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Designer's rags-to-riches story
02:54 - Source: CNN

Story highlights

BAFTA to honor 176-year-old Angels Costumes at awards ceremony in London on Sunday night

Costume house behind garb used in "Dr. Zhivago," "Star Wars" and "Chariots of Fire," other classics

At one point, Angels was renting out robe worn by Alex Guinness as Obi-Wan Kenobi in "Star Wars"

CNN  — 

The world’s oldest and largest costume house will be honored on Sunday when the British Academy of Film and Television Arts puts the 176-year-old London costumier in the company of directors Tony and Ridley Scott, actor Kenneth Branagh and wizard Harry Potter.

At the EE British Academy Film Awards, to be held at the Royal Opera House, BAFTA will present Angels Costumes with the Outstanding British Contribution to Cinema Award, according to the academy.

In 2015, the company’s handiwork could be seen in several movies, including “Lady in a Van,” “The Danish Girl,” “Cinderella” and “Bridge of Spies.”

Angels Costumes may not be the first name that pops into your mind when you think of British film, but the films for which the family-run operation has crafted apparel over seven generations are among the industry’s most revered.

“Dr. Zhivago.” “Hamlet.” “Chariots of Fire.” “Star Wars.” “Elizabeth.” “Shakespeare In Love.”

In five of the last six years, Angels created the ensembles for films that won a best costume Oscar or BAFTA: “The Young Victoria” (2010), “Alice in Wonderland” (2011), “Anna Karenina” (2012), “The Great Gatsby” (2013) and “The Grand Budapest Hotel” (2015).

‘Buttons in the right place’

And the list doesn’t end there.

Eighty-seven Oscar statuettes have been awarded for outstanding costume design over the years, and 35 of them were for films costumed by the team at Angels.

But you haven’t heard the name of this stage-and-screen institution read out at the glittering awards ceremonies in the past, because the accolade goes to the designer.

“They’re the ones who are responsible to the director,” explains Chairman Tim Angel. “Our responsibility is making sure what leaves here is to the designer’s brief, that the clothes are in good condition, the buttons are on in the right place.”

Walking through the more than 8 miles of clothing racks housed at Angels’ 160,000-square-foot facility in Northwest London is like traveling through the history of film.

Angel describes his warehouse as a “huge dressing-up box.” Even if designers don’t use his team to make costumes, many visit Angels to seek inspiration from the meticulously categorized garments and accessories that the company has made and collected since its humble beginnings in the British capital’s West End.

“The idea for what has gone on the screen may well have started off here,” Angel said.

Secondhand store becomes a star

The Angels story began in 1813 when Daniel Angel, a young tailor from Frankfurt, Germany, arrived in London to sell secondhand clothes in Seven Dials. The area was a slum at the time, and it was close to the theater district.

All it took was one actor to spread the word on the quality of the service at Angels, and business began to thrive. The collection grew, and the company was formally established in 1840.

Daniel Angel’s son and grandson moved into the premises on Shaftesbury Avenue in the late 1880s, where to this day, the company still runs a thriving fancy dress and costume rental shop.

Iconic robe rented out for costume parties

It was at this location where Angel says one of his costume house’s most iconic creations – a long, brown robe worn by Alec Guinness, who played Obi-Wan Kenobi in the original “Star Wars” trilogy – was rented out to people before someone reportedly realized the garment’s significance in 2005.

“It was a monk’s robe that was being hired out and had been hired out for fancy dress parties,” Angel told CNN. “Not just (rented to) one person. I should think loads of people.”

About 18 months after its discovery, the Jedi Master’s garb sold for $104,000 at auction, according to Bonhams auction house.

Angels’ costume designers don’t always know what films they’re working on, let alone whether they’re going to be successful, the chairman said, but they devote the same attention to detail to every job.

“It’s extraordinary to think that the company has been in existence longer than BAFTA or indeed cinema itself,” Pippa Harris, chairwoman of BAFTA’s film committee, said in a statement. “I cannot think of a more deserving recipient and would like to congratulate Tim Angel and the whole company.”

CNN’s Nima Elbagir and Eliott C. McLaughlin contributed to this report.