If your memories of Snow White harken back to your Disney days, you’ll be blown away by director Tarsem Singh’s new adaptation, Mirror Mirror.
Visually, the film is the final masterwork of costume designer Eiko Ishioka, passed way from pancreatic cancer in January at the age of 73. Ishioka, who won an Oscar for her work on Francis Ford Coppola’s Dracula, created mind-blowing, surrealistic costumes that elevate the Grimm’s fairy tale to a spectacular, visually stunning, cinematic experience, starring Julia Roberts, Lilly Collins, Armie Hammer and Nathan Lane.
The size of the gowns alone is staggering: The Evil Queen (Roberts) and Snow White’s (Collins) gowns measure 5’8” to 6’ in circumference, handmade from 25-35 yards of fabric, with huge wire cages and corsets underneath. The Queen’s piece de resistance wedding gown weighed a toppling 60 lbs and was 8 ft in diameter.
Singh has worked with Ishioka on all his films, his dream-like virtual reality thriller, The Cell starring Jennifer Lopez, The Fall and his most recent mythical epic, The Immortals.
“From the moment I worked with Eiko, there was no other,” Singh says. “There was no going back if you wanted something fantastic.”
The designer had been undergoing chemotherapy during the filming of Mirror Mirror, but Singh marveled at her productivity. "You would never have known. She only had two speeds. Full throttle and stop. We never had to wait for costumes," he recalled.
The size of the costumes and scope of her final film -- over 400 costumes made for the movie, then renting, altering another 600, as well as creating costume masks, jewelry and sailing ship hats -- seems daunting. After her sketches were approved, Ishiko had the main characters clothes built in 4 New York shops: Tricorne costumes, Jennifer Love Costumes, Carelli Costumes and Eric Winterling Costumes. The rest of the cast’s garb was built in her shop in Montreal, using local costumers and craftsman.
After brief conversations with the filmmakers, the costume designs were Eiko’s concepts, all subtly revealing the characters’ arcs and personalities.
For Snow White’s first appearance, Ishioka’s only direction was that the princess was “connected to nature.” Tarsem recalls: “She came back with a feminine gown with embroidered hummingbirds, butterflies and flowers that said it all.” The princess’s costume ball gown has a lower neckline, and a swan wings, indicating a desire for freedom, to escape from the Queen's grasp.
And Ishioka wanted Snow’s last costume – a blue and orange wedding dress -- to make her look like a gift to the prince and the audience. The costume was initially made in red and blue but was changed to orange to at the last minute to avoid comparisions to a certain Disney character.
By contrast, the Queen’s costumes have sharp strong shoulders, high necks and sliced layers of fabric around the neck to give the feeling of power, sharpness and danger.
One of Singh’s favorite scenes is of Collins wandering in a snowy white birch forest (inspired by a scene in a Russian film, Ivan’s Childhood) covered in a huge saffron-colored cape. “That is one of the most beautiful moments in the movie. She is like a ‘50s Technicolor character stepping into a black and white film.”
Ishioka never saw the finished film. But Collins recalls watching her gaze at the monitor during the ball scene. “She was seeing all of her incredible creations in one scene and it must have been so amazing and thrilling. But she was always so humble. All she did was smile.”