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Star Trek 50: Star Trek Costumes – Five Decades of Fashion from the Final Frontier

Star Trek 50: Star Trek Costumes – Five Decades of Fashion from the Final Frontier

Paula M. Block and Terry J. Erdman with an introduction by Robert Blackman. Out now in hardback, from Titan Books.

For those of us who love Star Trek, and we’re many, this book is an utter joy.

Star Trek Costumes is a loving guide to the wardrobe work in all the film and television incarnations, the ultimate Special Feature for your latest rewatch, and a vivid close up sampler for recreating the iconic clothing of Star Trek.

Staggering to imagine, but all the Trek costumes – and all the props – from the Original Series onwards to Enterprise, were once stored in one giant warehouse complex of Federation amazement and wonder. The pick of this bonanza was sold off in the great space auction in 2006 that features in the documentary Beyond The Final Frontier. In terms of the vast selection of costumes alone, this amazing book captures what must have been the ultimate Aladdin’s Cave of Trek treasure.

We have stills from the movies and TV Series, and superb close ups and mannequin shots of the costumes themselves. Alongside this are frequent design drawings where the kit for Worf, Spock, T’Pol and many more was first brought to imaginative life.

We all have favourite characters, and favourite stops in the timeline. The book is hugely exciting in its curatorial work on the Original Series and its later movie life – so it spends more than a third of the book there – but it also works its way vividly through Next Generation, DS9, Voyager, Enterprise and eventually the lens flare extravaganzas of J.J. Abrams.

There are some fantastic set photos – a closed-eyes Spock and Captain Pike from ‘The Cage’ – both of them young and beautiful, the shiny velour of their Starfleet uniforms eye-popping at this resolution. Then there’s McCoy’s short sleeve medical tunic on a mannequin, pencil-thin cut with its Sciences division insignia; leaning across the page divide to this tailor’s dummy, DeForest Kelley himself, pensive in the sickbay, pinky ring in place, and staring middle distance like a matinee idol: “I’m a doctor, Jim, not a damned model!”

Later, when we get to the movies, I loved Spock’s arrival as Hamlet on the bridge of the Enterprise in The Motion Picture, and how this was conceptualised, and the great close up of the back of Khan’s raggedy jacket from Wrath of Khan. When it gets to The Undiscovered Country, and the dimming of the day, there’s a cast photo of the original crew in their ruffled neck maroon outfits that sums up everything that is brilliant about original Trek – here they are, the greatest space-going family, proud and brilliant in their later years, smiling down history.

The invention and reinvention captured by the authors is wonderful – how the Reman costumes from Nemesis became the Xindi in Enterprise for example – and the range of adaptation and imagination really evokes a sense of the Trek team as being like a company, like the RSC, reinventing a breastplate from Macbeth for Coriolanus two years later, and so on.

Star exhibit in the book, what I loved most and what was most poignant, is the close up of Kirk’s velour top from the Original Series, in all its frayed and hand-stitched sort of glory. In close examination now it’s not unlike the many handmade Star Trek uniforms 70’s Mums and Dads made from pyjama tops or football shirts, with sewn on Starfleet insignia. Kids were entranced by the series in those days, and the animated version on Saturday mornings in particular. It was the excitement of space travel, strange new worlds, and technologies that didn’t seem dated or retro then for an instant. There were Spock action figures and Star Trek annuals. You set phasers to stun in your street, and Raleigh Grifters were cloaked Birds of Prey.

And Kirk, well, he was the boss, and when William Shatner wore that mustard top, picked and vulnerable though it looks now in this beautiful archive, he was the king of dreams and we loved him.

For this reviewer, it’s not possible to overrate this book. It’s wonderful. Star Trek fans are often mocked for taking this all so seriously, but the passing of time is with us and books like this are the intelligent riposte to the Star Trek minimisers. Star Trek Costumes is a detailed and artistic study of a cultural phenomenon of fifty years. Not many stories stick the course of Star Trek, nor will most TV series have the future curatorial attention to the handiwork of their creators evidenced here.

It’s a storytelling wonder which has taken us all “thataway” for five whole decades. The Enterprise has swept past a thousand TV series in this time, and will warp past many more in years to come. This superb book is a tribute to one of the most inventive and brilliant costume departments in film and television history. If you’re a fan, you’re going to love it.

