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Exhibit puts the spotlight on Canadian costume design

A bloody shirt from Saw VI.

Sonia Recchia/PimentelStudio

Forget the red carpet. High-fashion frocks worn by Hollywood elite are taking a back seat to costume designs featured at a new Toronto exhibit. Otherworldly: The Art of Canadian Costume Design opened Friday at the TIFF Bell Lightbox. Presented with the Canadian Alliance of Film and Television Costume Arts and Design, the exhibit displays costumes from celebrated horror, fantasy and science-fiction films.

It's an opportunity to showcase work that is often overlooked, says Sylvia Frank, exhibition curator and director of TIFF's Film Reference Library.

"You tend not to notice costumes so much when you're watching a film, and yet the amount of skill and care and research that goes into them is fascinating," she says. "We have such an active industry here, and our designers are really in demand. So I think it's important that the public knows that."

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The Globe and Mail examined the costumes featured in Otherworldly.

Here are our top five must-see getups.

Repo! The Genetic Opera

Costume designer: Alex Kavanagh

In this horror-rock opera film, protagonist Repo Man is swathed head-to-toe in black leather – including a matching full-face helmet with blue visor. His outfit is merely an occupational hazard, though, as he repossesses human organs from those who default on paying for their transplants. "He needs something that's going to keep blood splatter off him, obviously," Frank says with a laugh. Toronto-based designer Alex Kavanagh looked to fashion runways, fetish culture and street fashion for inspiration. She also frequented goth shops, so there's a bondage feel to the costume, Frank adds.

Bulletproof Monk

Costume designer: Delphine White

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Starring Hong Kong-born actor Chow-Yun Fat as an immortal monk who mentors Kar (Seann William Scott), a young street kid, Bulletproof Monk features a modern-day take on the traditional garb of Tibetan monks. A reproduction of the outfit worn by Jade (Jaime King), the film's next-generation monk, is part of the exhibit. Designer Delphine White conceived the maroon leather-and-cape ensemble after extensive research, including visits to Buddhist temples, Tibetan shops and army/navy stores.

Saw VI

Costume designer: Alex Kavanagh

While costumes from the Saw horror franchise may look simpler than those from other films in the exhibit, the process of making them is no less complicated, says Frank. The Saw VI display showcases four bloody shirts (out of 12 that were created) from one torture scene. "It gives you a sense of the sequence, and the amount of detail that goes into creating each shirt every time," Frank says. "The dirt has to be the same; the stresses have to be the same."

The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus

Costume designer: Monique Prudhomme

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Vancouver-based Monique Prudhomme was nominated for a Best Costume Design Oscar for her work on actor Heath Ledger's last film. Three costumes from the film are on display at the exhibit, including a soiled, off-white Pierrot outfit worn by Ledger's character. Prudhomme focuses on layering when creating costumes, Frank says, and she researches different time periods and then "just mixes" them in her designs.

Ginger Snaps 3: The Beginning (Also called: Ginger Snaps Back: The Beginning)

Costume Designer: Alex Kavanagh

Dubbing her the "queen of blood splatter," Frank says Alex Kavanagh worked on the third film of this Canadian fantasy-horror trilogy that uses lycanthropy – the transformation of a human into a werewolf – as a metaphor for puberty. Set in 19th-century Canada, the film's costumes include a delicate handmade corset created from a period pattern, and a dramatic wolf pelt, both of which are part of the exhibit. For her research, Kavanagh says she visited an Edmonton taxidermist to look at animal skulls and skins.

Otherworldly: The Art of Canadian Costume Design runs until March, 2012.

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