The Art of Random Willy-Nillyness: Creating Costume Magic with Sandy Powell! #CinderellaEvent
Image Map

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Creating Costume Magic with Sandy Powell! #CinderellaEvent

Disclosure: I attended the #CinderellaEvent and my expenses: flight, accommodations, transportation and some meals were covered by Disney. All opinions, however, are 100% mine.

Speaking with Sandy Powell was amazing. To hear how she goes through the process of creating these costumes was fascinating. My husband is a lighting designer so I understand the artistry that it takes to make it all come together and Ms. Powell brings it.

Because the costumes are so beautiful. We were able to see them close up and they are so awesome. She was sassy and funny. She was by far one of the most interesting people I have ever met. All I have to say, is give this woman the Oscar NOW!

Q: How did you get your – do you get like a color palette beforehand, so that you know what colors to pool?

Sandy Powell (SP): A color palette from, what, from somebody else. No, but you're talking about the film as a whole.

Q: Yeah.

SP: I decide on all the colors. I mean, depends on the job, some jobs and some, Cinderella specifically, no. I kind of chose all the color palettes for each of the characters. And I work closely with the people who design the sets. And the set dressing, so that we make sure that nothing clashes with the curtains. And you know, the, all the furnishings. But no, the colors all, all of my doing. And that’s one of the things I really really enjoy more than anything else.

Q: Can you talk more about the symbolism in the colors?

SP: I can, but do you know what? I don't intellectualize it that much. I don't really think about – 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, instinctive feel about or intuitive reaction. And response to color as opposed to, I’m doing this because it symbolizes this or symbolizes this. But yes, I mean, of course the green does represent envy. All her colors were chosen [because] they're cool colors. None of them are kind colors. Or, or fresh colors or youthful colors. I think they're attractive colors because I wanted her to look like a fashion plate and attractive. But they're strong, but all of them are kind of bit mean.

Q: What was your favorite costume to make?

SP: They're all really meaningful to me. And like I said before, 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 the ball gown. You can’t not be because that’s the one that took the longest. But it came out exactly how I hoped. So I’m, 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.

Q: How long did it take you to create all the costumes?

SP: I was actually working on this for over a year, from start to finish. Until the very last day of the shoot. Actually one of the last things we shot was the wedding scene, and the wedding dress was actually the last thing I designed. And that was really right towards the end of filming. So at least a year from start to finish.

Sandy talks about the costumes for the footmen:

It was an interesting process. Because it did actually start with the costume, so I had to do a costume that looked like a footman and how can I make that lizard-like? So I used the texture of the fabric. It was a fabric that we dyed, we dyed first of all like the greens and the yellows. And over the top was a lace. Like a silver lace which gives that sort of scaly effect. And then that was put over the top and then again it was painted again once the costume was made. It was like a tail coat but where the tail’s a little bit more exaggerated. And then the gloves were green and they were dyed with the yellow too. So it was actually all clothes. And then that gave the visual effects department something to build on. Then 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 I would have to turn into a costume or vice-a-versa.

Q: Can you tell us a little bit more about the Fairy Godmother’s costume. What went into that?

SP: It was an idea I had that was rather ambitious and to be honest, we didn't have enough time to, 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, and all over. We got the all the circuits made up by this lighting company. But it took a lot longer than I expected. And then we couldn't actually really construct the costume till we had the lights done. So we were waiting and waiting, waiting for the lights to be finished. We knew the shape of the costume. I had the underpinnings done like the corset shape.

And we had all the fabric that need to go on top of it. But that had to be worked in with the lights. So that costume actually ended up being really rather thrown together at the last minute. I kind of didn’t like it, it looks like it’s been thrown together. 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. And the lights don’t work properly, really.

And she [Helena Bonham-Carter] had to carry it, have a battery pack strapped underneath. And then each of those circuits had to be plugged into the battery pack to make it work. And this is when she had the guy up her skirt every day and you couldn't do that until she was in the dress. Then he would operate it from a computer.

