Last updated: June 9, 2012 12:14 am

Culture corner: A dark affair

Colleen Atwood’s costumes for ‘Snow White and The Huntsman’ were far from Disney’s depiction of the fairy tale
Charlize Theron as Queen Ravenna in an ivory and gold satin-pleated wedding gown

Charlize Theron's character in an ivory and gold satin-pleated wedding gown

How many ways can a fairytale be fashioned? At least two, it seems. Snow White and The Huntsman (starring Charlize Theron as the evil queen), has arrived hot on the high heels of Mirror, Mirror (with Julia Roberts as queen). In the earlier retelling, the late Eiko Ishioka’s costumes recalled Disney animation but the latest Snow White, as imagined by first-time director Rupert Sanders and the sartorial imagination of Colleen Atwood, is a far darker affair.

In terms of sheer volume, three-time Academy Award-winning designer Atwood (Alice in Wonderland, Memoirs of a Geisha, Chicago), says Snow White and the Huntsman “was one of the most challenging films I’ve ever done”. Her crew designed 5,000 costumes.

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Atwood divided her undertaking into two worlds, one that “begins with high hopes and then disintegrates into [Queen Ravenna’s] insanity.” Symbolising the first world is an ivory and gold satin-pleated wedding gown worn by Theron’s character that cost nearly $32,000 and took three weeks to manufacture. Later in the film her descent into madness is signalled by a floor-length gown made of ebony-dyed rooster feathers that, with digital effects, morphs into a flock of real-life ravens.

Costumes were heavy – a gown with a fish-scale finish worn by Theron weighed 40lbs – so detachable separates were created and materials were chosen to help lighten the load. When possible, Atwood sourced vintage fabrics because, she says, “they have a better drape”: A coronation dress worn by Snow White (Kristen Stewart) began life as a robe in an Istanbul flea market and had panels inserted to create a rich red velvet floor-skimming gown with gold brocade detail. It was a departure for Stewart’s character, who spends much of the film wearing an off-the-shoulder lace-up suede bodice with metal details over a dark brown skirt.

The Huntsman (Chris Hemsworth) is shod in hardy-looking leather from Atwood’s secret Roman purveyor – “a favourite watering hole of mine that I don’t want to disclose to every designer in the world!” Suede was intricately woven together and aged to give an organic, rustic look to the Huntsman’s jacket.

And Atwood’s approach to disguising the Queen’s “vanishing youth”? Attaching a French three-tier chain to a gothic crown. It’s simpler than a neck-lift, any day.

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