Prior to the 1980s, costumes were repurposed and reused on production after production. Costumes from The King and I (1956), for instance, were rented out to high school productions of the show. However, the MGM Studio auction in 1970 had revealed a burgeoning collectors market. Costumes proved to have value beyond their rental cost because movie fans were willing to pay to own a piece of film history. In the early 1980s, film-loving employees and customers began flagging the more culturally significant pieces they found among Western’s racks. These costumes, worn by actors such as Charlie Chaplin and Marilyn Monroe, were moved from the rental stock to a special room where they could be preserved. This collection grew into The Star Collection, an archive that now features more than 5,000 artifacts. Pieces in the archive are not available to rent, but are periodically loaned for exhibition.
By the late 1980s,
By the 1980s the costuming industry had changed dramatically. Most period films were made in Europe, and Western’s business had slowed substantially. Film budgets got smaller and production timelines were shorter. Costume designers rarely had the time or budgets to do extensive research or custom costume builds. Western employed fewer than 100 people by the end of the decade. During this decade, they turned out wardrobe for productions like The Right Stuff (1983), Dune (1984), Clue (1985), The North and South (1985-1986), Top Gun (1986), and Steel Magnolias (1989).
Eddie Marks found a 125,000 square-foot former printing plant
Western's future was uncertain...
Once again bidding for a buyer, Western’s future was uncertain. In 1989, the AHS Trinity Group stepped in to buy the business. Made up of businessman Paul Abramowitz, Creative Artists Agency co-founder Bill Haber, and novelist Sidney Sheldon, the AHS Trinity Group was given a year to relocate. John Golden, who had helmed the business for three decades, retired, and Abramowitz became the new president of Western Costume. At the recommendation of costume designer Ann Roth, Abramowitz hired veteran costumer Eddie Marks as his vice president, and the pair soon found a 125,000 square-foot former printing plant in North Hollywood. The space at 11041 Vanowen Street could house Western’s 7.5 linear miles of costumes, enormous collection of props, and the research library.