How the 'Beauty and the Beast' costume designer reinvigorated Belle as 'active heroine'

PHOTO: Oscar-winning costume designer Jacqueline Durran created costumes for Belle set in the fairy tale world of 18th century France.PlayDisney
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The tall order of reimagining "Beauty and the Beast" as a live-action movie was a task made easier by the deft touch of veteran costume designer Jacquline Durran, who used her distinct style to create a clothing ensemble that updated the animated classic.

In order to bring Belle and the other cast of famous characters to life, the Oscar-winning designer focused on attention to detail, historical context and adaptation from mid-18th century France to create a more modern version of the story in the guise of lead actors Emma Watson (Belle) and Dan Stevens (The Prince/Beast).

In the original animated film, Belle first appears in town wearing a blue dress and corset. While Durran kept true to the color of the dress and apron, she swapped out a corset for bloomers and a bodice.

PHOTO: Oscar-winning costume designer Jacqueline Durran created costumes for Belle set in the fairy tale world of 18th century France.
Disney
Oscar-winning costume designer Jacqueline Durran created costumes for Belle set in the fairy tale world of 18th century France.

"We didn't want her to be a delicate princess but an active heroine, which is why her costume was designed with pockets where she could place books and things she might need," Durran explained of Belle in a question and answer session provided by Disney. In that vein, Durran gave her boots rather than delicate shoes, "so she could run around the village," she said. "Belle is very practical...she's an inventor."

Durran said part of her task meant mining the historical record to achieve historical authenticity.

"We found a set of bright, colorful block prints at LACMA [the Los Angeles County Museum of Art] in Los Angeles which gave us an 18th century view of all the regional costumes of France," she said. "They were absolutely beautiful, and they became our core reference for the crowd and ensemble costumes which establish the geographical location and life that we were creating in central France."

In order to establish a regional context for the village setting, Durran looked back at the historically eccentric details such as odd hat shapes, multiple skirts and dresses with aprons, like that of Belle's.

As for the iconic yellow ball gown of the original classic, Durran said "my aim was always to reinterpret the original costumes, flesh them out a bit and give them texture, but the starting point for Belle especially was the animation. We ended up creating a simple dress, because what was most important was the movement of the dress."

PHOTO: Oscar-winning costume designer Jacqueline Durran created costumes for Belle set in the fairy tale world of 18th century France.Disney
Oscar-winning costume designer Jacqueline Durran created costumes for Belle set in the fairy tale world of 18th century France.

Durran's soft structure design was built up with many meters of yellow dyed silk organza fabric that was cut in a broad circular shape to emphasize her movements. Attention to even the smallest details counted for Durran, who printed gold leaf onto the silk dress because the magical character Garderobe sprinkles gold from Belle's bedroom ceiling onto the dress.

Belle's gown at the end of the film, once the Beast's spell has been broken, was created from an 18th century woven silk apron pattern Durran purchased when she was still a student. "We found an artist in England who took the floral motif from that pattern and turned it into a painted design," she said. "The design was then hand painted on canvas and enlarged and printed digitally."

PHOTO: Oscar-winning costume designer Jacqueline Durran created costumes for Belle set in the fairy tale world of 18th century France.Disney
Oscar-winning costume designer Jacqueline Durran created costumes for Belle set in the fairy tale world of 18th century France.

She played off that happy scene and Belle's floral print in order to create the right ensemble for the Prince as well.

"It is obviously a joyful occasion, so it just seemed right that the Prince would be in blue to balance out Belle's floral dress," Durran explained. "That was always the plan, even before we decided to have the crowd dressed all in black and white, which forces the audience to focus on Belle and the Beast/Prince even more."

Again searching for historical accuracy, Durran covered the Prince's coat -- in the prologue of the film -- in Swarovski crystals, which would have been common for rich aristocrats in that time period. The coat was also embellished with the Prince's family crest, including intricate details with a wild boar, a dragon and a lion.

In perhaps the most modern twist of Durran's re-imagining was the effort she took to use a sustainable and ethical costume-design process for Belle's costumes in one of the film's extensive montages.

With help from consultants at Eco Age, which aims to help industries improve sustainability standards, the design team adhered to a set of criteria that included natural dyes, threads, trimmings and even sustainable leather.

"Everyone had to look at what they were doing and examine what materials we were using and find a way to make every single stage as ethical and sustainable as possible," Durran said.

But, she said, that exacting process did nothing to reduce the quality of the final product.

"The expectations for all of Belle’s costumes were quite high, but we ended up with some beautiful dresses that reference the animated film but are still unique to this film."

"Beauty and the Beast" hits theaters March 17.

The Walt Disney Co. is the parent company of ABC News.

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