Salvador Perez had to keep the dancers comfortable and cool while shooting the sequel in Baton Rouge in the dead of summer. “I was really designing for the weather. So there’s sleeveless, there’s tank tops, there’s mesh shirts,” Perez said.

What you don’t see on screen: The dancer’s garments are built to move and shine, so Perez built jeans, jackets and corsets of spandex, and covered them in sequins, gold foil stripes or crystals–including their spectator shoes. When actress Chrissie Fit does a sommersault, the tails on her tuxedo are affixed to her pants with stretch thread. “Otherwise they’d be on her face,” Perez said.

Pitch Perfect 2 Salvador Perez-shoes

  1. Jem and the Holograms

The takeaway: Jem loves her gems.

The story: Costume designer Soyon An hides lots of clever references into the clothes of small town girl turned superstar Jem.

What you don’t see on screen: An has built a stage wardrobe from clothes that the girls might be crafting from recycling their closets and costume jewelry. A long coat is made from two denim jackets sewn into one. A fingerless “gauntlet” is made from lacing together the canvas top of a Converse sneaker; a bolero is cut from a denim jacket and embellished with gems and paint. Any seam can and is connected with rows of safety pins lined up like metal stitches.

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  1. Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens

The takeaway: Madame Vionnet has been reincarnated as the dressmaker for the Resistance.

The story: Heroine Rey toils on the planet Jakku, scavenging bits and pieces for her clothing. She ties a T-shirt around her head for a scarf; fashions discarded Stormtrooper   helmets into goggles; and wraps her arms with lengths of cotton.

What you don’t see on screen: Kaplan has a damn fine way with pleating cotton gauze that rivals a French couturier. Rey’s dress is a delicate wonder that flows like a toga.


  1. Trumbo

The takeaway: No journalist ever dressed as well as Hedda Hopper.

The story: Costume designer Daniel Orlandi created worthy wardrobes for characters known in real life to love clothes. Writer Dalton Trumbo and gossip columnist Hedda Hopper especially embrace fine tailoring.

What you don’t see on screen: Helen Mirren as Hedda Hopper is a scene-stealer with her ostentatious hats, but her suits are meticulously tailored. A pink suit jacket built by Mary Ellen Fields at Bill Hargate Costumes has a fleur de lis shape cut into the pattern piece, giving the princess seam a special, feminine touch.

images via Alex Berliner/AB Images