The moment I saw the trailer to Cinderella, I was enraptured. Why? The costumes were just as magical as the story. Whether it was Cinderella’s wasp-waist or the Evil Stepmother’s sharp, rich tailoring, I couldn’t wait to see the movie just for the costumes.
Cinderella: The Designer
Sandy Powell is no stranger to period costumes. She won Academy Awards for her costume designs for Shakespeare in Love, The Aviator and Young Victoria, and designed for other prominent movies such as Interview with a Vampire, The Other Boleyn Girl and Gangs of New York.
Cinderella, of course, has an iconic dress and there has been controversy over how small actress Lily James’ (best known as Rose in Downton Abbey) waist appears to be in the movie. Powell created this effect with a corset (she says that “Actors love them!”) and lots of layers. According to an InStyle interview, Powell says, “First of all, there’s a crinoline over a wire cage. Then there are petticoats with hundreds and hundreds of miles of frills to give it the volume and the lightness. On top of that are the really fine layers of fabric. Of course, she’s wearing the corset as well to give her that fantastic shape.” James’ waist is naturally small, and made to look even smaller with all of the layers of her dress. Why is it blue? According to an interview with HitFix, Powell says: “I came back to blue because it actually is the most attractive color and it just seemed appropriate. Then of course it went back to the fact that the original one is blue. And then once I’ve come to that conclusion I realized there’s no way in the world I could have made it any color other than blue because it just is. Cinderella’s ball gown is blue. And I think there would of been like millions of little girls around the world horribly disappointed or telling me I’ve done it wrong.” Additionally, the glass slippers are indeed glass– but made much smaller than James’ size 9 foot and changed in post-production.
The Fairy Godmother, played by Helena Bonham-Carter, starts out in beiges and transforms into an LED-lit confection. Bonham-Carter insisted upon wings– what fairy doesn’t have wings?– and Powell was happy with the result.
The Wicked Stepmother (Lady Tremaine), portrayed by Cate Blanchett, is a portrait in dark beauty. Powell wanted to evoke other villains, in jewel tones (particularly citrine and emerald) but always some black. She’s a contrast to the light, good Cinderella and Fairy Godmother (played by Helena Bonham-Carter). They are my favorite costumes in the movie — so elegant, yet so evil, particularly the green gown she wears to the ball. She has a very 1940s Marlene Dietrich look, interpreted for the 19th Century. Look for Cate Blanchett in more of Powell’s costuming in the upcoming Carol.
The Wicked Stepsisters, played by Sophie McShera (James’ fellow Downton Abbey actress) and Holliday Grainger, clash with loud floral prints and out-there hairdos. She was inspired by the nouveau riche — “It’s like people have come into money and spending all their money on clothes and money doesn’t necessarily give you taste. It’s like pile it on. Get as much on as you can and all of it is a bit vulgar.”