Interviewing the Amazing Costume Designer Sandy Powell #CinderellaEvent

I was invited on an expenses paid trip to LA by Disney to cover the #CinderellaEvent in exchange for my posts of the trip experiences. As always, all opinions are my own.


I realize that I made the title sound like Sandy Powell is a superhero. She is. Anyone who can make designs come to life like she does has to have some super powers. She has created some amazing designs for so many movies like The Aviator, Young Victoria, Shakespeare in Love, Velvet Goldmine, Cinderella and so many others. She even looks like she is an amazing artist. She has a cunning look about her like she is sizing up the room. We interviewed her for our #CinderellaEvent about the wonderful costumes in the movie. Cinderella is out NOW so you can see her work in action.

Photo credit Disney
Photo credit Disney

According to Sandy Powell she decides the color palette usually.

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.

The picture below is one set of the evil stepsisters costumes. Holliday Granger and Sophia McShera were great in their roles and Sandy Powell made their costumes so well. They match but they are slightly unique to each girl. You can see the original sketch next to the actual costume.



Question: Did you pick green a lot for Lady Tremaine because of envy? Can you talk more about the symbolism in the colors?

Sandy Powell: 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.

You can see the slightly evil green of the dress that Cate Blanchett wore for Lady Tremaine. This was her ball gown and if I saw her I would know she was a villain. Its just something about it. I love that she says she doesn’t intellectualize it that much but you can see that it must come out naturally. Disney villains have “fabulous frocks and fabulous hair” according to Cate Blanchett and Sandy Powell definitely made that a reality in this movie.



Question: What was your favorite costume to make?

Sandy Powell: 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.

She was very matter of fact. She even said at one point that if you second guess yourself you will keep changing things forever. So you have to let go at some point. And I agree that the ball gown is amazing. We got to see the actual dress at our pre-reception with JCPenney.


Question: Let’s talk about the Fairy Godmother’s costume. 

Sandy Powell: 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. 


We saw the costume and it looked heavy! I cant imagine Helena Bonham Carter dragging that around. And it looked so much like the costume design. I just loved it. And part of it didn’t work but that seemed to work out for her role because she was kind of a shaky Fairy Godmother. 


Question: 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.”    (I am pretty sure this was my question)

Sandy Powell: 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. 

I told you she was cunning. She is keen in the art of making someone else think they thought of the idea. I like that. I employ that often against my children so I applaud people who can do it to adults. Here is another Lady Tremaine outfit in green. She wore it so well. I do wish it had been more virulently green like the picture but it was perfect.


Question: What advice do you have for a child who wants to follow in your footsteps? What advice would you give them?

Sandy Powell: 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. 

I know that we only met her for a minute but I can tell that Sandy Powell is one of those no nonsense people who do what say they are going to do. She just had such amazing charisma and attitude during the interview. Plus she looked like she knew how to have fun.

Photo credit Disney
Photo credit Disney

Go see Cinderella today. Or tomorrow. Or maybe this weekend but go see it in theaters because those costumes need to be appreciated on the big screen. Also check out some of the other bloggers posts by searching for the hashtag #CinderellaEvent on Facebook and Twitter.

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Author: Kat

Kat is a married mom of three kids aged 19, 11, and 8 that lives close to Birmingham, AL. She loves cats, books, cooking, hockey, and watching movies. She is an admitted nerd, comic book lover, action figure & barbie doll collector, blackjack dealer, beginner croupier, and all around queen of the dorks. You can reach her at [email protected] to talk about product reviews, press trips, sponsorships, or brand messaging.

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