The Creepy Couture of 'Maleficent'
Using animal skins, bones and even teeth, three London designers, handpicked by Angelina Jolie, turned Disney's villain into a vision of vileness.
Imagine being a fledging British designer with a limited line of couture headgear. One day, an email pops up that reads: "Angelina Jolie has seen your work and really likes it. Will you come and meet with her?"
That's precisely what happened to London-based designer Rob Goodwin. "I was just blown away," he recalls. Similarly tapped were Manuel Albarran, a couturier of conceptual metal, corsetry and leather creations who mostly had been featured in edgy magazine editorials, and Justin Smith, a bespoke milliner.
All three were selected by Jolie two years ago as the personal team of designers responsible for transforming her into a stylishly foreboding villain -- accessorized with animal-skin-covered horns and jewelry made of real teeth and bones -- in Maleficent. Due out May 30, it's Disney's backstory of the anti-heroine introduced in the studio's 1959 classic Sleeping Beauty.
The trio soon was summoned to Pinewood Studios in Buckinghamshire, England, to meet Jolie, director Robert Stromberg and costume designer Anna B. Sheppard (an Oscar nominee for The Pianist and Schindler's List). Bringing on the team was all Jolie's idea, says assistant costume designer Oliver Garcia, who knew all three designers. None of them, however, had worked on a film before, let alone worked together as a collective.
Luckily they had an informed and inspirational leader: Jolie. "Angelina herself was the driving force behind creating the wardrobe for her character," says Sheppard. Adds Smith: "Every day we were talking to her and showing her different samples and doing fittings. All the designs were led by how Angelina envisioned the savage elegance of her character."
Team Maleficent's attention to Jolie's costumes freed Sheppard to handle the rest of the film's costumes -- no small feat given a cast of armies, a forest fairyland filled with precocious pixies and sweetly innocent Aurora (Elle Fanning), who would become Sleeping Beauty. Sheppard, who oversaw the overall design of Jolie's gowns, stepped onto the project with just eight weeks of prep time after the departure of the previous costume designer. "It was terribly scary because nothing was there. Not even one roll of fabric," she recalls. "Without the Team Maleficent designers, I would have been dead, and I am terribly grateful to them."
It fell to Albarran to create Maleficent's wicked accessories -- from animal skeleton rings and claw bracelets to feathered shoulder pieces -- using precious stones, crystals, leather and the odd bits of bone, teeth and even some human hair.
Goodwin reworked designer high heels and boots that Jolie prefers in real life (including many pairs of Vivienne Westwood), adding edgy touches like sharp bone heels.
Smith was in charge of the character's signature horned head wraps, done in ostrich, leather, stingray and endless fish skins. "There were seven head wraps based on the original character but giving her much more edge," he says.
It's not easy, nor is it comfortable, to sport horns, even the lightweight resin ones created by seven-time Oscar-winning FX makeup artist Rick Baker. (He also created cheek, ear and nose silicone prosthetics to exaggerate Jolie's features.) "We would wrap the skins around her head and the horns to make it look seamless," explains Smith. "It was a bit like fastening a nappy, a diaper, a very similar process."
Some of the head wraps gave Jolie headaches, and she very often couldn't hear through them. "I asked her if we should make holes so she could hear, and she was like, "No, no, no, it's fine," recalls Smith. "She was just brilliant and wonderful to work with."
This story first appeared in the June 6 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.