The stickiest, swampiest, most sweltering of New York summer evenings didn't stop fashion's elite from heading up to the Metropolitan Museum of Art on Monday to take in Vogue's Discussion on Costume in Film with Nicole Kidman and Hamish Bowles. In support of the Anna Wintour and Wendi Murdoch-hosted event, designers including Joseph Altuzarra, CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund finalist Ryan Roche and Vera Wang; models Constance Jablonski and Fei Fei Sun and celebs like Kidman's husband Keith Urban and Miami Heat center/Wintour BFF Amar'e Stoudemire sat up front in the Temple of Dendur.
The star-studded event — celebrating the "China: Through the Looking Glass" exhibit, which has been extended through Labor Day to accommodate record-breaking crowds — kicked off with an introduction by the Costume Institute's dapper curator Andrew Bolton, who called Kidman the "obvious choice" for this discussion.
Several of Kidman's high-profile gowns have been displayed in Costume Institute exhibits, including the bias cut gold lamé Christian Dior Haute Couture dress she wore to the 2000 Oscars.
But Bowles started things off with an in-common early life trauma. "We had a shared childhood experience," he gleefully said. "Which is both of us were forbidden to play with Barbies." Apparently both sets of parents thought the controversial plaything was sexist. With this connection out of the way, the discussion moved to Kidman's famous Oscars dresses, notably the chartreuse Chinese shawl-inspired gown — one of John Galliano's first designs for Christian Dior Haute Couture — worn to the 1997 Oscars. (The dress was also on display during the talk).
"I remember just being so excited to wear [the gown to the Oscars]," Kidman said. "And then I remember Madonna coming up to me at the after party — and I was, you know, still very new to everything — and saying 'best dressed! Best dressed!'" Remember, in the primitive, pre-social media days of '97, the notion of "Best Dressed" wasn't quite the orchestrated production that it is today.
The chat then segued into Kidman's iconic and award-winning movie roles and the notable costumes involved. She recounted her experience with one of the most influential filmmakers of all time, Stanley Kubrick, during the 400-day shoot for 1999's "Eyes Wide Shut." Kubrick was pretty hands-on in the costuming for the opening shot of the sex thriller. (Marit Allen was the costume designer on the film.)
"He would come over to my house [and say], 'I’m not spending money on costumes. We’re going in your closet, Nicole. We’re going to go through your wardrobe,'" she said. "So he would come over and wait in the bedroom while I’m in my closet...and I would come out in things and he would say yes or no. But that’s how he came up with the opening shot of the film."
Kidman unearthed a John Galliano-designed, beaded '20s-style dress and modeled it for Kubrick. "He was like, 'that’s the dress you’re wearing at the beginning of the film,'" she remembered. "And that dress subsequently gets dropped to the floor and I’m standing there in just heels."
Most recently, for her upcoming movie "Queen of the Desert," Kidman worked with a costume designer that some of you are very familiar with: Michele Clapton, the Emmy-winning genius behind Daenerys's cape dresses and all those tragic wedding looks on "Game of Thrones." Although, for this Werner Herzog-directed Middle East-set epic, Clapton was challenged with creating just one outfit that Kidman wears throughout the entire movie. "Which must be a really hard thing to do," she admitted, about the tricky costume selection process. Despite her lack of wardrobe options, Kidman was impressed with Clapton's work on the movie. "Her future is bright, let’s put it that way," the Oscar-winning actress said. "She’ll go on to winning more than Emmys, I predict."
After the discussion, Kidman stayed for a minute or so to shake hands and take photos with eager fans — before rushing off with Urban and her bodyguard "to catch a flight." (It was fun to watch usually-composed fashion people get all giddy over Hollywood royalty.) And guess what? Kidman is very tall in person and drop dead beautiful and her face does move — yeah you, Instagram commenters.
If you missed the vitriolic comments on Marc Jacobs's Instagram over Kidman's appearance on the August cover of Vogue (in which she wears the designer), you weren't the only one.
"I missed the controversy in fact," Bowles told me as the fashion crowd started to swarm cocktail hour. "You’ll have to fill me in." I then explained how Jacobs shut down the Instagram haters with his "when were you last given a cover of Vogue?" comeback.
"There you go," he said with a laugh. "There you go."