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Disney’s Cinderella Trailer: The Costumes of Sandy Powell

The first full-length trailer for Disney’s new live-action adaptation of Cinderella was this week and featured tantalising glimpses of what promises to be a visually gorgeous film. The costumes, designed by three time Academy Award winner Sandy Powell, appear to be absolutely stunning.

With a clever mix of the eighteenth century, the 1830s, and a little 1950s couture thrown in for good measure (Powell has been quoted as saying she was aiming for the look of “a nineteenth-century period film made in the 1940s or ’50s”), Powell has created another jewel to add to her already over-bling crown. Here is a quick rundown of some of the looks we’ve been teased with…

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Cinderella (Lily James) wears a frothy, light blue dress for most of the trailer. The pale and airy fabric expresses her innocence and kindness. The design of her gown takes inspiration from the late 18th century, when frothy gowns made of simple muslin, known as the chemise à la reine, came into fashion. These light gowns expressed the simplicity and innocence of a romanticized country life, thus serving as a perfect inspiration for the character of Cinderella.

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Cinderella’s first ball gown keeps with the same airy and romantic aesthetic. The puffed sleeves and ruffle along the neckline are also hallmarks of the 18th century chemise à la reine. Despite its innocent appearance, the chemise a la reine was in fact a potent symbol of power when it first debuted in the 1780s. Powell’s use of this particular style as an inspiration for Cinderella’s costume may hint at the power and strength Cinderella has hiding beneath the surface.

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And of course we see Cinderella’s electric blue ball-gown, with a wide skirt created by layers of shimmery silk and neckline decorated with delicate butterflies. Powell has also clearly taken inspiration from Disney’s classic animated version of Cinderella, released in 1950. In that film, as in this film, Cinderella wears a light blue working dress, has a pink dress that is destroyed by her Stepmother and Stepsisters, and a magical ball-gown.

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Cinderella’s Fairy Godmother (Helena Bonham-Carter) is more glamorous than her animated counterpart. She is decked out in a fantastical 18th century style gown with a wide ruff made from layers of filmy ice-blue fabric. The shimmering and floaty material transforms her into a dainty fairy, while the luxuriousness of the gown conveys the regal quality of the character.

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The real star of the trailer has to be the evil Stepmother, Lady Tremaine, played by Cate Blanchett. We first see her stepping from her carriage (with a cat on a leash!) dressed in a formfitting gold lamé bodice with black florals, a full black skirt decorated with an eighteenth-century style floral pattern in a sickly shade of green-yellow, and an exaggerated bonnet that takes inspiration from both the 1830s and the 1950s. The extremely fashionable and heightened silhouette screams power, while the black and yellow color palette brings to mind a bee, poised to sting its prey (we also briefly see her in a leopard print, another reference to a dangerous beast of the wild). The outfit is reminiscent of the Marquise de Merteuil’s black and yellow travelling outfit from 1989’s Dangerous Liaisons (costume designer: James Acheson), a fitting comparison as the Marquise is another scheming and manipulative character.

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Lady Tremaine’s other outfits are no less fierce. Her green ensembles take inspiration from mid-20th century fashion designer Charles James’ ‘Butterfly’ dress. James’ gowns are known for their extremely sculptural quality and many have a rigid architecture supporting the layers of luxury fabric. This tight, structured, and sometimes harsh aesthetic is perfectly suited to the character of the evil Stepmother. And in contrast to the airy costumes of Cinderella and the Fairy Godmother, Lady Tremaine’s gowns are made of heavy satins and taffetas in oversaturated shades of green, yellow, and red, invoking themes of poison and danger.

There are many other exciting costume prospects on view in the trailer. The wicked Stepsisters seem to be always dressed in overdone and tacky gowns of pink and yellow (having each sister in one dominant color is another nod to the animated classic). And Prince Charming, handsomely played by Richard Madden and his Dreamy Eyes™ (really?! – Ed), looks extremely dashing in his embroidered frock coats.

There have been a million adaptations of the Cinderella story since the birth of film. It’s hard to make yet another movie stand out in such a large crowd, but based on the costumes we’ve seen so far Sandy Powell has definitely helped to make this a film to remember.

By Katy Werlin. Katy writes about fashion history at her blog The Fashion Historian.

NOTE: Screencapped trailer images have been cropped in some cases to better highlight costumes.

© 2014, Lord Christopher Laverty.