Emma Watson wants you to know that Belle is not a princess. Never mind the fact that she lives in a castle, falls in love with a prince and wears a billowing yellow gown fit for royalty.
Watson is largely responsible for reimagining Belle as an active heroine in Disney’s 2017 adaptation of “Beauty and the Beast.” Even before the United Nations Women Goodwill Ambassador arrived on set she had decided not to portray Belle as a “corseted, impossible idea of female beauty,” according to costume designer Jacqueline Durran.
Durran, who won an Oscar in 2013 for her work on “Anna Karenina,” came up with a variety of ways to reflect Watson’s vision of a modern Belle through her wardrobe. She started with the character’s village outfit, which she wears in the opening scenes.
“She doesn’t wear ballet pumps, she wears boots,” says Durran. “She has her 18th-century pockets, but she has them on the outside of her costume so that you can see they’re like a tool belt. They’ve got useful things in them that she’ll need for doing the different things she does in the village. She tucks her skirt up into her waistband so you can see her bloomers, and she wears bloomers so that she can not be trapped by the skirt.” All of these elements serve as reminders of Belle’s will for freedom.
Instead of a corset, Belle wears a flexible bodice that ties at the side. “Nothing she wears is inhibiting,” Durran says. “She can do whatever she would want to do in any of her costumes. She rides a horse.” And most iconically, she dances with the Beast.
Belle’s iconic yellow gown was “the most difficult costume to do by a mile,” says Durran. “We tried all sorts of things. We tried making a more historical interpretation, we made something that was more modern and experimental, we made lots of different versions.” In the end, the gown they chose was closer to the one depicted in Disney’s classic animated version of the tale. It took a crew of 10 people and 12 days — or 238 hours — to complete.
Durran also wanted to incorporate Watson’s eco-fashion sensibilities into her costumes. One outfit in particular, which includes a red cape with a white edge, is eco-sustainable and organic. Even the printing on the cape was done with wooden blocks that were leftover from the set.
While Belle may not be a princess this time around, her wardrobe certainly got the royal treatment. “Beauty and the Beast” is in theaters on March 17.