Sandy Powell Costume Designer of the Cinderella Movie, is an Oscar award winning artist who realized a generation’s iconic fairy tale into an array of color, fashion and fantasy. I knew from the moment I saw the press release pictures with the elaborate costuming for the Cinderella movie that, Sandy Powell was nothing short of incredible. The first thing I noticed was the vibrant colors. They just filled the frame like an explosion of flowers with rich detail in and whimsical flare that gave the decadent fabric a fairy tale home in Cinderella. Before the movie came out and before the red carpet World Premiere, I was hooked on the costumes alone. When I saw the over the top fabulous glass slipper, I knew Cinderella would be THE movie of 2015.
The Sandy Powell Interview
Her Childhood Cinderella
I wasn’t a kid who wanted to be a princess, but I loved dressing up. I dressed up in my mother’s wedding dress.
I remember my mother’s wedding dress and a bride’s maid dress in my sister’s dressing up box, and that’s what we dressed up in. So I loved all of that. But I don’t ever remember wanting to be a princess. I wanted to be a fashion model.
I wanted to wear fashion outfits and not princess outfits.
I talked to my sister about it the other day, ’cause she’s a journalist. She was in a group of journalists interviewing me in Berlin. She was asking that same question. I said, I don’t remember. Then she said, “Well, we had that book of fairy tales, but I don’t remember you liking it as much.” So I wasn’t brought up on it.
From the Sketch Pad to the Big Screen
Powell: I do have to think, sometimes costumes look different. What you see, you know, like the costumes you see on display look like one thing. Then, when they’re on the screen they turn into something else. That has a lot to do with lighting, and how it’s filmed and all the rest of it. ‘Cause things change. Sometimes you choose a color that looks great to the eye then when it gets on screen, depending on how they fit it or how they treat the film after, it completely changes. And then that’s really annoying. ‘Cause you think, that’s not what I intended it to be.
So quite often if you’re lucky at the beginning of them, you do camera tests. You actually test different things and different textures so you can see how it’s going to work with a kind of lighting that they’re doing, but it doesn’t always follow through that you get it right. Sometimes things look worse than you’d hoped, and sometimes things look better. It’s great when it looks much better than in real life.
Those Beautiful Colors
Powell: I kind of chose all the color palettes for each of the characters. I work closely with the people who design the sets and the set dressing to make sure nothing clashes with the curtains and all the furnishings. The colors are all of my doing. That’s one of the things I really enjoy more than anything else.
I don’t pick colors for symbolic reasons. I pick colors because they feel right. And because I like them. I have a much more of an instinctive feel or intuitive reaction and response to color as opposed to choosing them to symbolize something. I mean, of course the green on Lady Tremaine does represent envy. All her colors were cool colors. None of them are kind colors, or fresh or youthful colors. I think they’re attractive colors.
I wanted her to look fashionable and attractive. Her colors are strong and all of them are kind of bit mean.
Powell: They’re all really meaningful to me, it’s like they’re like my children. You don’t have a favorite. I mean, you like different ones at different times of the day. But of course I’m incredibly proud of Cinderella’s ball gown. That’s the one that took the longest to develop. It might not have worked, but it came out exactly how I hoped. So, I’m proud of that one. But there are others that I love. I like the men’s as much as the women’s. I like them all Or they wouldn’t be there.
The Footman Lizard
Powell: The lizard piece was an interesting process. It did actually start with the costume. I had to do a costume that looked like a footman that turned lizard-like. So I used the texture of the fabric that we dyed with all the greens and the yellows, and over the top was a lace, like a silver lace which gives that sort scaly effect. That was put over the top and then again it was painted once the costume was made. It was like a tail coat but the tail was a little bit more exaggerated. Then the gloves were green and they were dyed with the yellow too. So it was actually all clothes. That gave the visual effects department something to build on. So they designed their lizard, but based on my costume in a way. I never knew which way it was to be anything, whether they would do a lizard, but it started out as a costume. It was interesting, the first time I got something like that.
The Fairy Godmother
Powell: It was an idea I had that was rather ambitious and to be honest we didn’t have enough time to really develop it. It could have gone a lot further, and been a lot more successful. Not to say it wasn’t successful. I think the costume as a whole works in the film, but I had this mad idea that she actually literally twinkled all over. We got all the circuits made up by this lighting company. It took a lot longer than I expected. We couldn’t actually really construct the costume till we had the lights done. We were waiting and waiting for the lights to be finished.
That costume actually ended up being rather thrown together at the last minute. I kind of didn’t like it. 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, you know.
Helena had to carry the circuits and had a battery pack strapped underneath. Each of those circuits had to be plugged into the battery pack to make it work. She had the tech guy up her skirt every day because you couldn’t put it together until she was in the dress. Then he would operate it from a computer.
On Young Girls Wanting to be Costume Designers
Powell: I’d advise anybody who wants to do costumes, to learn how to sew, and learn how to make them. You’d be surprised, there’s an awful lot of costume designers who don’t know how to do it. 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, 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.
Like the Sandy Powell Costume Designer don’t miss my EXCLUSIVES with:
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Disclaimer: Walt Disney Pictures sent me on an all expenses paid trip to the red carpet World Premiere of Cinderella. This in no way shaped my opinion of this interview of Sandy Powell Costume Designer of the Cinderella Movie.