Halloween visit to the world’s biggest costume house

(CNN) — For the past 177 years, there’s been one go-to London destination for costumes, whether it be a Halloween party or a Hollywood blockbuster.

Browse the rails of Angels Fancy Dress — a Shaftesbury Avenue institution since 1840 — and you could pick yourself up a knee-length frock coat worn in “Pirates of the Caribbean” or furs direct from “Game of Thrones.”

That’s because not only is this five-story shop London’s No.1 emporium for everything spooktacular come October 31, it’s also the city center outlet for Angels Costumes, the world’s oldest and largest costume house.

If you don’t recognize the name, you’ll certainly recognize its work. A family-run business for seven generations, Angels has created garments for everything from “Star Wars” to “Downton Abbey” to “Wonder Woman,” and — with a long history in theater — its past customers include Charles Dickens and Queen Elizabeth II.

Shaftesbury Avenue store

This creepy doll is one of 2017’s biggest sellers in the retail section of Angels Fancy Dress.

Sarah Tilotta for CNN

In the lead-up to Halloween, Angels Fancy Dress extends its opening hours and takes on extra staff, including security guards.

This week will see lines of shoppers snake through the store and out into the street, many waiting patiently for hours at a time.

The first three floors are off-the-peg costumes, accessories and decorations, with ready-to-wear outfits retailing for as little as $30.

The two upper floors, however, are dedicated to the hire service, which offers one-on-one styling with trained costumiers, with your look tailored by the same people who dress the Hollywood stars.

“All costumes are individual pieces,” explains store manager Andy Andreou. “Everything can be used from different areas to create a look. Some of these costumes have been going round the mill for 100 years.”

While most movie and TV costumes are stored in Angels’ warehouse in Hendon, north London, many will also turn up in the city-center store.

Labels sewn inside the garment will often reveal an outfit’s hidden history, whether it be a cast-off from a Bond movie or a showgirl outfit from “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom.”

In 2005, the cloak worn by Alec Guinness as Obi-Wan Kenobi in “Star Wars” turned up in the Hendon warehouse after being lost for nearly three decades. In the meantime, it had been hired out many times to unsuspecting party-goers.

And if you wondered how Orlando Bloom ended up going full frontal in those vacation snaps last year, Angels might just have an explanation for his wardrobe malfunction.

“The other day we were going through, we found a pair of Orlando Bloom’s trousers,” says Andreou.

Hendon warehouse

From humble beginnings as tailors 175 years ago, the Angel family is now one of the biggest providers of costumes for the film industry in the world.

If the Shaftesbury Avenue store seems big, the 160,000-square-foot Hendon warehouse dwarfs it.

Surely the world’s largest dressing-up box, it’s home to more than one million items and eight miles of hanging costumes.

In 1813, Frankfurt tailor Morris Angel arrived in London and started out selling second-hand clothes from a wheelbarrow, believing he’d found a city where you can become whoever you want to be.

Seven generations later, his descendants are still in the business of making dreams come to life. Angels is now headed up by Tim Angel and his children Emma, Daniel and Jeremy.

It was in the 1880s that Daniel Angel began hiring costumes to jobbing actors for West End theatrical productions. When the film industry was born, Angels already had its entertainment connections in place — and the rest is history.

So far, Angels has supplied costumes for 37 films that have won Oscars for Best Costume Design, the most recent being Colleen Atwood’s work for “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them.”

Last year the costume house was awarded a BAFTA for Outstanding Contribution to Cinema.

The Hendon warehouse is an Aladdin’s Cave of miles and miles of clothing and accessories to create make-believe worlds for every scenario from prehistoric times to the present, to outer space and beyond.

There are fairy wings and Santa suits (including a blue one once worn by UK Prime Minister Ted Heath), police uniforms and monk’s habits, and row upon row of Scottish kilts of every clan tartan.

The ecclesiastical section, says Jeremy Angel, “is a lovely place where you can have Jews, Muslims, Hindus and Christians all hanging next to each other very happily” — proof once again that Angels helps recreate the world afresh and a little better.

You can view the warehouse on their regular “Behind the Seams” public tours, which take groups of up to 12 visitors on a two-hour trip through the tailoring rooms and many rooms of costumes.

They take place during the week, explains Jeremy, so that the public can see it “when it’s a working costume house and, hey, you may run into an actor. It’s the luck of the draw.”

Angels Fancy Dress, 119 Shaftesbury Avenue, London WC2H 8AE; +44 (0)20 7836 5678.

Angels Costumes, 1 Garrick Road, Hendon, London NW9 6AA; +44 (0)20 8202 2244. Tours are priced at £20 per person ($26.50) and run regularly throughout the year. Pre-booking is essential.

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