London (AFP) – Bringing swashbuckle and sparkle to stage and silver screen for 175 years, British costume maker Angels is to be honoured at Sunday’s BAFTA awards ceremony for its outstanding contribution to cinema.
The London-based firm boasts the world’s largest privately-owned collection of costume for film, theatre and television and has supplied the wardrobe for 36 Best Costume Oscar winners, including “The Grand Budapest Hotel” in 2015.
Other credits include “Star Wars”, “Doctor Zhivago”, “Chariots of Fire”, “Gladiator”, “Downton Abbey” and “Game of Thrones” along with a host of opera, ballet and theatre productions, such as West End hit Wicked.
But the Hollywood Hills are a long way from the slums and cemeteries of 19th-century Victorian London, where German-Jewish immigrant Daniel Angel laid the foundations for today’s success.
“He was a tailor and was sewing second-hand clothes in what is now Earlham Street (central London), a real terrible slum.” Tim Angel, Daniel’s great-great-great grandson and company chairman, told AFP.
Struggling to provide for his five children, Daniel Angel got a job working in a cemetery “where he was burying the husbands and wives of very rich people,” said the current boss.
“He asked them to give him the clothes of the deceased and he started selling them,” he added.
“We were in the middle of where the theatres were, and actors in England were responsible for supplying their own clothes.
“Someone said to my great-great-great grandfather: ‘instead of buying these clothes can we borrow them?’.
“Borrow isn’t a word in the Angel vocabulary, so he started hiring and that’s how it started.”
– One million items –
The company thrived, exploiting the transitions from theatre to cinema, to television and now to digital under the stewardship of seven generations of Angels.
The beating heart of Angels is its cavernous warehouse in the unglamourous suburb of Hendon in northwest London.
Behind the unassuming facade hang around one million items on over eight miles (12.9 km) of rails, including everything from military regalia, historic dress, suits of armour, royal gowns to modern-day street-wear.
“It’s heaven, it’s a gold-mine,” Noel Sutton, costume designer with TV show “Reign — Mary Queen of Scots”, told AFP among the clothes hangers.
“There’s everything you need, it’s so well archived,” added Sutton, who called the BAFTA recognition “amazing and well-deserved”.
The 120 staff currently rely on memory and a chronological filing system to keep track of items, but it is hoped a new computerised database will help eradicate slip-ups.
The company’s fancy-dress subdivision hired out the cloak worn by Alec Guinness as Obi-Wan Kenobi in “Star Wars”, unaware it was the original and Angel believes that Peter O’Toole’s original Lawrence of Arabia outfit is still hanging somewhere in the warehouse.
– ‘Over the moon’ –
Guinness is just one of the A-List stars measured up by the Angels.
Others including Barbara Streisand, Lee Marvin, Richard Burton, Elizabeth Taylor, Joan Collins, Charlton Heston, Humphrey Bogart, John Wayne and Heath Ledger for his final role in “The Dark Knight”.
“When people come here, they are in jeans and they are normal,” said Angel. “They’re just like you and me, expect they earn a lot more money than we do!”
The company boss admitted some stars tested his patience, but refused to name names.
As for his proudest achievements, Angel named Madonna film “Evita” as a highlight.
“At the time Madonna was pregnant and no-one knew,” he explained. “We had to hide the bump as time went along.”
Such technical tasks are handled by around 25 makers and cutters, working to the whir of sewing machines in the headquarters’ workshop.
“The skill of the people who work here is incredible, it’s the best talent possible,” Angela Santos, who is in charge of female costumes, told AFP.
“The deadlines are always tight, if you’re not passionate about what you do you can’t cope,” she added, as her staff worked on costumes for a new West End show.
For her boss, the BAFTA British film award is overdue recognition for 175 years of hard work.
“I am over the moon,” said Angel. “We’re always the bridesmaid, never the bride.”