Lily James is Cinderella in Disney's live-action CINDERELLA, directed by Kenneth Branagh. Credit: Jonathan Olley/Disney. (c) Disney Enterprises. All Rights Reserved.


March 6, 2015

Valli Herman

There may be no better recruitment tool for the costume design field than the fairy tale “Cinderella.” It’s not uncommon to discover that many would-be costume designers had their first inkling of glamour’s power when they see Cinderella transformed by her princess ball gown and glass slippers.

Now Costume Designer Sandy Powell has had the ultimate opportunity to recreate that gown for Disney’s retelling of the beloved fairy tale in “Cinderella.”

In this version, the glass slipper has a much higher heel, but the gown Cinderella wears to the grand ball is still the showstopper.

Kenneth Branagh directed the classic tale that stars Lily James as Cinderella, Richard Madden as Prince Charming, Cate Blanchett as Lady Tremaine and Helena Bonham Carter as the ultimate Fairy Godmother.

Powell, who has three Oscars and seven Academy Award nominations, said that she initially toyed with the idea of remaking the image of Cinderella.

“I actually went through a whole thought process about making it another color. Kenneth thought about white or cream, but that would compete with the wedding dress,” she said. “We went back to blue because it was the right color. Looking back on it, of course it had to be a blue dress.”

There is more than meets the eye with this blue gown, especially in its voluminous skirt. Powell layered multiple colors and finishes of very fine fabrics, such as a cornflower-blue silk crepe on top of lavender, green-tinted blue and a mix of more blues, all illuminated by an iridescent pale white, washed with blue.

“The light hits the layers and reflects through the others,” she said. “The fabrics are so fine that they move independently when the gown is in motion. I wanted it to look like a watercolor effect.”

The twinkly iridescence of the gown is enhanced by a surface application of 10,000 tiny crystals. Butterflies alight along her gown, as if she were the fairest flower. Further, Powell said the dress was made of 217 meters of fabric and 4 miles of thread, just in the hem. Despite those statistics, the gown remained fairly light weight: most of the volume is achieved by crinolines, petticoats and graduated placement of the layers.

“It’s a feat of engineering, basically,” said Powell, explaining that it was important to achieve the correct proportions of the crinoline to allow it to move naturally and balance the figure.

And what a figure. The seemingly unnatural size of James’ tiny waist wasn’t a trick of digital manipulation. “That’s the size of her waist in a corset,” Powell explained. “It’s also exaggerated proportionally because the diameter of the skirt is so wide and the berta [scarf-like neckline] accentuates the width of her shoulders.

“If she were standing there in a straight dress, no one would make any mention of it.”

Though corsets can be trying to wear, Powell insisted that her costume motives for this fairy tale were innocent: “We didn’t do anything evil to get her into the dress.”

“Cinderella” will be released in theaters on March 13.

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