Tuesday, March 10, 2015

On "Cinderella" Costume Practicality and Altering Oneself To "Fit"

Sandy Powell - Queen of Cinderella Costumes (siting on a prop from the costume display)
Perhaps things will change after the movie is in theaters and everyone who wanted to see it (or see the Frozen "sequel" before it), have seen it but for now, the strongest impressions of Cinderella are all about the costumes.

Three time Oscar winner, Sandy Powell is the costume designer for this movie and I have to say the sneak peeks and close-ups are indeed stunning (not things I would wear but the craftsmanship is clear).

But it's the teeny waist controversy that's bugging people out a bit. No matter how independent and strong this Cinderella is compared to her (Disney) predecessor, the fact that star, Lily James couldn't comfortably eat solid food while in her corset, shouts far louder to the public that ideal look and measurements are still the deciding factor for what makes an ideal woman.

This, of course, fits well with the theme of the step sisters doing their best to squeeze their foot into the glass slipper, in order that they will become the chosen bride. The Grimm's version is pretty clear on just how far the sisters may have gone, and currently, the new designer "glass" slippers by famous brand designers all show a slim fit shoe in which there was only one design that was under 4 inches (I may be being generous - perhaps none were), not to mention an inbuilt requirement for having feet that are well manicured and bunion, vein and sweat-free.

Oh, and in case you were wondering? Foot surgeries: still popular.

What a colorful society this is! Pity real life isn't so much.
Looks are everything in this film - everything is designed to shine, glow, be full of color or drama and everything is about as perfect as possible. Even the blue dress featured in every Cinderella commercial, was designed to look perfect while Cinderella was running, as well as standing and dancing.

Funny thing is, it turns out that when Lily James had to run she wasn't wearing those Swarovski crystal heels at all, but running shoes. Well that just makes a little too much sense, doesn't it?

If Cinderella lost a shoe because she was desperately loosening her corset and slipping into something more comfortable to run in (or resorting to bare feet) that would actually be quite a statement. Can you imagine? It would change the whole conversation....

I thought I'd share a few other notable pieces of trivia on this shoe and fit business as well:
Powell is very particular when creating designs that the under garments are as close to authentic as possible.
“I want to dispel the myth that corsets are uncomfortable,” Powell says. “Corsets are uncomfortable if they are made badly or if they don’t fit right. If they are made to fit properly, your squeezey bits — like your waist — get pulled in properly and it shouldn’t push on your rib cage. All that it does is that it makes you aware of your posture.”
It took about 20 minutes to get James into the costume, including lacing up the corset. 
The corset didn’t hurt James, but there was a side effect Powell hadn’t anticipated. Richard Madden, who plays the Prince, noticed during dance scenes with Cinderella that if James ate anything while in the corset she would have some pain. They would have to stop so it could be loosened.

ead more here: http://www.fresnobee.com/2015/03/07/4413028_sandy-powell-dresses-cinderella.html?rh=1#storylink=cpy
FTNH Interrupt: Hang on a second - how do the phrases "didn't hurt James" and "have some pain" work simultaneously?! Even if you take this as generously as possible how can a corset that "doesn't hurt you" coexist with a corset that makes your body object if you eat?! OK - two cents over, back to it:
...James was able to wear comfortable running shoes because the gown covered her feet completely. She never wore the glass slippers that prove so important to the tale.
Powell designed the slippers based on an 1890s shoe she saw in a museum. The 5-inch heels gave the shoes a modern look that was still suitable for the fairytale. She had casts made of the shoes, which were sent to a company that created the slippers out of cut crystal.
The shoe is made up of three pieces of crystal fastened together. The shoe was only used as a prop. Scenes that show the slippers were added via computers after the filming was completed.
When asked about the cut crystal shoes, James smiles and says they didn’t fit her feet. She immediately realizes that she’s ruined the fairytale ending and adds, the shoe wouldn’t fit anyone’s foot.

ead more here: http://www.fresnobee.com/2015/03/07/4413028_sandy-powell-dresses-cinderella.html?rh=1#storylink=cpy
Well isn't that ironic?

