More Disco History at V&A’s ‘Hollywood Costume’

‘Saturday Night Fever,’ 1977. Copyright © 2012 by Paramount Pictures. All Rights Reserved. Costume Designer: Patrizia Von Brandenstein

First we hear that L.A. MOCA has an upcoming show on the history of disco and its impact on art, “Fire in the Disco,” which at one point was rumored to have been canceled. Not only is that show a go, but the Victoria and Albert Museum in London also has some disco fare on tap. The exhibition “Hollywood Costume,” set to open in October, will explore the role of costume in storytelling and offer a very rare treat—the white polyester three-piece suit worn by John Travolta in Saturday Night Fever. What you might not know is that the suit kind of went MIA in 1995, until it was recently rediscovered.

As the story goes, in 1979, Paramount Pictures auctioned the famous white suit. When film critic Gene Siskel won it with the highest bid, Mr. Travolta inscribed the interior lining of the suit: “To Gene, so here’s to a classic, your friend, John Travolta.” But after Siskel died in 1995, the suit was auctioned off at Christie’s, and its whereabouts were thereafter unknown—until this year.

After a media launch for “Hollywood Costume,” Keith Lodwick, the show’s assistant curator, got a call from the owner of the suit. The person wished to remain anonymous, but agreed to loan the single-breasted suit replete with matching waistcoat, flared trousers with 28-inch waist and Siskel inscription.

Patrizia Von Bandenstein, who designed the suit, had this to say about it, in a statement:

When choosing what goes in to such a major dance costume, I paid attention to the usual factors of cut, “danceability” and maintenance and I thought about the character of Tony Manero. I reasoned that Tony’s position in his traditional Italian-American family (overshadowed by his brother the seminarian, and undervalued for his compassion and dancing abilities) is in extreme contrast to his dominant position in the neighborhood. By virtue of his style, panache, and above all his lithe grace on the dance floor, he is a hero to his local gang, and by extension, to all of us.

More Disco History at V&A’s ‘Hollywood Costume’