Move over Sanderson Sisters, there is a new coven in town!
While there is much debate about the 2020 remake of Roald Dahl’s The Witches and the revamp of this nostalgic childhood classic, the costumes in the newly released movie are not one of them. Costume Designer, Joanna Johnston has certainly raised the bar for all witch couture. Given the past working relationship on previous films between Joanna Johnston and director, Robert Zemeckis it appears kismet that they would come together to give a facelift to the imagery of the 1990 occult film.
The 2020 film takes place in 1968 as Charlie (Jahzir Bruno) is sent to his Grandmother’s home in Alabama following the death of his parents. His Grandmother, Agatha (Octavia Spencer) is a tough woman with a big heart who has a past childhood trauma regarding witches. When it is realized that there is a witch in their small poor town, they check into an expensive hotel near the Gulf of Mexico. Unfortunately, the hotel is riddled with witches as they are attending a farce convention held by the Grand High Witch (Anne Hathaway) to disperse the potion that will turn all of the world’s children into mice. Chaos ensues as Charlie inadvertently realizes their plan, is turned into a mouse, and plots to save the world from the evildoers.
Johnston’s take on the 1960’s era with her fabric patterns, silhouettes, colors, and details bring the story to life and define the characters splendidly.
As Agatha recants what she has learned about witches to date, it is noted that they prey on the lower-income communities where the parents are less likely to make a lot of noise or be heard in their plight regarding missing children. The costumes that adorn the witches evoke strong imagery that gives subtext to “clothing matters.” Children are more apt to accept candy from a mesmerizing affluent woman that oozes style than a common green-faced, pointy-nosed black hat-wearing hag or these demons in their true form that we see unveiled as the High Grand Witch removes her human décor.
The designs & choices for Agatha convey a woman with a strong sense of self, meticulous in the way that she presents herself to the world, aware of the judgmental eyes of the time period. There is a flawless blending of Agatha having a sense of pride in being presentable as well the chameleon-like ability to blend into the background if warranted. Through the color palette and floral prints of her clothing along with the pairing of earrings, hats, and brooches, it is clear that her character has a loving warmth without losing the ability to become a formidable force as needed. This is in stark contrast to the witches, whose wardrobe’s prints and silhouettes are more linear, bold, and stand out from a crowd.
Johnston’s stunning work in this film creates envy and lust over the witches’ wardrobe that may have some viewers, albeit brief, conflicted on who truly is the protagonist of the story.
Since the trailer premiered, fans of The Devil Wears Prada have been reeling over Anne Hathaway being reunited with Stanley Tucci for this film. The elation only continued to fester in anticipation as it was apparent that the roles had been reversed. Stanley Tucci, the hotel manager is no match for the steamrolling fashionista High Grand Witch, Anne Hathaway.
The HGW (High Grand Witch) first graces the screen with her impeccably dressed flange of cohorts, the monochromatic look commanding military-esque power. We see a slightly softer side of HGW as she relaxes in her suite letting her hair down (or off- so to speak) still radiating style in her tall pink turban and old Hollywood Glamour negligee, matching gloves and shoes.
The pique of transformation is revealed when her innocent pink cape with a bow is removed to reveal a more sinister side as she leads the convention with her fellow witches. The long form-fitting black gown is accessorized with a real gold snake that wraps around her neck to the floor giving way to the long pointed heels with snake print and gold accent with no small detail left unnoticed.
Johnston’s design of the pink web dress is a favorite design from the movie, with the pleated flared sleeves to the back/ pink printed pattern that is reminiscent of webbing, without being on the nose. The ombre gloves and cold steel jewelry finish off the look to perfection as elements of witchery are slowly indoctrinated into the design.
The HGW fashion evolution brings us from softer hair, lighter colors to high wig styling, darker prints/colors, and more angular silhouettes that we resonate with evil witches. In the dinner that starts the Rat-fication, we see the HWG in a black ensemble, her necklace giving Victorian Goth Vibes, the collar and belt paying homage to Disney’s Evil Queen while still staying true to Johnson’s vision, her design and voice echoing throughout the scenes.
While there will continue to be passionate opinions on the merit of the book versus the two film adaptations, one thing is certain, Joanna Johnston has wickedly left her mark with her undeniable costumes in this film.
Are you uncertain if you have a witch in your midst, especially when they may not be as remarkably dressed and awe-inspiring as those designed by Joanna Johnston? Stay safe and go through the checklist:
Are they wearing gloves? Witches wear gloves to cover their claws since they do not have hands like you or I.
Are they wearing a wig? Witches are bald and wear wigs or hats to cover their heads and the wig rash they experience.
Are they wearing pointed shoes? Witches do not have toes and/or can have one talon.
If you answered yes, then you may have encountered a witch? Do not under any circumstance accept any food, especially candy, from them.
You can view The Witches on HBO Max, streaming now.
IG – @joannajohnston_design
The Witches Movie
IG – @witchesmovie
IG – @Octaviaspenser
High Grand Witch
IG – @annehathaway
Mr. Stringer / Hotel Manager
IG – @stanleytucci