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Beauty and the Beast at Central Saint Martins

To tie-in with the release of Disney’s new live-action version of Beauty and Beast, the project’s Oscar winning costume designer Jacqueline Durran teamed up with students from Central Saint Martin’s college in London to reinterpret ensembles from the film. These are outfits designed in homage to Beauty and the Beast, taking specific elements here and there, a song, colour or concept and creating something entirely new. Whether these are fashion or art pieces is ultimately unclear – what stands out though is their reach beyond that of merely marketing a big movie. Just as an idea it would be fantastic to see more films promoting their costumes in this way. After all, inspiration is lifeblood for any potential fashion or costume designer.

Students from the BA Performance Design and Practices Course worked in teams of two or three under the tutelage of Costume Specialist Technician Verity Cleary while following a mantra of ‘sustainability’ wherever possible – something very close to Jacqueline Durran’s own heart. Moreover Durran even visited the collage to pass on advice to the students. After several weeks of painstaking work the teams put together a collection of innovative, sometimes wacky, but always emblematic ensembles that – in one specific case – could even function as a costume within the film itself.

Outfit 1: ‘The Bell Jar’ by Victoria Adebayo, Fie Neo and Preeyaporn (Hong) Thammajariyaphan

The most installation-like of the pieces, as Preeyaporn (Hong) Thammajariyaphan explained during catwalk launch night on 15th March, “Inside the costume there is actually a working light – an LED”. The dress is essentially akin to a mid-19th century crinoline with images from the 1991 animated version encased inside and brightly illuminated.

Outfit 2: ‘Cogsworth’ by Matilda Eldon-McCaig and Esme Callaghan

This is vaguely futuristic in tone but with an underlying message about the character of Cogsworth, aka The Beast’s maitre who was turned into a mantel clock. The team said of their creation, “It has a performative element. We wanted to show the working mechanics of the clock (visible in the rear of the ensemble)”. The frozen gloves are actually designed as timepiece hands. Cogs studded with Swarovski jewels (who provided the students with 20,000 crystals to use) adorn the waistcoat.

Outfit 3: ‘The Rose’ by Chris Goodman and Jo-Jo Faucher

This one really needs to be seen in motion. The waistcoat unbuttons and drops away to reveal a train of red plumage intended to represent a solitary withering rose inside the bell jar hidden in The Beast’s west wing. “A big part of the movie is this idea of inner and outer beauty and shedding external appearances for what’s really inside, so we used the bell jar and rose motif to tell that story” explained Jo-Jo Faucher. “We did a LOT of prototypes!”. Plastic bottles were transformed into sequin-like beads and combined with Swarovski crystals to provide clever juxtaposition on the sustainability element.

Outfit 4: ‘Be Our Guest’ by Neelam Rehman and Rosie Crisp

This is a terrifically vibrant nod to Beauty and Beast’s most famous musical number. Noted designer Neelam Rehman, “It’s the idea that these ‘items’ have been trapped in the building for many, many years. They haven’t had chance to use their talents but during the sequence you can see how much passion they have because they are good at something”. Every single fabric used for this outfit was upcycled from charity shops.

Outfit 5: ‘The Inventor’ by Emily Penfold and Darcy Davies

Interesting ensemble this one because the inventor is actually a character in the story, i.e. Maurice, Belle’s father (played in the new movie by Kevin Kline). This is a costume reinterpretation. Explained the team, “Maurice is a quirky and chaotic inventor, and with this element of sustainability we could make it look like he created all his own clothes. It was a massive part of the design”. The coat was made from old military blankets and his apron from an old pair of trousers. As with the Be Our Guest outfit, everything was upcycled. “The hat is supposed him having a ‘light bulb moment'”.

Outfit 6: ‘Belle and the Beast’ by Faye Lee and Tasmin Case

An apparent nod to Belle’s famous yellow dress worn during the film’s ballroom sequence, this ensemble is really a combination of elements from both Belle and The Beast as they dance together. “There is a contrast between The Beast and his huge shoulders and this very elegant dress” noted the creators. “Emma Watson in the lead role is an empowered character and she is a feminist in real life. We really wanted to get that across with the coat”. The coat is embellished with Swarovski crystals while the boots, for a decidedly modern wink, are by Dr. Marten’s.

Sustainability has never been more important as a concept and must be incorporated into fashion and, when plausible, costume. This event drew attention to that ideal while providing a glimpse into how designers of tomorrow take inspiration from and reinterpret clothes they see on screen.

With thanks to Walt Disney Pictures.

Disney’s Beauty and the Beast is in cinemas now.

© 2017, Lord Christopher Laverty.