You Shall Go To The Ball

When Sandy Powell asked me if I wanted to be part of her costume team on the new live-action Cinderella movie for Disney, I knew my two-year-old daughter would never forgive me if I said no.  Directed by Kenneth Brannagh and with stars including Cate Blanchett, Helena Bonham Carter and Lily James, this was surely going to be something special.  Combine this with the incredible creative talents of production designer Dante Ferretti and costume designer Sandy Powell herself, with six Academy Awards between the two of them, and add rousing, atmosphere-enhancing music composed by Patrick Doyle, and surely that’s a treat for the senses waiting to happen.

Since its release last month, the response to this film has been more overwhelming than I ever imagined.  Young girls who were already caught up in the Frozen phenomenon, well, their inner princess was always going to be fired up once more but I was a little surprised by grown men telling me that it not only made them cry but also that they couldn’t take their eyes off Cate Blanchett’s astounding costumes.  It would seem that this film brings out the child in all of us and, with mottos like “Have courage and be kind”, that’s not really a bad thing.

Being part of the costume department on a film of this nature is obviously a joy but it’s also incredibly hard work and a challenge on a different scale to the norm, particularly as one of my main roles was to “look after” Cinderella’s now infamous ball gown.  In doing so, I became the person responsible for pulling actress Lily James into that controversial, waist-cinching corset every day, that has since stirred up so many a ridiculous Photoshop rumour!  Sandy Powell has discussed the optical illusion of this dress in countless articles and I would like to stress this further – a very well-made and supportive corset combined with the huge proportions of the skirted section and the volume of the butterfly panels around the shoulders only exaggerate Lily’s small (but normal and healthy) waist all the more.  It’s clever trickery for the eye created by a dress that had months of development to get it to the dazzling end result.

Definitely not an easy dress to be wearing on a regular basis either.  Made up of layers and layers of fabric and thousands of Swarovski crystals, this gown was cumbersome, rather heavy and somewhat awkward to move around in and credit is definitely due to Ms. James for her continual enthusiasm even after hours of dancing or being asked to run up and down the palace steps over and over again. And let’s not go into too much information about toilet breaks!!  Needless to say these were some what of a palaver, a little time-consuming and the two of us probably became closer than most people ever need to be!!!  Additionally keeping the many variations of this costume in pristine condition while faced with the challenge of several weeks of night shoots in the cold and rain had its moments.

Not including the breathtaking ballgown, I think my favourite dresses in the film were worn by the stepsisters, played by the delightful Holliday Grainger and Sophie McShera.  These quirky matching outfits were colourful and playful, perfectly matching their characters, and brought to life all the more by the hilarious personalities of the actresses themselves who brought never a dull moment to the set.  It’s the little touches that make these costumes all the more successful in my opinion – large vibrant earrings, painted details on stockings, patterned knitwear, oversized accessories, unusual fabrics and wonderfully contrasting colours.

Over the years, there has been many an interpretation of this classic fairytale but I am incredibly proud to have been a part of this version of Cinderella, and not just because of the spectacular costumes.  It’s a story with heart, emotion and comedy at times that, no matter what age you are, leaves you feeling uplifted.  I’m sure it will stand the test of time and that the iconic ballgown will feature on many a Best Of Hollywood Costume list in years to come.

For those of you interested in seeing a few moments from behind the scenes, complete with fleeting appearances from one particularly familiar redhead, check out the YouTube link below:

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