Costume designer Jacqueline Durran (Anna Karenina) knew she didn’t need to reinvent the wheel when it came to designing costumes for Beauty and the Beast.
“Those costumes exist in people’s imaginations and all I wanted to do was to honor what they expect those costumes to be in a live action movie,” Durran tells PEOPLE of reinterpreting the iconic looks from the animated film. The Oscar winner looked to the 1991 original as her starting point, and then to 18th century French fashion for further inspiration.
“We decided to take inspiration from there and enrich the world using historical details,” she says. “For instance how that works for Belle (played by Emma Watson) is Belle has the pockets hanging on the outside of her [blue] costume. The pockets are historical, people tied pockets around their waist, obviously we changed it a bit and put them on the outside and they became part of the kind of reinterpretation of Belle as an active heroine who does things and gets things done. The pockets act as a sort of toolbelt where she keeps all the things useful to her in her day to day life, those are the two elements we really looked for.”
The pant-like bloomers Durran and her team added underneath the classic blue outfit were Watson’s favorite addition.
“They’re nice, as you can tell,” says Durran. “But also again they were part of her being able to be more active, so that you don’t feel restricted by wearing a skirt because you can just pull it up and then just do whatever you were going to do.”
For Belle’s gold ball gown, Durran and her team opted for light fabrics to accommodate Watson’s desire for a more movement-friendly frock - and one without a corset.
“Emma was quite categorical that she didn’t want a big princess dress,” says Durran. “She wanted to have something she could move in and she definitely, adamantly would not be wearing a corset.”
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The finished product is a lightweight combination of tulle, satin organza and taffeta, made to twirl and look as though it is made by/from the castle.
“I think in the movie, it’s difficult to see some of the detail, but the idea that Madame Garderobe (Audra McDonald) gets the gold pattern from the ceiling and puts it around the dress, meant that we had to print a gold print on the dress,” says Durran. “We took it from the styling of the castle. It’s a gold rococo that we then had printed on the three layers of the skirt and then on top of the gold printing we stuck Swarovski crystals all through it, just to give it that extra twinkle and sparkle.”
Beast’s formal costume for his big waltz with Belle is also “made by the castle,” so Durran designed it to look more earthy than finely-made.
“With the Beast’s coat, we thought that it wouldn’t be embroidered like an aristocratic prince’s coat, because how would the castle have done that?” she explains. “What would’ve happened instead is that Plumette (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) with her feathery brush, could’ve painted the design on for the Beast, so that the Beast’s coat is obviously printed and that’s because it’s a combination of print and paint that could have been done by Plumette.”
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Durran adds: “One of the things I really liked about the Beast’s costumes is that he goes from being completely like an animal, all the way through to being an aristocratic gentleman, while he’s still a beast. I really loved creating the cape at the beginning, which is made out of straggly pieces of fabric instead of and bits and pieces we found, different textures, I think maybe there are some shells in there and some spiky bones and things, everything was in there to make it where you could hardly tell if he was wearing clothes or if that was actually part of him as the Beast, that was the idea. And he progresses to being more and more like a prince throughout the arc of the Beast, and that was really enjoyable to do.”
Belle’s red costume, which she wears outdoors for her snowball fight with Beast (Dan Stevens), turned out to be Durran and her team’s most unique challenge in that it was eco-friendly.
“Because Emma is so interested in sustainability and fair trade, eco fabrics and eco fashion, we applied those criteria to making a costume from head to toe,” she says. “That [red] costume was made entirely from sustainable fabrics. We dyed it in vegetable dyes in our workroom, we had shoes made with eco leather and we did the whole thing from top to bottom to be as thorough as we could. People learned different skills in the work rooms to be able to do it, so they dyers learned to dye with strange vegetable dye. Sometimes it took two weeks to dye something because you’d have to leave it in there for that long to get a rich color, it really was a learning curve for all of us, I’d certainly never done that before.”
Durran hopes that people see her costumes as a reinterpreted tribute to the original 1991 film.
“Honestly I hadn’t realized how much Belle and this movie meant to people before I started,” she admits. “That was the pressure, was to make them [recognizable] enough for people to be happy watching them in this iteration.”