“How do you do a glass shoe?”
It sounds like a question from an age-old nursery rhyme, but was actually a real problem for Sandy Powell, the Academy Award-winning costume designer of the new live-action version of Cinderella.
Powell, whose Oscars for Shakespeare in Love, The Aviator and The Young Victoria decorate her mantle, gave me a sneak peek at the unique shoes given to Cinderella (played by Downton Abbey’s Lily James) by her Fairy Godmother months in advance of this weekend’s opening.
“The glass slipper had nothing to do with any shoemakers because it is made of crystal,” Powell explained.
Working with Swarovski, she designed the shoe, complete with a six-inch heel and 221 facets with their light-reflecting Crystal Blue Aurora Borealis coating, out of solid crystal.
“No one can actually put their foot in that,” she says.
“It’s a prop. In effect I was designing a prop that gets held and gets tried on but for her (to walk in) we made another shoe that was the same shape, in leather, that she could wear and then the visual effects (transformed it to) the glass on her foot.
“The glass shoe was the biggest challenge to do.
“How do you do a glass shoe that doesn’t look ugly and huge?
“Hopefully I have done it. It had to sparkle. And rather than it be made up of lots of little crystals, I thought it would be brilliant if we could make it out of one piece of crystal. We didn’t know if that would be possible.
“We spoke to Swarovski very early on and I thought it should be like a faceted, cut piece of crystal and that’s what we worked on, which took several months.
“They didn’t even know if they could do it.
“We didn’t know if it was going to be possible until the first one came hot off the press.”
Eight crystal shoes were made, but in order to save time and money, there was no left or right foot, just neutral, according to Powell.
“No one is going to notice,” she says. “Doing a pair would have taken twice as long and we never see two at the same time.”
Working with Disney to bring Cinderella to life brings Powell full circle back to the movie that set her on her career path.
She cites the Mouse House’s Mary Poppins as an early influence, adding,
“I’ve always been inspired by clothes and I have always loved films.”
These days, 40 movies and three Oscars later, Powell is still finding plenty of passion in her work.
“I love it.
“It gives me great satisfaction,” she says.