The East End is filled with hidden gems and unexpected surprises, like the free exhibit that can be discovered at Riverhead’s Tanger Outlet Center. It boasts a museum quality collection of costumes worn by Hollywood stars throughout the 20th Century.
From Marilyn Monroe’s iconic white, billowing halter-top number from 1955’s “The Seven Year Itch” to the eye-popping leather corset sported by Raquel Welch as “Priestess of The Whip” in 1969’s “The Magic Christian” — not to mention Fred Astaire’s suit from 1948’s “Easter Parade” — there is an outfit to impress anyone from the most serious cinephile to the most casual moviegoer at Tanger II’s Suite 1003, in what is titled “Gene London’s Golden Age of Hollywood Exhibit.”
London, whose obsession with acquiring, and ultimately preserving, some of the most memorable pieces from Hollywood’s Golden Age began with his receipt of a cocktail dress from Joan Crawford. The nearly 50 outfits on display in Riverhead represent just a fraction of the 60,000-plus pieces in London’s possession. Lesley Anthony, the outlet mall’s general manager, connected with the costume preservationist at a Texas art museum and arranged for the pieces to be displayed at the Riverhead shopping center.
“Probably my favorite — and for the majority of the people who come in — is Audrey Hepburn’s white dress with the black-and-white bow from ‘My Fair Lady,’ and the Scarlett O’Hara dresses from ‘Gone with the Wind,’” said Anthony. Those famed works — designed by legends Cecil Beaton and Walter Plunkett, respectively — were featured decades ago in a wildly successful costume exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, where lines stretched down the block.
“This is just a little tiny glimpse of his collection and such a wonderful opportunity to grow it and maybe next time have an even bigger show,” said Anthony, who then hinted at what might be next at Tanger’s newly minted art space. “He has another exhibit of Louis Vuitton glass cases that show the changing style of women’s fashions over time, which I think would be a great fit for us.”
The show not only had a popular grand opening with more than 1000 people filling the suite next door to Vera Bradley, but Anthony said what she is loving most is surprising daily shoppers who seem to have no idea what to expect when it’s suggested that they check out the show.
“I love to see peoples’ faces — just to see their expressions change when they come to see the exhibit. They’re in awe of it,” said the general manager. “It’s just a really special exhibit.”
Dresses by costume designers such as Adrian, Arlington Valles, Edith Head, Howard Greer, and many more can currently be found at Tanger, as can work by the master costume collector himself, Gene London. A sparkling cocktail dress worn by Mira Sorvino in HBO’s mid-’90s Marilyn Monroe biopic “Norma Jean & Marilyn” (as part of the “Happy Birthday, Mr. President” scene) can be found swirling in the exhibit’s back corner beside Richard Chamberlain’s sky-blue coat and cravat from 1976’s “The Slipper and the Rose: A Story of Cinderella.”
Those curious to know more about the costumes can ask London directly. He will be present in the exhibit space on Saturday and Sunday, April 13 and 14, as well as April 27 and 28. He will interact with guests, in addition to making presentations at noon and 4 PM each day. The exhibit is on display through April 28 from noon to 7 PM. For more information, visit www.tangeroutlet.com.