Her story is all around us, seeped into our cultural consciousness, her name and story are a title given to athletes, politicians, businessmen, and yes, a Princess: Cinderella. Who doesn’t know the classic tale of the downtrodden maid who against all odds and standing social infrastructure married a Prince and literally kissed her old life of rags goodbye. It’s no surprise that Hollywood has endless recreations of the classic tale. I will be taking a in depth look at two fanciful takes on Cinderella.
Into The Woods
The fantasy film directed by Rob Marshall with costumes by Oscar Winning Designer Colleen Atwood is based on the Broadway Musical by Stephen Sondheim & James Lapine. The film interweaves many classic fairy tales into one location, with characters literally running into each other and continuing their stories beyond the Happy Ever After originally given to them. Cinderella’s storyline derives from the Grimm’s version (http://www.pitt.edu/~dash/grimm021.html) the fairy godmother role is played by the spirit of her deceased mother in a tree that grew from Cinderella’s steady tears of sorrow and her step family while beautiful are the cold, cruel and calculating women we are familiar with but conversely are willing to go to grotesque extremes to get their way (though curiously the father is present for most of the degradation of Cinderella and raises no protest, making it all the more disturbing.)
The popular Broadway Musical casts Cinderella as a indecisive girl whom is unhappy with her own lot in life but not quite happy enough with Prince Charming to immediately fall for him. In the original Productions, costumes were designed by Tony-Winning Designer, Ann Hould-Ward and were heavily influenced by the Early Victorian Era. When it came time for the big screen re-mount Colleen Atwood took the reigns and started fresh.
“I went into it as a blank slate — I hadn’t really seen the stage musical, other than on historical videotapes, so I knew the music but not the visuals so much. But I do remember how much everyone loved it – I lived in New York when it was playing but I was not, in those years, able to afford a ticket.” Atwood said of her forebear’s work.
“[I got to] see how the forest is going to be and you see all these visuals before and from those and from the fairytales themselves, I started brewing an approach to the design of the film….the woods were kind of my starting place. Everyone went into the woods, some people, like The Witch, were of the woods — so I used all the textures from trees and the light and dark of the forest as some of the inspiration and for the patterning and the surface of the costumes. ” Atwood said of her design process for the film. She began to mix the texture and elements of the woods and the magic within along with a 18th century silhouette to create unique looks for each character.
As for the step family, Atwood choose to have their husband-scheming nature shockingly evident to the viewer from the get-go. In stark contrast with the beautiful but sooty Cinderella we see at first the stepsisters are already dressed to the nines in black and beige outfits complete with fishnets and patterned stockings and accents of gold throughout resembling lingerie making them look like 18th Century Burlesque stars. “We wanted to make them accessible in a way that wasn’t so predictable,” Atwood said. “[Christine Baranski] was taking a kind of farcical direction with the character. So we went totally over the top and tarty on the side of the sisters, rather than doing the homely girls in pastels cliché. We wanted it to have that trying-to-get-a-man feel.”
Cinderella of course had to stand out from her cruel tarty counterparts and given that her gown and slippers in the Grimm’s tale is gold, what better way to display her contrast that with pure gold. Though as Atwood points out, ” I had to make a Cinderella that was reluctant — it didn’t seem to work for her to be in a big pink or the traditional blue Cinderella dress that’s like every little girl’s dream. She had her mother character in the movie that’s in the tree, and we sort of wanted to tie her in. I wanted something that could look like a butterfly wing, like you’d see it and then you wouldn’t when it moved. So I found this gold fabric that was just enough to make the multiples and everything I had to make in it, but it took me a while to just get it how I wanted it to be — a little bit of her mother and a little bit of her and the princess that’s kind of a punked-out and modern, like, “Do I really want to be a princess?” kind of feeling in the dress. ” As for the much coveted gold shoes (which plays into the Bakers’ storyline) Atwood explains “We looked at [ready-made] gold shoes, but they were way too contemporary. So we built those and then sculpted the leaves out of plastic and attached them to give them something that felt organic from the tree.”
As for Prince Charming himself, Atwood choose to stick with the classic gold braided doublets and tight riding pants that was influenced by Nordic fairytale illustrations. “We wanted them [the Princes] to look princely but we didn’t want to turn them into caricatures. [Chris Pine’s] look is slightly modern, because he had to look good. You’ve got to think of the audience and make him attractive. We did a minimal cut of his hair, blow dried it and used the fullness to exaggerate it…. You don’t want to be looking at [their hair] too much because of what they’re doing. If the hair is too distracting it would have been annoying, so we just kept them looking gorgeous.”
Check back soon for Part II of my look at Cinderella costumes on film.