“Carol” and “Cinderella” offer a fascinating study in contrast for costume designer Sandy Powell. While the wardrobes for Oscar-nominated Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara convey the conservative vibe at the dawn of the Eisenhower era in 1952, Lily James’ strong-willed fairy tale fave dons an unconventional blue gown for the royal ball and gets extra sparkle in her slipper.
“There was a real restraint to the look of [‘Carol’] but then that also really echoes the period and the repression,” Powell explained. “In terms of the costumes, there’s an element of that too. Nothing is ever extreme or extravagant and I use that restraint for the sophistication and elegance for Cate’s character, Carol.”
Like any decade, it’s a transitional period, still dominated by late ’40s fashions (strong-shouldered silhouette and full skirts). But after researching fashion magazines, Powell came up with the proper style for Carol: a softer, more streamlined look with Hattie Carnegie-styled suits, sailor necklines and dresses made with a “wandering” waistline. Colors were muted yet highlighted by a fur coat and red coat. Powell also conveyed Carol’s physicality by accenting her neck, wrist and ankle.
“In contrast, Rooney’s character, Therese, [the aspiring photographer] dresses for comfort and practicality. Her wardrobe has a lot of dark colors and is interchangeable,” Powell added. “I saw her as a beatnik [with lots of plaid]. But she’s still fairly old-fashioned.”
Therese, who works on the toy floor of a Manhattan department store, where she meets Carol, wears a green and black ribbed sweater and black V-neck dress instead of a uniform. “By the end, she transforms after going on a very personal journey. She develops her own sense of style, which is obviously influenced by Carol.”
But the biggest challenge was the iconic glass slipper, which Powell decided to make crystal, and was designed by Swarovski after considerable R&D. “I looked at chandeliers and refraction for the shoe that needs to really sparkle,” she concluded.