See the Outfits Worn by Tina Turner, Marilyn Monroe, and Other Legendary ‘Divas’ Going on View in a Splashy Costume Show at the V&A

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Iconic outfits worn by Whitney Houston, Tina Turner, and other “divas” will star in a new exhibition at London’s Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A) this summer.

The show, simply titled “Diva,” celebrates era-defining performers and the various looks they donned in their heydays. Some 250 objects, including dresses, accessories, and photos, will go on display; many have never been shown in public before. 

Billed as the first of its kind, the exhibition is set to go on view June 24 through April of next year.  

“Today the word ‘diva’ holds a myriad of meanings,” said V&A curator Kate Bailey, who organized the show. “At the heart of this exhibition is a story of iconic performers who with creativity, courage, and ambition have challenged the status quo and used their voice and their art to redefine and reclaim the diva.” 

“Diva” will be divided into two “acts.” The first explores the historical context into which the modern concept of the diva was born. Honored here are opera singers like Adelina Patti and Jenny Lind; silent film sirens such as Clara Bow and Mary Pickford; and actors from Hollywood’s Golden Age, including Vivien Leigh and Mae West. Marilyn Monroe, who fits into the latter category, will be represented by the fringed black dress she wore as Sugar “Kane” Kowalczyk in 1959’s Some Like it Hot. 

Photograph of Maria Callas in Verdi’s opera La Traviata at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, 1958. Photo: Houston Rogers. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London.

The second act looks at how more contemporary stars have reclaimed the title of “diva” in recent years, often in the face of their own male-dominated industries. Jazz greats Billie Holliday and Ella Fitzgerald make appearances, as do politically minded performers like Nina Simone and Aretha Franklin, while Grace Jones, Prince, Bjork, and Rihanna represent the late 20th and early 21st centuries. 

Included in this section is Edith Piaf’s famed “little black dress” of the 1950s; the powdered wig and train worn by Elton John for his 50th birthday; and the “Vulva pants” designed for Janelle Monae’s 2018 Pynk music video. 

“It is wonderful to see the divas celebrated in this exhibition, and to see the V&A reclaiming the title,” said Dame Shirley Bassey, whose Julien MacDonald-designed pink gown that she wore on stage at Glastonbury in 2007 is included in the show.  

“To me,” Bassey went on, “‘diva’ is all about the power of the voice and the ability to entertain, to succeed against odds, to fight, and break through barrier after barrier: to have your voice heard.” 

See more material from “Diva” below. 

Lizzo is seen in midtown New York on September 25, 2021. Photo: Gotham/GC Images.

Costume, designed by Christian Dior, worn by Vivien Leigh as Paola in Jean Giraudoux’s play Duel of Angels, 1958. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London.

Tina Turner, performing live onstage c.1979. Photo: Gai Terrell/Redferns.

Elton John’s 50th birthday look with wig and boat hat, designed by Sandy Powell, 1997. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London.

Photograph of Theda Bara as Cleopatra in the 1917 film Cleopatra. Photograph: ScreenProd / Photononstop / Alamy Stock Photo.

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