Which Witch Wears What


Illustrations Malisa Suchanya / www.malisasuchanya.com

Gone are the days when a witch’s wardrobe includes the obligatory big black pointy hat and a flying broomstick. Even witches need to keep up with the changing times of fashion – they are women, after all! HANGER takes a look at the more recent Hollywood films with powerful witches in their casts, and pays tribute to the people responsible for clothing the award-winning actresses in dominant garments fit only for the mightiest witch queens.


Angelina Jolie as Maleficent
In an attempt to bring to life a character as prominent as Maleficent – not to mention, to transform an actress as compelling as Angelina Jolie into one – one needs a design team just as fierce in talent to make this fairy tale dream come true.

With three-time Oscars-nominee costume designer Anna Biedrzycka Sheppard at the helm (known for her works in Schindler’s List and The Pianist), the production has also commissioned London-based designer Rob Goodwin, metal, corsetry and leather couturier Manuel Albarran, and bespoke milliner Justin Smith to help reimagine Disney’s 1959 villain – all three of whom were personally handpicked by Angelina Jolie herself!

The costume design team sees their Maleficent as someone whose style is more than the usual savage elegance; it is brutally couture. Goodwin shared his thoughts with Fashionista; “The danger is with characters like Maleficent, you can slip into something that’s fetish-y, and I didn’t want that. I don’t find that interesting. It’s a bit pedestrian.”

This Masters graduate in Footwear at the London College of Fashion proceeds to create wardrobe pieces with angular masculine silhouettes that exaggerate the shoulders and collarbones, before incorporating all kinds of leathers into the wardrobe. We’re talking about cow leather, stingray leather, and even ostrich shin leather, which has scales aesthetics that complement well with her winged form and her winged minion, Diaval.

Other corresponding wardrobe comes from the Royal College of Art Masters in Millinery graduate Justin Smith, who is responsible for the reputable horns headgear. Based on Goodwin’s vision, Smith has created up to seven head wraps made from ostrich leather, stingray leather and scrolls of fish skins. While couturier Manuel Albarran, who has made custom pieces for the likes of Lady Gaga, Beyonce, and Madonna, puts together the finishing touches; animal skeleton rings and claw bracelets, feathered epaulets, and shoulder pieces embellished with precious stones, crystals, real animal teeth, and bones, and the odd bits of human hair.


Charlize Theron as Queen Ravenna

It was like Christmas morning for the three-time Oscar-winning (ChicagoMemoirs of a GeishaAlice in Wonderland) and BAFTA-winning (Sleepy HollowMemoirs of the GeishaAlice in Wonderland) costume designer Colleen Atwood when she was called up to dress the characters from Snow White and the Huntsman – and once again for the recently released prequel The Hunstman: Winter’s War. In fact, she has gone all out and created a total of 2,000 costumes for Rupert Sanders’ version of the Brothers Grimm fairy tale!

The most noticeable work Atwood has done for the movie is, of course, the copious wardrobe for Queen Ravenna, Snow White’s evil stepmother. It was an haute couture fashion show for this queen who desires to be the fairest of them all in her kingdom. Snow White has never and will never stand a chance in competition!

It starts off with an elaborate turquoise gown made from dung beetles shells and scattered sections from neck to toe that Atwood purchased from a flea market in Thailand. Another is a regal gold dress with a suave and suede cape and milliner that resemble a murder of angry crows, painfully hand-trimmed and mounted with rooster feathers, and cost the production close to USD32,000!

Inspired by her visit to The Wallace Collection Museum in London, which houses artworks of the 18th and 19th centuries by the first four Marquesses of Hertford and Sir Richard Wallace, son of the fourth Marquess, Atwood breathes life to Queen Ravenna’s battle gown, which she promptly dubbed as “the porcupine dress.” The actress is outfitted in a chainmail gown with leather spike detailing and a linking ring attached to the chainmail. Three copies of the dress were made, and each structured with stretched panels for her showdown with Snow White.

Lastly, arguably the fairest of all the gowns is Queen Ravenna’s wedding gown. The severely corseted pleat dress is built from scratch with fabrics found in Paris and golden detailing in Italy, with fine leather embroidery holding together an open collar with caged skeleton for sleeves.


Meryl Streep as The Witch

Besides designing a wardrobe fit for a queen, two years later, Colleen Atwood took up the challenge to dress up Meryl Streep’s witch character that subsequently garnered her an Oscar nomination for Best Costume Design, much like her previous works for Snow White and the Huntsman.

“This is my love letter to the textiles, crafts artists, and embroiders,” Atwood said during her interview with Pret-a-Reporter when speaking about Streep’s wardrobe, which is a direct representation of well, the woods!

The dress started out as mere leather cords that can be twisted about and crinkled chiffon fabrics to resonate the real bark of a tree, yet still feeling lightweight and feminine. Complementing the dress is the work of hair stylist Peter Swords King, who is known for using fabric dye instead of chemical hair colours. Meant predominantly for wool, silk, and cotton, King uses this method on Streep’s hair wig, and gives it the perfect hair treatment – rollers, backcomb, tongs, hairspray – until it’s a perfect dreary and drab blue on the actress’ head before he messes it up for that old hag witch look.

Perch the three-time Oscar-winning actress onto four-inch heels and accessorise her with larger-than-life jewellery and nails and voila! You got yourself an all round singing witch to all of Grimm Brothers’ fairy tales!



Tilda Swinton as Jadis, the White Witch

Although it has been more than 10 years since the first of the Narnia movies was released, and many witches have come and gone in the meantime, one that still stays ever memorable in our minds is Tilda Swinton’s role as Jadis, the White Witch. Other than the captivating movie settings and the astounding performance of the Oscar- and BAFTA-winning actress, it’s also thanks to costume designer Isis Mussenden and her “Seven Transformation of the White Witch” wardrobe.

According to Mussenden’s interview with a Narnia fansite, The Wardrobe Door; “I think of it more as her evolution. She goes from icy white to midnight blue, and her silhouette narrows and grows as her sense of power is diminished or reinstated.” Hence, the White Witch’s wardrobe has everything to do with symbolism in relation to the lifespan of an ice.

Using fabrics from countries all over the world like Scotland, Italy, France, and China, as well as fashion capitals like Los Angeles, New York, and London, and even from a couple of specifically commissioned manufacturers, such as Stansborough Weavers in New Zealand and Thistle Hill in America, Jadis’ wardrobe starts off with a layer of velvet dye with resist areas for the modelled look before the second layer of felted wool and silk is added, in which the sheen of the silk provides ice-like lines for aesthetical depths. Lastly, a layer of lace comes in, made of metallic thread and organza pieces dyed, sewn and burnt into the fabric. Ice crackles in scales large and small were then drawn onto the hem of the dress to create the illusion of height for a powerful witch that towers over her minions and enemies.

The subtlety applied to the dress may have gone unnoticed like the coming of the winter season, but overall, it is definitely a Winter Wonderland, quite a sight to behold upon Tilda Swinton when presented to the world.

This article was featured in the HANGER SS15 issue.