To round out this year’s top Oscar Costume Design Oscar Contenders, in my humble opinion, is none other than three time Oscar winner, Colleen Atwood for her work on Snow White & The Huntsman. The movie may have been panned by critics but all agreed that Atwood’s costumes were superb. The plot follows the same basic premise of the fairytale but with the twist that Snow White must become the warrior Princess to defeat her wicked sorceress stepmother Queen Ravenna with the help of two handsome suitors and the seven dwarves of course. The film has a much darker tone, quite literally cinematography wise, than its counterpart Mirror, Mirror.
When I last covered Snow White and The Huntsman, there were only a few promotional shots of the characters in costume that really only gave a small taste of the overall look of the film. Atwood took inspiration from the gritty war focused reality of being a monarch in the medieval time period (that would be the 16th century in this case). Using several European costume houses Atwood first built the over 600 pieces of armor needed for the film’s various battle scenes then with three month left in her nine month build period began on the main character’s costumes. This is impressive considering the labor intensive embellished costumes seen on film.
The film opens on Snow White’s mother walking in a snowy palace garden where she wishes for a child whose skin was white as snow, lips as red as blood, hair as black as a raven and spirit as strong as a rose in winter. She gets her wish and we see a young Snow White looking and acting exactly as her mother wished. Snow & her mother are similar in style, both wear pale blue gowns with embroidered pastel flowers and pearl jewelry; they are restrained in their opulence and are already representing the faded memory of peace and harmony in the kingdom.
With the passing of Snow White’s mother the King rushes off the battle. The King and his men are outfitted in the traditional medieval manner complete with colorful banners and shields complete with Caparisons and armor for their horses. Meanwhile the opposing army looks menacing in black armor and pointed and grated helmets. The opposing army is easily defeated and literally torn to shards and the King stumbles upon the beautiful Ravenna who he decides instantly to make his wife. Back home the King marries Ravenna in a lavish but foreboding wedding gown (previously covered here). Chaos ensues when Ravenna murders the King in their marriage bed and proceeds to sneak in her real invading army to take over the kingdom. Snow White does not escape and is held captive by her stepmother in the castle for many years, believed to be dead by her subjects.
We next see Snow White playing and praying away in her tower on high, as a prisoner she wears the same tattered dress for many years. The dress consists of two layers: a pale blue shift, harking back to her youth and her steadfast belief that peace will be restored once more and she will inherit the throne, and a brown suede paneled overdress with slashed sleeves with hints of gold. Atwood describes Snow White’s look, “At the beginning of the story, it’s a long dress over leggings with the two layers and the same kind of boots. The idea is that it was the look that I created for the servants in Ravenna’s castle where she’s imprisoned. So, she’s been given clothes to match the housemaids’ poorer clothes. Hers has a little bit of a royal touch because I put the gold on it just because liked it.”
Meanwhile we get a glimpse of Ravenna wearing her least elaborate and happiest costume of the film, an ivory robe with embroidered thorny branches which she tosses aside for a bath in some odd thick milk substance. The next dress we see Ravenna in continues her light palette, a reflective sequined gown with trailing sleeves and sheer silver striped half sleeves. The danger of Ravenna is still evident in her Gothic inspired crown, dark in color and pointed with purple gems. The other crowns Ravenna dons in the film are very similar and easily adapt to almost every costume she dons. Visible for on screen for only a few moments is a beautiful high necked teal and copper gown with multiple shoulder points and is embellished with edible beetle wings. Upon discovering a growing resistance to her reign, Ravenna finally decides to really kill Snow White and sends her lusty brother to do the job. Snow White escapes and we see her crawl through sewers and wash up on a beach before finally escaping to The Dark Forest. The costume takes several beatings and here is becomes obvious why Atwood had to make over 20 copies of the gown in various states as Snow wears it for majority of the film.
Finally we are introduced to the other titular character, the Hunstman, a former soldier and widower who now drunkenly stumbles onto work for his particular set of skills. His costume reflects his rough vagabond and resourceful nature, “I took skins from all different kinds of animals and assembled his costume from that. We used odd shapes, where someone would make a circle and a half-circle and cut it off to make his vest. His arm braces were made out of saddle leather that we soaked in water and molded into shapes. We spent a lot of time making his costume look lived in, comfortable and not too stiff,” Atwood says. Requesting his services is Ravenna in a off the shoulder black gown that reflects her bird of prey qualities. The collar even had bird skulls as embellishment. Her crown also receives layers of chains that act as a veil, “I found those chains a year or two before [filming] and I kept trying to figure out what to do with them. And one day I was thinking about the queen and the crown and how she was getting to a point in the story where she was starting to crumble a little bit and wanted to cover up her neck. I didn’t want to put her in a turtleneck or high collar. So I thought this would make a good veil in front of her neck,” Atwood says. The Huntsman is bribed into capturing Snow White and upon finally finding her in the forest and deciding the team up with her he makes the practical decision to cut off her dress below her knees, revealing leather leggings and boots.
Meanwhile we are introduced to the “prince” of the story William, he’s the son of the Duke of Hammond and his official title is never mentioned but he is high ranking enough to have an implied betrothal to Princess Snow White when they were younger. While still amongst the knights of yore, assisting his father in leading the resistance against Ravenna, William dresses more somber in layers of brown leather, the toll of living in a bleak world has become a reality. Snow & the Huntsman find a temporary safe haven amongst a floating colony of women who have scarred themselves so as to not be chosen as sacrifice to the Queen. While scarred the women are the most brightly dressed in the film since the King’s cavalcade, they encourage and inspire Snow White to continue on her journey to take back her throne and die to save her.
The pair then stumbles upon the
seven eight dwarves, former miners who know act as highway bandits. The dwarves are dressed as practically as the Huntsman for survival in the forest, but still have pops of color and hints such as gold chains, belt buckles etc as to their past. One journey into the enchanted forest and the loss of a dwarf and the Queen’s brother in addition to the reunion of William & Snow, Ravenna is ready for revenge. Initially disguised as the loyal William, Ravenna leads Snow away from her encampment and proceeds to trick her into eating a poisoned apple. Transforming back into her own form Ravenna is wearing the golden ‘squiggle’ dress we previously saw her writhing around on the floor in, in addition to an elaborate cape made of black cock feathers which turn into birds during her escape. “The feather cape I knew in the beginning had to turn into birds so that was one of the first things we started with. The gold dress underneath was a dress that goes through a black slick and comes out black, and when it does, it almost looks like old skin,” says Atwood of the costume.
Snow White’s body is then taken to the Duke of Hammond’s and she miraculously comes back to life after a kiss from the Huntsman. Snow then makes an, er, impassioned speech to literally rally the troops to win back the kingdom. Snow then dons armor similar in style to her father’s complete with feminine touches in the embossed metal work at the edges of the plates. She even receives her own shield complete with the white tree with an apple hanging from one of its branches, symbolizing both her return from Death but her happy past she is fighting for. Ravenna awaits her arrival in an elaborate gown made from reflective large black sequins and porcupine quills atop leather. Finally defeated once and for all Snow White finally ascends the throne bringing color back to the kingdom once more in a red gown with puffed sleeves and gold embroidery.