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The costumes of the live Beauty and the Beast show are largely faithful to the 18th century setting of the story – with one big, obvious exception.

Belle Gown From Beauty And The Beast

Belle Gown From Beauty And The Beast

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Actress Emma Watson (left) had creative input on the version of Belle’s iconic ball gown she wears in the live-action Beauty and the Beast

At the start of Disney’s Beauty and the Beast live show, we see the Prince in all his glory: a powdered wig, an embroidered waistcoat and jacket, and a face full of make-up. Overwhelmed by courtiers in panniers and lace cuffed sleeves, it’s pure 18th century excess. Cut to a quiet village, where the styles are simpler but the mood is intact: waistcoats, blouses, and jackets. When Belle steps out of her door in a shift with too-tight sleeves and a blue dress with a slim A-line skirt and bodice with no support or visible lace, we know who she is. But her anachronistic dress invites the question: What is she doing here?

The princesses are such a prominent subset of Disney’s stable of characters that they affect everything from the company’s film slate to entire sections of its theme parks. And perhaps none of the new generation of princesses is as powerful as Belle.

In addition to being the only Oscar nominee for Best Animated Picture, Beauty and the Beast managed to create a gangbusters direct-to-video sequel and the record-breaking remake this year; Disney World’s Magic Kingdom recently unveiled a Beauty and the Beast land, with Tokyo Disneyland planning one of its own. Call for

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Experiences are so high this spring that Disneyland’s Pinocchio restaurant has been transformed into the Red Rose Taverne.

Belle is the jewel in Disney’s crown, and her success is so important that even the costume design around her isn’t going to stand in her way, even if it doesn’t make sense for the setting or the character. Belle’s iconic outfits – particularly her simple day blue dress and voluminous gold gown – are great for the brand; they are more awkward about the story.

Until now, Disney’s live-action remakes have balanced their aesthetic against the sheer cultural momentum of the Disney princess. The results varied. In Maleficent, a younger Aurora had medieval silhouettes so different from the original that a comparison is deliberately useless. 2015’s Cinderella abounded in Adrian-inspired fantasy Victoriana that bridged the gap between the animated film and the theatricality of the 1950s remake. Designer Sandy Powell came under fire for whistling Cinderella’s waist in the blue ball gown (270 yards of it), but the dresses were lush enough that they received an Oscar nomination.

Belle Gown From Beauty And The Beast

Costume designer Jacqueline Durran has been more faithful to the look of the animated original than any live-action princess film before her; the folding of her 18th-century costumes brings real-world detail to the animation’s cues.

Belle’s Costumes Don’t Fit The Live Action Beauty And The Beast, But They Fit Her Brand

But Belle doesn’t look the part, and arguably she was never really meant to. She was designed from the top down as a princess, dressed as a brand rather than a character – making her a living glimpse into the Disney nostalgia machine.

As a gothic romance with the flair of Jean Cocteau. Belle’s day dress featured panniers, and her ball gowns spanned possible time periods from the 1650s to the 1780s, including the forerunner of the now iconic gold number. But then

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It was revamped: Kirk Wise and Gary Trousdale were called in to direct, Howard Ashman and Alan Menken were asked to turn it into a musical, and Belle became Disney’s next great hope to establish a second generation of indelible – and marketable – princesses.

Belle Limited Edition Costume For Kids

Andreas Deja’s original concept art for Belle and the Beast. A Legend Before Time: The Art and Making of Disney’s Beauty and the Beast

As the story changed, Belle’s original aesthetic transformed into one that featured clean, slightly anachronistic lines unlike previous princesses. Belle’s familiar blue dress was simpler than Aurora and Snow White’s rustic getups, but the color also set her apart from them—and from everyone else in her small town. The golden gown she wears for her dance with the Beast was lifted out of time, with the crinolines and neckline removed from the film’s vaguely rococo trappings.

