The costume designer Sandy Powell’s one-of-a-kind “autograph suit”, which was signed by more than 200 Hollywood celebrities and luminaries including Leonardo DiCaprio, Spike Lee and Donatella Versace, has been acquired by the Victoria and Albert Museum.

The suit, worn by Powell during the 2020 film awards season, was auctioned as part of a fundraising effort by Art Fund to save Prospect Cottage, the creative studio of Powell’s mentor and friend Derek Jarman. It was bought by Edwina Dunn, the chief executive of the educational charity The Female Lead, who has given it to the V&A.

“I started the project as a fundraising venture to save Prospect Cottage, but there was always a sickening thought of ‘where is it going to end up?’,” Powell told the Guardian. “I really would have loved whoever bought it to donate it to a museum, so Edwina has granted my wish in a way. It’s ended up where it’s meant to be.”

The suit was auctioned as part of a fundraising effort by Art Fund to save Prospect Cottage, Derek Jarman’s creative studio. Photograph: Sarah Duncan/Victoria and Albert Museum, L

Powell wore the cream suit to events including the 2020 Critics’ Circle, Baftas and Oscar ceremonies, where she asked A-list celebrities to sign their name with a Sharpie across the suit’s fabric. Other signatories included Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, Joaquin Phoenix, Scarlett Johansson and Billie Eilish.

“I’d received an Oscar nomination and a Bafta nomination for The Irishman. And one of your first thoughts, after ‘that’s nice’, is what am I going to wear?,” Powell said. “I had the idea of wearing something sustainable, and suddenly thought it’d be a fun idea to wear this to raise money … I just wore the same suit to everything I went to for a two-week period. Every party, every event.”

Some parts of the suit were less signature-friendly than others. Richard E Grant had to kneel down on the red carpet to add his name, while Gwendoline Christie found herself signing the inside of Powell’s leg. “I let only women sign the bum,” Powell said. “Brad Pitt is in a secret spot under a lapel.”

The multi-Oscar- and Bafta-winning costume designer, who has worked across theatre, dance and film, including on Shakespeare in Love and The Wolf of Wall Street, credits Jarman as one of the biggest influences on her career, having worked with him on her first feature film, Caravaggio, in 1985.

Sandy Powell’s ‘autograph suit’
The back of Sandy Powell’s ‘autograph suit’. Photograph: Sarah Duncan/Victoria and Albert Museum, L

She said: “He was the first film director I ever worked with and he pretty much kickstarted my career. I owed him a lot.”

Prospect Cottage, a converted fisher’s hut on the windswept shores of Dungeness, is a site of pilgrimage for fans of Jarman’s work across the world.

Powell’s suit joins highlights from the V&A’s National Collection of Performing Arts from Wednesday and is one of four star objects featured in the latest series of BBC Two’s Secret of the Museum, which airs on Wednesday night.

Kate Bailey, the senior curator of theatre and performance at the V&A, said the suit was “an extraordinary object which is so rich in stories and creativity. It is wonderful to share this unique work with our visitors and provides such a fascinating insight into the performing arts industry.”

Dunn said: “Sandy has been a passionate member of our celebrated Female Lead icons and when her suit came up for auction we purchased it as a tangible symbol of our believe that ‘we rise by lifting others’.

“For me the suit represents a collective effort to make a difference, an expression of ‘paying it forward’ – together the signatories helped save Prospect Cottage, which will help young artists as an inspiring place for them to work.”

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