Let me start out by saying I am completely obsessed with this take on Cinderella. I walk past a giant Billboard for it every day and I try and take a daily de-tour by the ornate golden coach from the film on display at Hollywood Studios on my way to work, where I may or may not lose a shoe in hopes that it means I could wear the dress and ride in it (the Prince is a bonus, but not the goal.) It is a sweeping grandiose version of the tale full of vibrant colors and a kind of airiness that defines fairy tales in which people long live in. Thus with my obvious bias apparent, let’s explore the wonderful costumes of Kenneth Branagh’s Cinderella.
Costume Designer Sandy Powell was recently quoted that the film is quite the departure from her recent work with Martin Scorsese on ‘mans-man films’ and the new Cinderella adaptation is her own chance to present a look for a ‘girls-girl film’. While the designer may feel this way, her Oscars were won for films that feature a strong female protagonist and period clothing: Shakespeare in Love, The Aviator & The Young Victoria. It is no surprise with then that her work on Cinderella combines historical line with the fantasy of the animated classic.
“This is not set in any real time period, so I could go all out with the color…. it’s a fairy story. I thought of it as a picture book, how it’s graphic and bright, you can tell who everybody is from the color they’re wearing. I could go out there and do the boldest versions of things I’d done before.”
Powell was inspired by the bold colorful textiles found in West Indian shops in her London neighborhood and choose specific color pallets for each character in the film and kept them in the designated colors throughout. Cinderella remains in blue, her family in Green, Yellow & Pink.
She also choose to differ the films villainous Stepmother & Stepsisters, from the rest of the characters by combining a 19th century silhouette with high fashion 1940s-50s outline. Making them seem both ahead of the curve but also out of place in magical setting. “They are meant to be totally ridiculous on the outside—a bit too much and overdone—and ugly on the inside,” Powell says. The Stepsisters, Anastatsia & Drizella are modeled after 1950s high society sorority sisters with shorter hemlines than their mother, puffy sleeves and bold floral prints.
Cate Blanchett’s Lady Tremaine was modeled after 40s silver screen legends such as Marlene Dietrich and Joan Crawford. “She[s] hurt, bitter, but there[s] no reason she should be ugly. She[s] beautiful but kind of intimidating,” Powell says of the character. Powell channeled Lady Tremaine’s dominating nature by accentuating Blanchett’s long neck, giving the illusion that she is always ‘above’ Cinderella.
As for her heroine Powell began of course with her look as a servant in her own home. “I didn’t want her in rags, as she is often portrayed in the storybooks. What I gave her instead is a dress that starts out pretty and ends up looking faded, tired, and worn out.” Her simple blue dress with a faded brown print stand out against the rich purples and browns of her home and importantly the forest where she first meets her Prince.
When it comes time for the ball Cinderella dons a pink dress that belonged to her mother, similarly to the one worn in the animated classic. The gown is clearly modeled after early Victorian silhouette and is eventually transformed by the appearance of her Fairy Godmother. The Fairy Godmother appears at first in an older form, complete with a seemingly worn cloak and a stoop. She then quickly transforms into a young version of herself complete with a glittering wand to complement her glowing white 18th century gown. With the transformation of the pumpkin and her attendants the Fairy Godmother then begins the transformation of Cinderella’s gown.
Powell decided for Cinderella’s ball gown the stick with the classic blue of the original but to make it more voluminous whilst still maintaining an airiness and glow to it. “I wanted to make the gown look enormous,” she says. “The gown had to look lovely when she dances and runs away from the ball. I wanted her to look like she was floating, like a watercolor painting.” The skirt itself is made of many layers of crepeline silk, printed polyester organza and iridescent nylon in shades of pale blue, turquoise and lavender, with a petticoat underneath that way when she moved it floated. Further sparkle was added by attaching more than 10,000 Swarovski crystals to the top layer of fabric on the gown. On the neckline custom made butterflies in bright colors were attached while still maintaining the shape of her mother’s original gown.
As for the iconic glass slipper, Powell was inspired by an 1889 shoe she saw in the Northampton Museum (Which has an awesome shoe collection, some of which is available to view online by the way). The inspiration itself had a five inch heel with no platform and was originally made for display at the Paris Exhibition in 1889, making the slipper unwearable. Since she wanted to the show to actually sparkle, which glass does not, the slipper’s practicality further diminished once Powell collaborated with Swarovski the make the shoes. The slippers were then added onto Cinderella’s feet digitally in post-production, but a total of eight pairs of shoes were created for filming.
After Cinderella’s Midnight escape from the ball, her Prince naturally sets off on a quest to find her. After several obstacles, including both of their families, they are reunited once more. For their wedding Powell created much softer looks for the couple, even reversing their color pallets from the ball. For the Prince, she kept with the military look of the original but tailored the dyed wool jacket in a fitted 1950s style. For Cinderella’s wedding gown, she designed a 50s inspired long sleeve ivory silk organza featuring hand painted colorful flowers. “Cinderella wins the Prince’s heart through her goodness, so I wanted to show this through her clothes,” Powell explains. “I wanted her to stay modest and pure even though she was going to be a part of royalty.”