Dressing an entire kingdom somewhere once upon a time is a task not for the faint at heart. Perhaps no one was better suited for the epic retelling of the Snow White fairy tale in Snow White and the Huntsman than veteran costume designer Colleen Atwood. Her prolific work has garnered two Academy Awards – Alice in Wonderland in 2011, and Memoirs of a Geisha in 2006. She has also received six other nominations beginning with Little Women in 1995.
Atwood had worked with director Rupert Sanders on several commercials and was approached by him to help recreate the ambitiously told fairy tale. The pair worked closely to conceptualize the direction of the costume design. “A lot of time was spent on creating the nature of the story and nature of the cast members,” Atwood said about this stage.
Then began the research followed by the drawing process. “I started with medieval research, then spun in the interpretations of that loosely used term relative to other design time periods,” Atwood explained. She applied her research to thoughtfully reveal each character’s distinct traits through their costume. “I focused on displaying the elements we wanted to involve for each character – omens of decay [with the evil queen Ravenna]; a Snow White that was a princess with some sand to her; the gritty huntsman, and the prince who was living outside the box,” Atwood continued.
Bringing the multi-dimensional characters to life in the ominously peculiar and new world of Snow White meant original costume designs. Rentals couldn’t accurately portray the mood of the film. Dwarves, multiple armies, Snow White, the evil queen and the rest of the kingdom required extraordinarily specific designs. “We manufactured a huge amount. The armies’ costumes were all made by hand here in Los Angeles. We researched and designed them as prototypes nine months out, then built them, the dark army costumes at Legacy, the silver army costumes at Quantum Creation FX. Queen Ravenna, Snow White, the dwarfs, the leads were all made in my work rooms in the U.K.,” said Atwood.
The dark and ghastly Queen Ravenna’s progression in her hunt for Snow White is thoroughly represented by her costumes at every stage in the film. When she is wed to the king, she dons a resplendent corseted wedding dress. After she murders the king, she attempts to capture Snow White’s heart in the snow. She fails and turns into crows before reappearing back at the castle in a feathered black cape. Atwood meticulously designed all of Ravenna’s costumes for each sequence and this one was a study in exquisite detail. “The feather cape was all hand cut coq feathers laid in a wonderful pattern of very light weight silk. The dress underneath was two layers of embroidery we designed and applied to some vintage gold fabric I had. It was like a magnification of wrinkled skin spun in gold,” Atwood said.
When the evil queen is finally defeated, the rightful queen established, and the kingdom is restored, the film glows in the jeweled hues of promise – reds, purples and blues. “I changed tonality of the film as it progressed, starting with cooler silver, then going darker in Ravenna’s time. With the final scene, life has returned, so I used richer tones for that scene. I made most of the clothing for that scene with velvets screened with gold.”
Gold seems to be a reoccurring theme in Atwood’s work and it is an apt description altogether. After all, Snow White and the Huntsman is quite a golden achievement of the potential and power of costume design when it’s linked intricately with storytelling.