Interview

Helen Hall is the owner/founder of Dig Management, an internationally respected expert in the field of rock and film memorabilia, an appraiser and auctioneer. Helen works with private collectors, musicians, film actors, directors and studios, and auction houses and museums all over the world to research, appraise, authenticate and value iconic objects, manuscripts, clothing and instruments.

Helen was Head of Entertainment Memorabilia at Christie’s, New York, during the legendary 2006 auction of Star Trek property from Paramount Studios and she features in the film of the auction, Beyond the Final Frontier.

Can you tell us a bit about the whole experience of the auction in 2006, and just how big an operation it all was – watching the documentary, it seems to have been an incredible undertaking? The warehouses were enormous!

It was certainly an incredible experience and one that I will never forget! The Paramount warehouses were vast and when we first saw the sheer volume of material that had been retained, we were astounded and spent quite some time figuring out the logistics of how we could conduct the auction. In my job, we love nothing better than a hoarder so the fact that all of these wonderful props, costumes and sets had been kept by Paramount Studios was incredible. Thankfully, we contacted Mike and Denise Okuda who agreed to help us with the selection and cataloguing process. Mike was the graphic art designer on many of the Star Trek films and series, designing many of animated computer displays and props you associate with the Star Trek franchise. Mike’s wife, Denise also worked as a scenic artist and computer and video supervisor on Star Trek. As well as being supremely wonderful people, what they don’t know about Star Trek is nobody’s business!

Looking at the auction scenes in that movie now, some of the costumes and props went for an incredible price, and maybe would reach even greater values now. Do you feel the value and appeal of Star Trek memorabilia will sustain?

We certainly saw some great prices at the auction, in particular for the early material from the very first series and for the Enterprise models. The fan community responded really well to the auction and I think it is the enthusiasm and dedication of the fans that keeps the Star Trek franchise popular today. It was a one-off opportunity for the fans to purchase a memento from the series and they certainly dug deep into their pockets.

Thinking about the costumes in particular, on the film there seemed to be thousands! Can you say a bit about the auction’s approach to the costumes in particular and whether some costumes stood out in particular as especially valuable?

There were indeed thousands! Mike and Denise Okuda chose the costumes that they felt were the most important and representative of the entire history of Star Trek. The earliest costumes from the Original Series were definitely the Holy Grail amongst fans and were the costumes that people asked about the most. Over the years, these had dwindled in volume but there were still some gems, such as Dr. McCoy’s space suit from The Tholian Web, as well as the very first Starfleet costumes from the Original Series. On a personal note, I loved the Starfleet costumes from the Original Series that had been adapted later to be used on Mork and Mindy!

Of all the items in the Star Trek auction, looking back now, which one do you think was in the end the highlight of the show?

The highlight was definitely the visual effects miniature of the Starship Enterprise-D from The Next Generation. It sold for $576,000 to one very lucky collector! It was one of the most important Enterprise models sold in the auction because it had been made of the pilot of The Next Generation and was seen in the title sequence for the series as well as many episodes. This was the model that fans of the series would have seen in the much-awaited programme every week on their television screens so it had stirred up a lot of emotions with the fans and ultimately was one of the most coveted pieces from the auction.

In your line of work, you handle some amazing memorabilia, from other iconic films like Star Wars and The Godfather, to some fantastic rock items, such as John Lennon’s handwritten lyrics to ‘Give Peace A Chance’. It seems like a very exciting job?

Its not a bad job at all! The most exciting part of my work is uncovering gems that were previously thought lost and gone forever. I love handling manuscripts in particular, such as original lyrics for iconic songs or important scripts belonging to actors like Marlon Brando with their original notations; these gems give such an incredible insight into some of the world’s most important creative minds.

When you look at a book like Star Trek Costumes it’s hard to escape a slight sense of sadness that the Star Trek collection was broken up and dispersed?

It would have been wonderful to keep the collection together but it was so vast that I think it would have been virtually impossible. The positive side of the auction is that the collection went to the fans who have kept the series going for so many years and that these things will be treasured and cherished by them for many years to come.

And finally, for those of us who might have the odd studio prop or other Sci-Fi memorabilia lying around – what’s your advice for making sure it keeps its value?

My advice would be to make sure you never restore it, paint it or otherwise alter its appearance; keep it in its original state where possible. And if you do decide to frame it and put it on the wall, make sure it is out of direct sunlight and behind light-reflective glass. But most of all, enjoy it.

Thank you, Helen!