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An Interview with Angels Costumier

Katie S.10/28/2023


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Photo © Angels Costumes

Those of you who read this blog regularly know that the name Angels Costumier (Now known as Angels Costumes) tends to come up quite a lot. They are the largest costume house in the world, and a huge majority of the costumes featured here originated from their stock. Recycled Movie Costumes has always wanted to know a bit more about how the process works, and Jeremy with Angels Costumier was kind enough to answer some questions.

Tell us a bit about the history of Angels Costumier and its companies.

In 1813 Daniel Angel, a young tailor from Frankfurt arrived in London with barely a word of English. He headed for Seven Dials and set up a barrow selling second hand clothes. He later opened a second hand clothing shop with his son Morris providing a service for those who wanted good quality clothes at reasonable cost. Later, when an actor asked if he could rent a suit rather than buy it, the hire business took off.

Morris and his son Daniel (3rd generation) moved to premises on Shaftesbury Avenue in the late 1880’s and Daniel opened a bespoke department in this new respectable environment. The quality and style of the clothes was high, and soon theatrical managers were seeking his services for their West End productions.  As the film industry was beginning, Angels began a relationship with the film industry that lasts to this day.

The Shaftesbury Avenue location ensured that Angels dressed every show of distinction in the West End, including musicals Showboat, The Girl Friend, The Co-optimists, The Year of Grace, No, No Nanette, and plays such as Journey’s End, and The Truth Game.

In the late 1920s, after Madame Tussauds was destroyed by fire, Angels re-dressed all the waxworks and provided uniforms and livery for the staff. From 1940 to 1945, Angels provided dress uniforms for the Free French Army and for ENSA, the army entertainment troupe.  In 1948 Hamlet starring Laurence Olivier won the Best Achievement in Costume Design Oscar® at the Academy Awards.

Angels have gone on to supply costume to another 36 Best Costume Oscar® winners. In 2015 Angels supplied costumes to four of the five films nominated for Oscars® in Costume Design and all five films nominated for the Film Costume Design at BAFTA: The Grand Budapest Hotel; The Imitation Game, Into The Woods, Mr Turner, The Theory of Everything and Maleficent.

Angels acquired Bermans in 1992, moving the professional hire for film, TV and theatre to Camden. This allowed the original Shaftesbury Avenue premises to be opened as Angels Fancy Dress; giving over almost one acre of storage space to public fancy dress hire. The company remains a family enterprise with the 7th generation of the Angels family now working in the company.

We frequently see gowns that have been changed in minor ways to fit a different actress, but sometimes we also see costumes that are very heavily altered from the original form that they came in – trim being added or removed, etc.  What happens in those cases? If a designer rents a costume, are they free to make alterations as they wish? What are the rules there?

Most of the time we prefer to make all changes ourselves. We have an alterations workroom with people who are geniuses at what they do they can change the size of a costume without having to cut away any material so that we can use it in the future for different shaped actors.  If a customer wants to alter the outfit themselves on set there are very simple rules. Your changes have to be reversible, you can not cut away any material and you are not allowed to make alterations that will change the aesthetic of the costume (e.g. no dying it a different colour).

Photo © Pathé / BBC Films

What are some of the oldest costumes that you’ve seen still being rented out today?  Do you think that is a testament both to the quality of their original designer, as well as the care that Angels has given to each garment?

The oldest costume that we still hire out is a Blue dress from 1850s. It actually features as an infographic in our book. The material used to make it is very heavy and therefore has been easy to repair over the years, but the ability to reuse the costume so much has to be put down to the abilities of our alterations department.  We do have older items in our warehouse, but they are for research only. The oldest item I have seen are a pair of shoes from the 16th Century and they are absolutely tiny.

Does Angels rent out to the general public for costume parties? We saw an instance recently where model Alexa Chung was able to wear one of Kiera Knighley’s gowns from The Duchess.

We also do rent to the general public. Our shop on Shaftesbury Avenue has 4 floors of costumes aside from Packet costumes you can find on Fancydress.com they have hire costumes, and these hire costumes come from our main stock, so if you were to hire a robin hood costume from us, there is a possibility it could be Kevin Costner’s from Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves.  Or if you were to hire a period dress it could have been Kiera Knightley’s from The Duchess.  The famous story where this has happened is there have been several school nativity plays that have hired a cloak from us and we eventually realized that the robe being hired out was Alec Guinness’ Obi Wan Kenobi robe!!

Photo ©  Twentieth Century Studios / Lucasfilm

How are gowns chosen and pulled for use on a production?

There are several ways that shows are put together.  If we are pulling it for the designer, our staff will meet with the designer to find out what they are looking for, they will put a few looks together and either send the designer photos. Or if the designer is in our building, show it to them, and once they are happy we will continue pulling stock based on the measurements given to us or taken by us of the cast/extras.  If the designer’s staff are pulling outfits they will pretty much do the same as we would, but when they are finished pulling everything we still need to go through it all to book it out.

How do gowns get put into your collection?   If a costume designer has made new gowns for a film, do the films tend to sell them to you afterwards to help with production costs?

That is one way, yes.  If the production has made a dress and wants some money back after the production, they will offer it to either us, or other interested parties. Sometimes we will work out deals that will mean we can get the costumes they make at the end of the production in return for a reduced cost on what they are hiring from us. Sometimes we will buy an entire collection.  For example, the BBC costume department!  That’s how you grow your stock. Or the other way our stock grows is when we make for ourselves. We might identify we are short of one type of dress or suit and will make several for us. Or sometimes we will find a costume that is really good for productions but is damaged beyond repair, so we will then make a new one and add that to the collection.

What is your favorite film costume in the Angels collection, and why?

That is a tough one, as there are so many items I have come across that have meaning to me. Any costume from Mrs. Henderson Presents mean a lot to me, as that was my first ever film.  I was blown away when we found Rowan Atkinson’s officers uniform from Blackadder Goes Fourth, as that TV series was one of my favourites growing up.

A very random one is an elf costume from Santa Claus the movie (the one with Dudley Moore) which I used to watch every Christmas. The fact we did the costumes always made me smile. It also helped that one of the actors who was an elf in the film also worked at Angels.

Photo ©  Netflix

However one costume that I always love seeing is actually not a famous film costume. It is a recreation of the Queen’s Coronation dress that we made for Harrods. It is just simply stunning. There are over 4000 hand attached beads on this dress. We never thought it would be hired out again, as it was made as close to the original as possible, and we never thought anyone would have the same size and shape as the queen. But a current production has hired it to use as they have the queen’s coronation in their series, and the actress playing the queen fitted into the dress perfectly! We explain the making-of process of it in our book too.

Angels does offer a tour if you want to learn more. If you live in the area, I highly suggest doing so. Recycled Movie costumes is trying to interview other costume houses as well, and will post as they become available.

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About The AUthor

Katie is the creator of Recycled Movie Costumes, where she’s constantly haunted by the ghosts of costumes past. One day, she had an epiphany: if she had to suffer through these recycled costumes, then so should everyone else! And thus, Recycled Movie Costumes was born.

Contrary to popular belief, Katie does not have a photographic memory, nor does she work in the costume industry. She’s just a girl whose life has slowly spiraled out of control after watching too many costume dramas on Masterpiece Theatre.

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