And I'll just leave this last bit here for your reading pleasure:
Most of her work for “Cinderella” went as Powell planned — except for a small issue with the Fairy Godmother design. Helena Bonham Carter would only play the role if the character had wings. 
Bonham Carter had to put up with a lot for the costume to work. Her dress is filled with lights and batteries to make her shine. That’s why Powell was finally willing to add a small pair of wings to her look. Director Kenneth Branagh says Bonham Carter joked that every day there was a man to turn her on.

Read more here: http://www.fresnobee.com/2015/03/07/4413028_sandy-powell-dresses-cinderella.html?rh=1#storylink=cpy
This might be the only case in the whole movie where the costume was made to "fit" the person. Even Prince Charming was faced with having his "codpiece" discussed and er, managed (please tell me they didn't CGI him into a Ken doll). Not even the boys were getting away with being 100% come-as-you-are. So in the case of the Fairy Godmother (and Helena Bonham Carter) the costumes had to "fit" the wearer, rather than altering the wearer to fit the costume (what a headache I'm sure, but in principle I say Bravo Helena!).

I'm not sold on the movie yet. I can't see anything particularly revolutionary about it that Ever After didn't already do (and much, much better) but those costumes really do look amazing.

Between those and Cate Blanchett (who apparently reads all sort of fairy tales to her three boys, and not just the boy ones but the girly ones too) I'm thinking I may have to do my fairy tale duty and go see this. Anyone want to go with me? I have a feeling I'm going to want to chat about it after over drinks, no matter how good or bad it is.

(Source: fresnobee)


  1. Hmm...so much to discuss and think about here. On the one hand, I do get really upset by unfair gender beauty standards and how value is given to women in media. But on the other hand, this is Hollywood, where these kinds of unrealistic illusions are completely normal and expected-celebrities go on extreme diets for all sorts of roles, costumes are often not even remotely practical, etc. I hope that Cinderella isn't getting extra hate simply because it's a fairy tale and people tend to use fairy tales as scapegoats for gender issues which are really culture wide

    1. Let me see if I can explain it the way I see people getting upset:
      It's not about Cinderella being a fairy tale - it's about the iconic story where the popular understanding is that the Prince chose a girl based on a shoe, on a type of foot - or that's how he chose to find her. The impression of this fairy tale is that the attraction is purely physical - it's not based on anything else. It doesn't even matter in the Disney version that she was originally aristocracy. All the Prince sees is a pretty kitchen maid who fits the shoe - which underscores the looks first thing, because it's not sensible for a Prince to go for that - he didn't even have a conversation with her at the ball - if you remember, he starts asking questions "who are you?" and she ums and ahs then the clock starts striking and she flees. That's why Ever After was so different and that's why they're making such a big deal out of Cinderella meeting the Prince (who she didn't know was a Prince.. really??) before hand - to dispel how shallow the Prince is and how easily impressed/swept off her feet, Cinderella is. To retell the fairy tale in such a huge way people want a good reason for rehashing an old story aka "why are we still telling this story?", especially when the values shown in the old version are straight out of their time (1950) and none of us want our 'daughters' to grow up to be like that. We want girls who can think for themselves, stand on their own two feet and not wait to be rescued or handed an opportunity. This Cinderella keeps saying it's different but it's not walking the talk, if you get what I mean. It's not because it's a fairy tale. It's because it's "this" fairy tale.
      I hope that makes sense...

    2. Yes, in previous versions of Cinderella it was love at first sight, but as you say they're making it clear that this version will be different-I'm sure they wouldn't dare do love at first sight in 2015! And I don't know why they would need to force Lily James into a corset, I'm sure her waist is thin enough on its own. I'm not saying we shouldn't get upset about what we force actresses to do for a part, or supporting the idea that love is all about looks-I'm saying we should get more upset because this happens all the time, not just when it's a remake of a movie that used to be more about love at first sight (although I guess I understand why people are extra sensitive about it...just trying to defend fairy tales).

  2. ohhh yes! I want to go see it, with you. drinks and discussion after... yessss! what fun.

    back to reality. thank you for this great post. both for the fantastic photos and the intelligent review.


