Welcome back to Look of the Week, celebrating the best in TV and film sartorial excellence, past and present across sci-fi, horror, fantasy, and other genre classics!
"The bad guy is always the most fun to dress," commented costume designer Sandy Powell in a 2014 Vogue interview while discussing Disney's live-action Cinderella. While the ball gown worn by Lily James is exquisite, it is Cate Blanchett as the evil stepmother who sartorially steals focus in every scene. A style icon on both the red carpet and on screen, her recent roles as the villain in Cinderella and Thor: Ragnarok prove that characters with nefarious motives also have the best wardrobes. To celebrate Blanchett's recent birthday (May 14) and the genre stunt queens she has played, here is a look back at the devilishly decadent costumes of the Stepmother and Hela, Goddess of Death.
Mayes C. Rubeo (who is returning for Thor: Love and Thunder) didn't hold back on the villainous details, working closely with Ironhead Studios to create the stunning signature antler headdress. Hela looks ready to step onto the set of Hannibal — now that is a dream crossover idea.
It isn't enough to set your sights on taking over the universe; you also have to dress the part and Hela certainly does this. Once finally freed from the prison her father put her in, her smokey eyes and tousled hair is a beauty edit that spells out a DGAF attitude. Her look suggests she is ready to take back what she believes is rightfully hers, followed by a few drinks at the nearest dive bar to celebrate. Talk about dressing for day-to-night activities. The ripped bodysuit is exactly what you would expect from someone with access to concealed swords.
Hela's black and green iridescent suit leans into a goth aesthetic while also being practically molded to her body. Only Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan) comes close to challenging Hela for the best-dressed MCU villain crown; everyone else should just retreat before attempting to stake a claim to this title. Even Loki (Tom Hiddleston) doesn't stand a chance in this particular (or any) battle against his adoptive older sister. As she stakes her claim to Asgard, she adds a cape to the cold-shoulder look. Every ruler needs the drama this garment serves when strutting down the extended rainbow runway of her kingdom. Putting on a show is part of the thrill of watching Hela, and Blanchett leans into the over-the-top antics.
Perception is just as important in Blanchett's role as the Stepmother in Cinderella, which sees a similar revel in power, albeit in a more measured way. Together with costume designer Sandy Powell — who was Oscar-nominated for this movie — the actor turned what could've been a run of the mill interpretation into a subtle tribute to old Hollywood. A lot of the live-action versions of Disney classics have been aesthetically pleasing but lacked depth, although the garments worn by Blanchett manage to be both striking and tell a larger story.
Much like adaptations of Shakespeare's plays, fairy tales can bend the period rules, which is why Powell chose a mix of centuries as inspiration. For the stepdaughters, their garish candy-colors gowns are inspired by sororities from the 1950s, as Powell told Vogue, "They are meant to be totally ridiculous on the outside — a bit too much and overdone — and ugly on the inside."
For their mother, Joan Crawford and Bette Davis served as reference points, as well as movies made in the '40s and '50s that depicted the 19th century (such as the 1949 adaptation of Little Women). This interpretation of an interpretation ensures the Stepmother's clothes draw the viewer's eye whenever she is on the screen (the only exception being at the ball, when no dress can touch the magical impact of Cinderella).
A green floral sequined entrance sets the tone, which is quickly usurped by a velvet teal fascinator matching her gown. The rich jewel tones that make up the Stepmother's closet are in contrast to Cinderella's (Lily James) mother's delicate gowns. Sure, they both have flowers on them, but one is the epitome of summer, the other offering a foreboding winter botanical lineup. High collars, exquisite materials, and the perfect accessories for each gown only add to this impression of her severity and desire for wealth. Joan Crawford's signature exaggerated shoulder pads and the nipped-in waist of the '40s further play into her malevolent appearance.
Cinderella's father clearly doesn't have a type; the only thing that connects the two women he married via their wardrobe is the floral motif. A bold red lip and a perfect manicure — a reminder she doesn't scrub floors — finish off the Stepmother's daily glam appearance.
Even her bedwear hits a level of elegance most would reserve for clothes to wear outside the house. A leopard-print velvet fancy robe is both highly covetable and worthy of much more than the breakfast table. This choice of pattern adds a level of ferocity to its villain at the heart of the story.
Although these are two very different approaches to decking out an antagonist in garments that make them stand out, both women draw power from the clothes they wear. Hela and the Stepmother might not get the victories they desired, but when it comes to best-dressed they take that title hands down.