Sandy Powell’s Costume Designs for the 2015 Cinderella Are Dazzling


“Sandy Powell, who won Oscars for her costumes for The Young Victoria, Mrs. Henderson Presents, and The Aviator, recalls ‘One of the very first things I did in my research [for Cinderella] was investigate setting it in different periods.  The eighteenth century is really beautiful, but I was not interestedin it because that’s usually the pantomime version of ‘Cinderella.”  I wanted to avoid any similarity to pantomime.  I thought rather than be completely specific  in a period, let’s do my take on it as far as costumes were concerned.  I was kind of doing a 1940s, 1950s version of the ninetheenth century,’


“Like the other artists and designers, Powell enjoyed the freedom Branagh gave her to exercise her imagination.  ‘I did a lot of research,’ she continues.  ‘I presented Ken with all of that and we talked in great depth about each character.  As we developed costumes, I would show him the fitting pictures so he could see what was happening as we went along.’


“For Cinderella’s daily chores, Powell dressed the heroine in a pale green dress with a light bown apron–shabby but becoming.  The muted colors reflect the subdued mood of those dreary days of toil and abuse.

Cinderella movie costume

Cinderella film costume detail

Cinderella flower dress detailCinderella film costume detail


“But for the ball, Powell created a sweeping gown of shimmering blue, glittering with thousands of crystals.  On the bodice are tiny fabric butterflies, recalling a special memento from Cinderella’s father–a treasured btterfly toy contained in a lotus flower-shaped box–and the lesson about beauty lying within that it embodied.




” ‘To become Ella in her normal rags is a much simpler journey, although I’m still in a corset every day, which is tortue,’ says James.  ‘To become Princess Ella takes a long time.  I have hundreds of Swarovski crystals hand stuck into my hair  The dress has skix layers to the skirt, and it takes a really long time to get in and out of.  I’ve had to learn a lot about posture.  You can’t slouch ina corset.’


cinderella (1)

” ‘The gown is ver cleverly engineered, so that even though it’s voluminous, it’s actually very well balanced; it’s not even heavy,’ explains Powell.  ‘Where it sits on the body, and how the boning supports it makes it incredibly easy to move in.  She does an amazing dance routine in it and never had any problems.  It’s fun to do things on a large scale, but [the gown] had to be delicate because thiis is Cinderella.’ [Solomon, A Wish Your Heart Makes, pgs. 162]


” ‘It really is everly little girl’s dream to put on a dress like that,’ James adds enthusiasticallly.  ‘Around the top of the corset there are butterflies, which have a sentimental value.  When the fairy godmother appears, Ella says of her torn frock, “Don’t change it:  it was my mother’s,” so the shape is very similar to the dress her mother wore.  When she has the dress on, it feels like her mother and father are with her:  Ella wants the strength of her parents by her side.  The dress looks beautiful, and there’s a lot of story in it.’ [Solomon, A Wish Your Heart Makes, pgs. 162-63,]


“Creating a look for the fairy godmother who effects Cinderella’s transformation proved more challenging.  ‘The fairy godmother was actually quite hard because it could be absolutely anything,’ says powell.  ‘I really came to how the fairy godmother should look once we knew it was Helena.  Casting is often the key.  I wanted her to be every little gir’s idea of a fairy godmother, literally sparkling with with light, so we worked with a lighting company (Phillips) that created small lights throughout the dress designed to twinkle on and off.’


” ‘My costume is possibly the biggest one I’ve ever had to wear,’ replies Carter with a laugh.  ‘It’s white, silvery, and about four feet wide.  And I light up!  There’s about twenty batteries up my bum.  This lovely man from Phillips basically turns me on with a switch o my bum and then he goes off and he operates me remotely from his computer.  Every time I do a spell, I change color.  I’m like a thing that you could put on a Christmas tree.’ ” Solomon, A Wish Your Heart Makes, p. 166.


“In contrast to the white costume of the fairy godmother, Powell gave Cate Blanchett’s mother a great, black picture hat with a veil that focuses [Solomon, p. 166] the audience’s attention on the actress’s piercing gaze.


Sneaks Cinderella Costumes


“For the ball, the stepmother wears a sweeping gown of green and gold satin with a aigrett.  The hats and coiffures hold her hair away from her face, creating an effect similar to the animated character.  ‘It’s a designer’s deream because Cate Blanchett is one of the greatest people there is to dress,’ Powell comments.


‘There’s only a handful of actorys that you can throw anything on and they look fabulous.  Evil’s easy.  The baddies are easier to dress than the goodies:  It’s quite difficult to make a good person not dull.’



