#CinderellaEvent Interview with Sandy Powell, Award Winning Costume Designer

(This post may contain affiliate links. Read my full disclosure.)

Disclosure: I received an all expense paid press trip in exchange for my coverage of Disney’s Live Action Cinderella and related events. All opinions are my own. Interview photos courtesy of Louise Bishop of MomStart.com – Film stills and clips provided by Disney.  Sketches by Sandy Powell.

I’ve never been big into fashion, but that doesn’t mean the costumes and wardrobe in Disney’s Live Action Cinderella didn’t catch my eye immediately.  The eye popping colors, attention to detail and elegant beauty they all have is just breathtaking.  Sandy Powell, Academy Award Winning Costume Designer, is to thank for the beautiful attire you will see throughout the film.

Sandy Powell

What was your favorite costume to make?

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, or depending on who they are. 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.  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.


Cinderella Transformation

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

I was actually working on this for over a year, from start to finish. Till 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.

Cinderella Dress

I took this during the JCPenney hosted event, prior to the red carpet premiere. It is THE dress Lily James wore.

Was there anything that came to fruition and you were like, you know what, putting it with the scene and getting everything together, I want to change this?

I can’t think of a specific thing, but that does happen. That can happen where you’ve actually got an idea for something you make and, you know what, that doesn’t work there. You try to avoid that happening because if you’ve gone all the way to completing something, you look at it, you think it’s wrong, it’s actually a big deal to change it all. Especially if you don’t have much time. It can happen. I try not to let it happen. I try to be really prepared and really make sure that I’m making the right decision the first place. But circumstances can change. I mean, like the set can change. You could design something that looks great in this set and then suddenly they move the scene to another setting and it might look different, or move the actor to be working with another actor. I can’t think of a specific occasion of that happening.


Sandy Powell 3

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

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, and all over. But in sequences and then sort of choreographed with either, or go what she was doing that – we got the lighting designed. We got 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 corset, 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. Kind of, 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, you know, thrown it together. And the lights don’t work properly, really.

It is, it’s sort of like the, the magic doesn’t work that well the first time. I think, well actually it’s quite appropriate that it, it’s sort of lit up a bit. But then, and what happened was, the technician who designed it, I mean, it’s like four or five or six circuits of lights all lit like here a bit, another bit. And she 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. Like you know, like he’d be sat here with the computer, sort of like turning the lights on and off. We needed a lot longer to rehearse the scenes. And with the dialogue. And we didn’t have the luxury of that. So we kinda stood it a bit.

Helena Bonham Carter

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.” But you’re like, “No, no…”

Yeah. Quite often they go, like really, I really, yeah. “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, they’ll make it look horrible. Or they will be so uncomfortable and that’s not fair.

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?

I’d advise anybody who wants to do costumes, to learn how to sew. And learn how to make them. ‘Cause 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.


Sandy BTS

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

I’d hope that 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 audience go away with really strong feelings of who all those characters are. And remember them also, you know, as much for, for how they are. I mean, as much as how they look, as to how they are and how they’re acting and all the rest of it.

Sandy Powell Group 2

Disney’s live action Cinderella, the number one movie in the world, is in theaters now – Don’t miss it!

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Enjoy these exclusive sketches from Ms. Sandy Powell ~

Stepmother Sandy Powell Custom Sketch

Cinderella Sandy Powell Custom Sketch

Stepsisters Sandy Powell Custom Sketch

Stepmother Sandy Powell Custom Sketch 2

Fairy Godmother Sandy Powell Custom Sketch


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