Movie Sneaks: Live-action ‘Cinderella’s’ costumes get a glammed-up makeover

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In Disney’s new version of the animated classic “Cinderella,” the glass slipper is in fact a crystal shoe, the princess-to-be does not wear rags, and the evil stepmother? She’s stunning and glamorous.

Costume designer Sandy Powell turned the wicked character played by Cate Blanchett into a striking figure whose tailored pantsuits and sleek cocktail gowns recall the eviscerating elegance of Joan Crawford and Marlene Dietrich.

“They wanted to give the stepmother a bit of a history, to give her a reason for being the way she was,” Powell said. “She was hurt, bitter, but there was no reason she should be ugly. She was beautiful but kind of intimidating.”


The Oscar-winning designer, whose credits include “Gangs of New York,” “Shakespeare in Love” and “The Wolf of Wall Street,” among others, created numerous costumes for the large cast of “Cinderella.”

Set to arrive in theaters March 13, the film stars Lily James (“Downton Abbey”) as the belle of the ball and Richard Madden (“Game of Thrones”) as her charming prince.

Working on “Cinderella” gave Powell, 54, a creative freedom she’s rarely afforded. Drawing on her 20-plus years of experience of working on films as stylistically far-flung as “Velvet Goldmine” and “Interview With a Vampire,” she mixes eras and looks in director Kenneth Branagh’s live-action fairy tale, dressing the mean stepsisters in a 1950s-meets-Betsey-Johnson look while the mice-turned-footmen wear outfits that could be on display in Versailles.

“This is not set in any real time period, so I could go all out with the color,” Powell said. “It’s a film for kids, adults too, but really 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.”

While Powell wanted Blanchett’s wardrobe to look like “the 19th century channeled through the 1940s,” Cinderella was another matter. Powell took inspiration for her gown straight from the 1950 Disney original.

“The challenge was to make the gown look enormous, but still ... have it move beautifully,” Powell said. “The gown has to look lovely when she’s running. I wanted it to look like a watercolor painting. There were layers there of the finest fabric in different colors so when she moves, they move in a water-like fashion.”


More than five layers of feather-light material make Cinderella’s blue gown appear as if it’s floating on air as she descends the palace steps: “The fabric is so fine that if you dropped a piece in the air it actually floated like smoke,” Powell said.

Underneath those layers are petticoats “with literally miles of frill.” Powell said it took four miles’ worth of thread to hem one petticoat.

The biggest challenge of all, though, was the famous glass slipper.Powell approached the experts at the Austrian crystal company Swarovski to help with the task while she turned to a shoe museum in Northampton, England, for inspiration on the shape of Cinderella’s footwear.

“I didn’t want her wearing a slipper, so I found a shoe from the 1890s with a 5-inch heel. They were beautiful and elegant, and I thought I really liked that idea — an impossibly high heel.”

Meanwhile, Swarovski came up with a method of producing the fairy tale item in crystal, cutting the facets so the shoe would retain its refinement. They made several copies of the one shoe and it appears throughout the film — discarded by the palace gates, held by the prince, presented on a pillow to the maidens of the kingdom in a search for Cinderella.

But you won’t see James’ heroine wearing it.

“The ones on her feet are not crystal,” Powell said with a laugh. “In reality she was wearing leather shoes with the same shapes and proportions as the crystal. The visual effects department would later cleverly turn them to crystal.


“I wonder if the world should know that?”