    1. Thanks. I do wish I had fairy tale folk near where I am though - it would be great to go as a group!

  3. How is the corset controversial? The movie is set during a time when wearing corsets was standard for upperclass women, so it's natural that they would be included in the costumes. Isn'tthe point of Cinderella that even though theprincefalls in love with the heroine while she is wearing a beatiful dress, she still loves her, even when she is wearing rags? It's unfortunate that James was experiencing pain if she ate something, but as far as I can tell she was under supervision and it was made sure that the costume didn't cause her any unnecesarry distress.The corset was loosened after she experienced pain after all. Actors are often put into uncomfortable costumes, that's not something that is exclusive to fairytale movies or period pieces. I'm someone who values historic accuracy, so I appreciatethey ent with corsets (and admire the actresses who were willing to wear them for the film), but don't appreciate the bright colors everyone from princess to scullery maid is wearing. (yes, I can suspend my disbelieve n fairy magic, but not on peasants wearing red clothes. I'm weird). I think the idea behind Cinderella was to create a brighter, more magical baroque setting and corsets are vital part of baroque fashion, so it was a natural choice to include them.

    1. Truth be told, I was surprised it caused as many ripples as it did but clearly we've reached the stage where people expect Disney to be more accountable about how they go about telling their stories. You see it's not about corsets used in filmmaking, t's about the extremes for beauty gone to for this story (Cinderella)- which is traditionally seen as superficial. If the costumes were historically accurate it wouldn't be an issue - and would actually reduce the controversy, but they're not. They're based in a vague time frame of "around the 19th century" and the materials and techniques are mostly modern (Cinderella's dress? Silk top layer with layers and layers of polyester - that's one modern fairy godmother!), as are, as you pointed out, the color schemes. This is the fairytale of the fairy tale Cinderella and everything is faux. The corset was worn for a look, and for the quick convenience of getting a look, not for authenticity of a style. As I mentioned in answer to Kristin's comment, it's not about an actor being uncomfortable - of course they often are. It's about the execution of the movie going against the themes they say are important. It's about Lily James squeezing herself into the Cinderella role, because that's what was required to be "her". Even the most perfect girl in the world they could find, couldn't be herself completely to pull off the part. It's ironic because that's exactly the problem people have with the traditional Cinderella. While of course, it's part of the movie business, it also spotlights the problems with Hollywood movies in general: they require an ideal nobody - not even a genetically gifted actress - can reach. Yes we know they're movies, but particularly with Disney family movies, they're the role models for the next generation - for both girls and boys (girls: be like that, boys: choose that). It's the same reason people hate Barbie. We know she's a doll, we know she's not real, but look how much damage that "ideal" has caused over time to body image. Cinderella is the story representation of all of that - but from the Cinderella doll sales, it's also clear there's just as many people who have no issue with it.
      Hopefully that helps in understanding why so many people are having an issue with the Cinderella corset.

  4. I'd go with you to the movie, except I'm in Upstate New York and you're in L.A. I don't think I could make it there even if I used Seven League Boots.

    Anyway, I'll probably go and write a review of this one. However, I don't have high hopes. It really does just look like Ever After with the fantasy parts added back in (remember, Ever After was the "grounded" version of Cinderella). However, I think the point of this movie isn't so much to do something new with Cinderella so much as it's to do something new with "Disney's Cinderella". This is their attempt at revamping a character that people see as one-dimensional.

    1. Personally, I don't like when people says Disney's Cinderella is one-dimensional. I think she's a quite complex character. She has her qualities (kindness, strength) And her flaws: at The end of The movie, just at The end, she's not as prudent as at The begining (So This Is Love!). She si a damsel in distress, yes of course, but she's much more than that. Instad of focusing in her horrible life and not paying attention to anything but her problems, she helps those who are weaker than her, like Gus. She has done that her whole life, so it isn't strange to see The animals making a dress for The girl who saved their lives. This Cinderella is not as active as others when it comes To going to The ball, but she is more compassionate than in other versions. And she is not stupid. Maybe she is not Sheldon Cooper, but she can give her family solid arguments for going to the ball, and I think that when she thinks of calling her dog Bruno to defeat Lucifer (when she is imprisioned) and shows the Grand Duke her slipper when The other is broken shows she's a smart.
      And she is sarcastic. She makes jokes about her sisters' singing lessons. And she can be verbally aggressive, look at how she tretas Lucifer

      I think This Cinderella gets a one-dimensional reputation not because she is like that, but because she's from The 50s. Honestly, The three first Princesses can be more passive, but the idea of "Cinderella is a trophy wife who's focused on her looks and obsessed with pretty dresses and nothing more" is so False!

      Sorry for The long comentary.

  5. I can't wait! Thanks for the info!