Within the universe of the animated film, Belle’s costumes sit uneasily; although she’s dialed back from the 18th century setting, enough of the silhouette remains elsewhere that we can tell her wardrobe has been pushed forward in time from everything around her. But as a character design, that dissonance suggests Belle’s progressive affinity for the unusual. And as brand markers, they work: whether she’s in a blue dress or ball gown, Belle is easy to spot across a crowded Disney park.

Belle Gown From Beauty And The Beast

Not that the parks have an easy time wearing it. Reconciling animated designs in three dimensions has been particularly difficult for Belle. Each Disney princess in the parks is renewed from time to time, a concession to the Disney princess brand as a living thing; each new parade is an excuse for a costume variation, and the occasional “special edition” refresh gives kids (and collectors) a whole new line of merchandise to buy.

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But some designs are more waterproof than others. Snow White is pretty much locked in, but Belle has been through at least half a dozen variations. (Previous versions have come closer to the animated film; its current iteration looks remarkably like a butter sculpture of Scarlett O’Hara.)

The Broadway musical took some cues from those early 18th century concepts. Miguel Angel Huidor’s stage versions of Belle’s blue dress include a tapered bodice with ribbon lacing, a loose-sleeved blouse, and full skirts; the golden gun includes a dress a la française elbow sleeves and panniers. Both looks are known as the Belle of the Disney princess, but she is also a Belle of her time.

(Her commitment to the 18th-century setting is so adamant that she even manages to sneak a caraco jacket into Belle’s wardrobe for the chilly nighttime rescues.) But otherwise, it seems that plan isn’t Belle worried about being part of the film around her; its intention is first and foremost to evoke the Belle brand.

No doubt under immense pressure to live up to Disney’s greatest princess by offering something recognizable and fresh, universal but distinctly Belle. He is also under pressure to deliver a princess who can appeal equally to two generations. (Cinderella’s ball gown was aimed at women, while her wedding gown was marketed to brides.) It’s a level of self-awareness that invites cynicism: Belle’s “celebration dress” is so distinctly modern that that it is hard to imagine it as anything

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A blueprint for another limited edition wedding dress; certainly no one wearing it is trying to evoke the 1780s—Belle least of all.

But Disney knows the pitfalls of faithful recreation by now, and Belle’s lack of obvious visual impact in the live-action film means they have something other than distinctive costumes in mind. Belle’s live-action appearance may have been detrimental in terms of functionality: opposite a CGI Beast with several costume changes, Belle is an uncanny valley on foot, and too much detail increases the gap between duds the real world and a computerized coat.

But if the Disney parks have found it difficult to nail down a design for Belle in the real world, and it would be nearly impossible for a faithful adaptation to live up to the perfect storm of nostalgia that has become the Belle brand without the concessions to texture and movement. we need a live-action costume, how the action could live

Belle Gown From Beauty And The Beast

Films, he has a reputation for styling. That interest led to creative input (and implied creative control) over her wardrobe at

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. Her styling traits are certainly recognizable in Belle: The “pink dress” in the Beast’s castle was made from sustainable fabrics, and sustainable fashion was one of the actress’s pet causes.

The golden gown is a taller order, however. Belle’s trademark outfit was crucial to the marketing of the new film; very similar to the

Ballgown before it, it would be a basic selling point for the aesthetic of the remake. Watson’s basic rule for his dogs was a direct reaction to that bee formal; as Durran told People, “Emma was pretty adamant that she didn’t want a big princess dress. … She wanted something she could move into and definitely wouldn’t wear a corset.”

Durran may have been clear about where credit is due because the dress was disappointing on film; it’s more Emma Watson dress than Disney wonder. The silk organza moves nicely, but the details – shimmering nylon overlays, rectangular petticoats, spray-painted embellishments – flatten the dress rather than distinguish it. As for the character design, the live-action costume should help rewrite one of Disney’s most iconic characters for a new generation. The main thing this gown tells us about Belle is that Emma Watson plays her.

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Apparently Disney doesn’t care. That ballgown got plenty of press (which is just as important as how it looked in the movie

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