by Louise Coffey-Webb, Costume Committee Chair


In November, Karla Contreras came to the ARC to help me photograph, assess and pack some costumes that had been on display. Who is Karla and why was she there?

First of all, she is partaking in the internship program at Woodbury University, Burbank, without which she cannot graduate with a BFA in Fashion Design, and Minor in Costume Design. These internships, for which students earn academic credit (but no remuneration) are essential components of the curriculum, affording the student unique experience in real-life situations along with networking potential. Karla graduates in May of 2008, and her creations will be seen at a Gala Fashion Show at the Beverly Hilton Hotel on May 8th.


I asked Karla a few questions to enlighten us.

LCW: When you were a little girl, what did you want to be when you grew up?

KC: I knew I wanted to be a costume or fashion designer. There was no sewing machine in the house, but there were pins and thread and tape, so I constructed Barbie clothes from scraps of fabric. Later on I became a big fan of period movies and loved to watch them to study the costumes.

LCW: Why did you decide to do a Costume Design minor?

KC: It was always in the back of my mind, but I was already doing a Fashion Marketing Minor. Then in my senior year, I decided “it was now or never!”

LCW: What do you see yourself doing after you graduate?

KC: Right after I graduate I will try to get some job experience in Costume or Fashion Design. In the long run I would like to be a Costume Designer.

LCW: Why did you decide to do an internship with the costume collection at the Culver City Historical Society?

KC: It sounded very interesting and I wanted to be able to examine the costumes closely. I wanted to see what it is like to help maintain a collection and to meet the people who do that.

LCW: What do you think you can learn from historical costumes?

KC: I can learn techniques and details of construction. Ironically, when I began at Woodury University, I used to think that we were more advanced now in our techniques, but I have found the opposite to be true! There is so much we can learn from the past.

LCE: Why do you think preservation is important?

KC: It’s very important to be able to look back and see what was worn, what fabrics and techniques were used. It helps to learn how to identify time periods, such as whether they have hand-sewing, or used metal zippers instead of plastic.

LCW: What do you personally get out of the Woodbury University internship program?

KC: Experience and a footing of where you want to be. It helps you to decide, not only what you like, but what you don’t like, and what’s right for you. For example, a previous internship experience showed me that I do not want to work in sales. I think it’s very important to see how procedures are done in the real world, and it’s a good experience to know that you are representing a company or an institution. An internship works like a transition to a profession so it’s important to leave a good impression. It is a way to grow beyond “just being a student.” Also, I believe it is good to have well-rounded experience.

LCW: Thank you, Karla.

Karla will be helping me create a detailed inventory of all the costumes maintained at the ARC, complete with photographs and condition reports, as well as insuring that everything is optimally stored archivally, for the future appreciation of Culver City Historical Society members and visitors.

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The CCHS Historical Costumes Collection

Spring 2007

by: Louise Coffey-Webb, Costume Committee Chair

March, 2007 saw the transfer of the MGM costume collection from temporary storage, into the new Culver City Historical Society “Archives and Resource Center” (ARC), housed in the Veteran’s Memorial Building. My “Spring Break” from teaching and curating at Woodbury University, was spent examining the collection, photographing and re-packing these precious items with archival tissue.

I first heard about the costumes some 15 years ago, and they had remained mythical for me ever since until this past week when they actually materialized! These costumes were originally donated to the city after the famous auction of 1970 held by David Weisz, from the then MGM lot. Many of the costumes are identified by wearer and film. Further research has found the year they were created and the costume designer. When studios had their own full-service wardrobe departments, no expense was spared in quality and design.

So it has been a treat to see the creative expertise exemplified in the construction of many of the costumes. For example, many bodices are boned and lined, with special weights inserted into hems and seams to insure the garment hung appropriately. There are voluminous attached petticoats, some with lace and frills that were never seen on film. Metallic laces, rhinestones, sequins, pleated mousselline and ruched ribbons adorn these period costumes.

All items are being photographed and records made of their condition, while all previous inventories are being compared. There will be no more “fashion shows” of these garments as their purpose now will be to educate and delight while being preserved for future generations.

Plans for the future include maintaining museum-quality storage standards, and the acquisition of professional display forms and cases so that these marvels can be appreciated when the Culver City Historical Society “ARC” opens to the public.

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About the CCHS Historical Costumes Collection

by Louise Coffey-Webb, Costume Committee Chair

The Culver City Historical Society is guardian of a unique collection of over 70 film costumes, acquired from the famous 1970 auction at MGM Studios (now Sony Pictures Entertainment). Many of the outfits were worn by stars such as Lucille Ball, Doris Day, Grace Kelly, Ann Sothern, Lana Turner and Esther Williams among others.

The collection has long been housed in various city properties, but sadly without the resources to keep them in a climate-controlled museum-quality environment. Happily this will soon change, as the Society has now found a permanent home for the long-awaited Culver City Heritage Museum in the Veterans Memorial Building complex (see related Page 1 story).

(It is rather poignant that the Hollywood Entertainment Museum closed this summer, leaving Los Angeles with no permanent venue for film costume history. There have been many attempts to create museums honoring the film industry in Los Angeles, but none have yet succeeded. Even famed actress Debbie Reynolds’ superb collection, the basis of which was formed from the same 1970 MGM auction, has now found a home out of the state – in Tennessee!)

The proper care of costumes is very labor-intensive, and displaying them requires customized mannequins, correct support garments, conservation and research. It is also challenging because one must guard against light fading, and therefore it is never recommended to display them for longer than six months.

The Society has another special costume collection – the group of Spanish-style Queen and Princesses costumes created for the city’s annual Fiesta La Ballona, dating from the early days. They were all designed and made by Professor Rosalie Utterbach.

Professor Utterbach was a long-time Fashion Design Department head at Woodbury University, which is now located in Burbank. This year, at their 122nd Founders’ Day celebration to be held on Saturday, October 7th, Dr. Utterbach will be posthumously inducted into the Faculty Hall of Fame. As the CCHS Costume Committee Chair, it will be my pleasure to attend this event as I’ve had the pleasure of working with Dr. Utterbach and have great admiration and respect for her accomplishments.

One of her significant contributions was the establishment of a Fashion Study Collection in the 1970s. Interestingly, the holdings include a number of film costumes, some of which also came from the 1970 MGM auction.

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