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#CinderellaEvent: Oscar Winning Costume Designer Sandy Powell Talks About Dressing Cinderella

Cinderella is in theaters now!

When I was a little girl I loved costumes. I often played dress-up, but more than that I sewed my own. When I was about 7 years old my grandma got me a sewing machine for Christmas and my textile creativity took hold. As I got older I admired costumes in films and idolized Sandy Powell when I first saw her work in Interview With the Vampire, so I was giddy when I found out I was going to meet this visionary in person to talk about her work on Disney’s Cinderella (in theaters NOW!). Powell also grew up dressing up in her mom’s wedding dress with visions of becoming a model.

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Sandy Powell  has a remarkable list of notable films she has costumed for – Shakespeare in Love (which won her first Oscar), The Young Victoria – another Oscar win – The Other Bolelyn Girl. Her impressive talent has me wondering if she will get another win for Cinderella.

I asked her about symbolism in color choices, something I had seen a glimpse of with Lady Tremaine’s envious greens and Cinderella’s soft innocent blues.

Lily James is Cinderella in Disney's live-action feature inspired by the classic fairy tale, CINDERELLA, which brings to life the timeless images from Disney's 1950 animated masterpiece as fully-realized characters in a visually dazzling spectacle for a whole new generation.
Lily James is Cinderella in Disney’s live-action feature inspired by the classic fairy tale, CINDERELLA, which brings to life the timeless images from Disney’s 1950 animated masterpiece as fully-realized characters in a visually dazzling spectacle for a whole new generation.

I don’t intellectualize it that much. I don’t really pick colors for symbolic reasons. I pick colors because they feel right. And because I like them. I have an intuitive reaction. But yes, of course the green does represent envy. All her colors were chosen because they’re cool colors. None of them are kind colors.  I think they’re attractive colors because I wanted her to look like a fashion plate and attractive. But all of them are kind of mean.

The costumes of Cinderella took over a year to complete, from concept to finish. The wedding dress – the final scene is the wedding – was the last dress Powell finished. The costume she is most proud of is Cinderella’s ball gown – Powell says she worked the longest on that design and was happy to see it come out exactly as she envisioned. Another fun costume Powell loved to work on was the Lizard Footman.

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I had to do a costume that looked like a footman, and how can I make that lizard-like? So I used a fabric that we dyed first – the greens and the yellows. And over the top was a silver lace which gives that scaly effect, effect. And then that was put over the top and then again it was painted again once the costume was made. That gave the visual effects department something to build on. Then they designed their lizard, but based on my costume in a way. It was interesting, the first time I got something like that.

Once of my personal favorite costumes in the film was the Fairy Godmother. I LOVED that it was not the pink and blue cloak that we all remember from the 1950 animated version, but a much more whimsical version of the character. Sandy Powell says that she idea of the lights twinkling within the whole dress but it all didn’t go quite as planned:

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We got the all the light circuits made up by this lighting company. But it took a lot longer than I expected. And then we couldn’t actually really construct the costume till we had the lights done. So we were waiting and waiting, waiting for the lights to be finished. We knew the shape of the costume. I had the corset, I had the underpinnings done like the corset shape. So that costume actually ended up being really rather thrown together at the last minute. I kind of didn’t like it, it looks like it’s been thrown together. In a way, I think it’s quite funny that it looks like it’s been thrown together. It looks like she’s made it, thrown it together. And the lights don’t work properly, really.
Sandy Powell has some advice for anyone out there looking to become a designer – learn to sew.

You’d be surprised, there’s an awful lot of costume designers who don’t know how to sew. And I really don’t know how you can design and how you can talk to somebody else who’s making something, unless you know how to do it yourself. You have to start at the bottom, you have to start at the bottom and be a maker. And actually learn how to construct and sew. So you understand the construction and the engineering, which is what it is.

See Sandy Powell’s work in Cinderella – in theaters now!


https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=20DF6U1HcGQ

As part of the #CinderellaEvent blog team, I was invited to Hollywood to be treated like royalty courtesy of Disney. All opinions are my own.

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