Q: The quintessential princess costume design, ball gown. When you realized you were doing this, did you already have something in mind? Or did you kind of go when, after knowing that it was going to be.

SP: Yes. It was. It really does make a difference. Because we screen tested lots of girls for Cinderella. So I knew, and they were all different shapes and sizes. Different coloring, you know, and it really makes a difference who the person is. As to what shape the dress is gonna be. I kind of knew it had to be voluminous. I knew it had to be big and had to be impressive. But without being heavy. Uh, and yet it helps knowing who the actress is and what shape you can make them. Or what shape they are, and then what you can turn them into, as well.

Q: I know that you worked with the actors on the costumes, do you ever have an actor or actress go, “I don't want that.”

SP: Yeah. Quite often they go “I don't, I don't [think] that suits me; I don't think it’s right.” And you have to be very clever then in how you win them around. And how you persuade them that actually you really think it’s the best idea. And they, you have to get their confidence, that’s the first thing you have to do with an actress, get them to believe in you. Believe that you're not trying to make them look stupid or ugly or horrible. That you are doing the best possible thing for them. It does happen. And sometimes if the really insist, then you can't push it, because if they, if you're gonna make them wear something they don't want to wear, then they'll ruin any— but they'll make it look horrible. Or they will be so uncomfortable and that’s not fair.

Q: Did you, did you have any kind of wardrobe malfunction as far as, you know, ripping or tearing or any.

SP: Not as far as I remember. You see, all of the costumes, I have really great costume makers who know what they're doing. And especially with corsets, and corsets are, they're made very very strongly. If they're made well, and fit for the person they're made for and they fit, they don’t hurt. It shouldn't be that difficult to get somebody into one. Of course it doesn't have to meet edge to edge, but wherever it’s comfortable. And it’s all about making them, and making the right silhouettes and the dress that goes over top and making everything fit nicely.

Q: What advice do you have for a young girl who wants to follow in your footsteps? That loves designing, loves costumes. What advice would you give them?

SP: I’d advise anybody who wants to do costumes, to learn how to sew. And learn how to make them. Because you'd be surprised, there’s an awful lot of costume designers who don’t know how to do it. And 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, 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.

Q: What do you hope that the audience will take away from the film, with your costumes?

SP: The whole role of a costume designer is not to make everybody look pretty. Although it’s nice if they do. And especially in something like CINDERELLA. It’s to make the characters completely believable. Make the characters come to life and help the actors create those characters. So in doing so you hope that the, the audience go away with really strong feeling of who all those characters are. And remember them also, you know, as much for, for how they are. Uh, I mean, as much as how they look, as to how they are and how they're acting and all the rest of it.


Visit the official CINDERELLA Website:
Like CINDERELLA on Facebook:
Follow CINDERELLA on Twitter:
Follow CINDERELLA on Instagram: 
Follow CINDERELLA on Pinterest:
Follow CINDERELLA on Google +:


  1. All the costumes look beautiful, I hope they win an oscar for their hard work and beautiful designs.

  2. WOW! It took Sandy a year to create all these gowns, and she sure did great at designing all of them! I really like the blue Cinderella dress-it is the prettiest of them all!

  3. What a job Sandy Powell had creating those costumes! She did a beautiful job of selecting colors. The more I read, the more ready I become to see the movie.

  4. Saw Cinderella today. It was magical. The costumes were beautiful. Do stay through the credits to hear a couple of fun songs.

    slehan at juno dot com

  5. It must be exciting to see the costumes and wardrobe choices that you’ve made play out on the big screen.

  6. I like her idea of picking colors because they feel right and she likes them. Must have been fun to see the costumes up close.

  7. That is the most beautiful dress I've ever seen. Thanks for sharing!

  8. I love the costume design in this movie, the dress is amazing.

  9. Sandy Powell did an amazing job creating the costumes for this movie. I agree, definite Oscar contender.

  10. Sandy Powell is a genius!The costumes in this movie were amazing.I wish my 6-yr-old self had seen them-honestly,they were everything I thought they'd be,and more.Great post!