Costume is art. The costume can tell a tale all on its own.
So take this gown.
Why? The film hasn’t come out and even based on the leaked script (which I haven’t read) I can’t surely be a fan of either the character or the film yet? Well true, maybe not. But costume is part of the art department and what art does in any form is make you think and feel,
Maleficent’s gown is the biggest Eff You I have seen in film for a very long time. It is on the same level of brilliance as Mina’s red gown in Dracula and Michelle Pfeiffer’s catsuit in Batman Returns. It’s on par with the world building the costumes affect in Game of Thrones- where one costume spoilt me months in advance.
When you design you do not just draw pretty things or interesting lines. You have to think about the character, their mind and spirit and how they are reacting to the world they live in. And how that world responds to them
Catwoman’s catsuit was literally Selina tearing down the life she had built, and had others build around her, and reforming it. She took a practical item (at least in this bizarre world) and made it into a symbol. Her costume says yes you objectify me but I will kick your ass for doing so. You treat me like this? I’ll take that and make you regret it.
Mina’s red gown is another iteration of Eiko Ishioka’s obsession with the raw self. Being literally and figuratively ablated, exposed. It’s hard to think of it as part of the same theme as Dracula’s armour from the same movie, or the foam latex muscle suits from The Cell or the lycra and paint/cord/ink piece from Der Ring des Nibelungen. It’s a concealing dress after all. But the texture, colour and self pattern in the form of organic leaves and striated pleats puts it firmly in place as a reminder that Mina conceals herself in the trappings of the society she lives in. In this gown she is letting herself see who she is and what she feels.
So Maleficent. What makes this gown over all her others so special?
In the world of the movie humans are very much dressed as we expect. At least what we expect from years of what Hollywood has shown us of the past. Which is mostly based on modern textures and materials, foundations and construction.
At the start Maleficent is a child of nature, her clothing is loose and flowing and not made from a drafted, and thus mass produced/industrialised. Even her other gowns seem to flow and drape with little relation to the methods used to create the costumes of humans. She is apart. And clearly so.
The gown she chooses to wear to the christening however is very complicated in structure. It mixes both draping and drafting techniques. It is fitted to the body but does not follow the lines of clothing worn by the members of the court.
Bias cutting alone makes the gown different. Bias cutting is so intrinsically different to even the most complicated multiple panel garment cut on the straight. It shifts and requires exquisite fit and shaping and multiple fittings. It is insanely personal and bespoke.
Maleficent has taken great care to dress herself splendidly for this court. Her fabric even mimics the watery weave of the king’s own robes. But again it is different. The texture is not woven but created by hand, organic and deliberately unable to be copied. A true one of a kind.
Her horns are covered but barely. The threat of nature is present though sheathed.
Her gown is bigger, more sophisticated than any other garment at the court. She outshines everyone. Yet the cut, fabric, and scale clearly single her out. No one could mistake her as being expected or meant to be there.
Her gown says everything her speech does. It says you tell me I don’t belong, well, that’s true; I am more than you.