“When Ollie Johnston animated the stepsisters, Walt Disney insisted they were grotesque and comic, but not aggressively ugly.  The live-action [Solomon, p. 167] filmmakers took a similar approach:  Anastasia and Drisella are not gargoyles, but spoiled, arrogant, thoughtless young women.


” ‘We’ve never thought about the ugliness without, but the ugliness within,’ says Shearmur.  ‘Both actresses are very pretty.  But there’s a lack of selfpawareness about just how far thy’re pushing heir hairstyle, their makeup, the garishness of their dresses.  Their appearance reflects the singular attention on their own needs without any consideration for anyone else:  that defines their ugliness within.’



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” ‘The whole idea behind the stepsisters is that they weren’t physiclly ugly:  they are beautuful but ugly on the ind=side and vain,’ agrees Powell.  ‘That was fun to play with.  Basically, I overdressed them.  They went one step too far with what they were wearing–without becoming a visual mess.  I dressed them identically, like twins, except for the colors:  if one was in pink with green trim, the other was green with pink trim.  Exactly the same outfit, the same print, but in different colors.


” ‘I thought I had an original idea; then I looked back at the animated film, and that’s what the Disney artists did,’ Powell sighs.  ‘I thought I’d forgottten all about the Disney cartoon, until after I had designed this Cinderella and saw there were quite a few similarities.  I think they were unintentional, ut maybe they were subliminal.  But in the animation, no one changes their clothes much.  In our fim, the stepsisters and stepmother change every five minutes.’  [Solomon, p 168]

“The actresses who portray Anastasia and Drisella were delighted with their over-the-top outfits.  ‘The sisters,’ costumes are amazing:  they’re really beautiful, but they’re a little bit too garish, or the lengths of the skirts are not quite right, or the way the toes of the shoes turn up,’ says Grainger.  ‘Something’s not quite right with their taste.’

” ‘I’ve never had a job where I ‘ve had so many costumes.  I know that a lot of them are supposed to be in bad taste, but I love all my costumes,’ agrees <cSjera/

Beomg wotj Jp;;odau amd javomg pir ,atcjomg pitfots om dofferemt cp;prs jas beem sp fimmu’ we love everything Sandy puts us in.’ ” Solomon, A Wish Your Heart Makes, pgs. 168-69.


Cinderella Prince costume detail

Prince cuff detail Cinderella

“For the prince, Powell says, the brief was simple:  ‘Make him handsome.’  ‘Of course, I had a handsome actor to begin with,’ she adds.  ‘But I added sparkles.  The prince is military looking.  There’s nothing more attractive on a man than a really beautifully fitting uniform.  He looks very dashing.  I wanted him in light blues and greens and whites, as opposed to more somber, masculine colors.’


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“Madden found the uniforms affected his performance as the prince.  ‘The costumes are so intricate and detailed.  I’ve had so many fittings, trying colors and textures; then the tailor goes away and makes them with Sandy,’ he explalins.  ‘They have a romantic feeel that’s also masculine.  They affect the way I move, the way I stand, the way I sit on y horse.  These things become very useful for me as an actor to work at how the character holds himself.’ ” Solomon, p. 171.




“The iconic glass slipper proved more problematic in real life than it had in illustrations or animation.  ‘We made shoes of real crystal, which in reality, no one can wear, not even Cinderella.  Crystal has no flexibility, so you can’t actually fit your foot into it,’ says Powell.  ‘The shoe we created out of crystal is the shoe that’s held and passed around.  It’s the shoe that peole try to get their foot into.  When we see the shoe on Cinderella’s foot, it’s the visual effects version.  We made leather shoes she could actually wear that were the same shape, thenvisual effects magically transformed them into the glass slippers.’


” ‘The glass slipper is where I got the idea I might not be the best fairy godmother,’ says Carter with a laugh.  ‘If you think about it, it’s compleltely impractical, uncomfortable, and un-walkable-in. [Solomon, p. 171]  But I’m good at shoes.  The shoes are the only thing that last beyond midnight.  Everything else turns back.’

“Madden found the glittering slipper useful–and disconderting.  ‘Im terrified of the glass slipper because it’s worth about $10,000.  People hand it to me to use in the scene; they’re wearing white gloves and I have my bare hands,’ he confesses.  ‘I’m walking about the set terrified that I’m going to drop it.  As an actor, it helps me there’s actually a glass slipper I can pick up and be in awe of–then look at Cinderella and be not surprised that she’d wear this amazing slipper because she is who she is.’ ”  Solomon, A Wish Your Heart Makes, pgs. 171-72.


About jackikellum

Jacki Kellum is a Fine Artist, a Designer, and also a writer. For one of her graduate programs, she wrote her thesis on William Blake. Like Blake, much of Kellum's work is about childhood and lost innocence. Also like Blake, Kellum strives to both write and illustrate her work. .
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