The Beauty And The Beast Of Costume Design

Photo 1: Disney’s 1991 animated version of Beauty and the Beast. Photo 2: Susan Egan as Belle (L) and Terrence Mann as Beast (R) in 1994 Beauty and the Beast on Broadway. Photo 3: Dan Stevens as Beast (left) and Emma Watson as Belle (right) in Disney’s 2017 Beauty and the Beast. Photo courtesy of Disney

Valentine’s Day flew by so fast this year but since every day is a celebration of love, let’s celebrate again by talking about one of the most heartwarming, romantic, and beautiful tales as old as time — Beauty and the Beast.

If you are not too familiar with this classic story, it follows a young French woman by the name of Belle (meaning ‘Beautiful’ in French) and a young Prince named Adam. As punishment due to Prince Adam’s selfish and superficial acts, he is turned into a beast. The Beast lives alone in a castle in the woods along with his servants but in order to be free of that curse, he must find someone to truly love him by his 21st birthday — if not he and his servants will live enchanted forever. Ironically Belle finds her way to the castle, thanks to her father, and the rest is history (well THEIRstory).

For more insight, Beauty and the Beast was originally a fairy tale written by Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villenueve. An interesting fact, Villenueve was inspired by a man named Petrus Gonsalvus, who happened to have Hypertrochosis, a condition that results in excessive hair growth. The inspiration for Belle was named Catherine, who was a daughter to one of the court servants where Gonsalvus was taken in. French fairy tale writer Jeanne Marie Le Prince de Beaumont created her own version of the work which became the most well-known version to this day. Her version has inspired many different adaptations of the story, including the ones we will be talking about in this piece: The 1994 Tony Award-winning Broadway musical and the 2017 Disney live-action movie adaptation of Beauty and the Beast.

American costume designer Ann Hould-Ward pictured at Broadway show ‘A Catered Affair’ meet and greet

There are many characters and elements to the story but if there’s one thing that people will remember, it’s Belle’s elegant ball gown and Prince Adam’s bold suit. But who is behind these creations and how did they come to be? Let’s first meet Ann Hould-Ward.

Ward is an established American costume designer who has worked with the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus and the American Ballet Theatre. She has also designed for many shows including Into the Woods, The Color Purple, and The Nutcracker. The multi-award-winning Montana native has a lot of experience in the fashion industry but she actually got her start, designing clothes for her paper dolls. She would later graduate with a degree from Mills College and the University of Virginia, eventually moving on to work for her mentor and one of her inspirations — Patricia Zipprodt whose own award, the Patricia Zipprodt Award for Innovative Costume Design from the Fashion Institute of Technology named in honor of the late legendary talented costume designer, was given to Ward in 2001.

Those paper doll clients surely paid off because just years later she would land the opportunity of a lifetime — getting to design the costumes for Disney’s 1994 Broadway production of Beauty and the Beast, just three years after the animated version had been released. This was such a huge moment for Ward because this was the first time that Disney would be taking a dive into the Broadway world.

So what was the process behind the two iconic looks? Ward repeatedly mentions a method that she uses throughout many of the shows that she has designed for. Catering to her love of drawing, she first sketches out her ideas. As mentioned in a 2018 interview with Broadway World, Ward describes the importance of sketch stating that “A truly good sketch tells the dialogue of the character with the show and enlightens the director and actor as to where the tactile world of the character exists. It is the road map to good work.” 

After sketching she then moves on to the costume shop where she brings her ideas to life. That is where the draping happens and the fabric choice is made. The fitting is next where the team makes sure that the actors can move freely and comfortably in the costumes. Lastly, it is showtime. Ward expresses that this is one of the most important moments because the costumes are now for the actors to own and for the audiences to enjoy.

Surprisingly the process was not too difficult when it came to Belle’s costume. In an article by Andrew Andler, Ward stated that she, “spent a week with the animators who created the different characters, talking with each one of them, seeing what their research was because they did massive amounts of research.” She also, “studied the initial story of ‘Beauty and the Beast,’ the historical nature of the story as a French fairytale from the mid-1700s.” I admire Ward’s dedication to the original work and her determination to make sure that even though she puts her own spin on the costumes, she still stays true to the original designs that we all know and love. She even went as far as using The Leah factor, a self-made technique named after her daughter who at the time was 5 years old. 

In an interview done with the South Florida Sun Sentinel, the show’s scenic designer Stanley A. Meyer described the Leah Factor stating that it was where Leah would have to approve everything saying things such as “Oh no, Mommy, Belle’s ballgown has to be yellow. It can be gold, but it can’t be pink.” 

The Leah factor worked well because the dress is absolutely stunning. This extravagant, 30 pound, floor-length, off-the-shoulder golden and yellow gown is rounded with draped fabric to create the classic Belle look. The corset-shaped top half of the gown is filled with ribbon, bows, and flowers — with the center of the top having a corsage-looking piece. The dress has many layers of tulle making sure that the gown is as puffy and graceful as possible. On the skirt of the dress lies many golden bows. The actress Susan Egan who plays Belle in the Broadway musical wears a beaded necklace with jewel earrings and a flower hairpiece to add to the costume. Although contrasting Belle’s original yellow ones, the gown is paired with cream-colored fishnet elbow gloves to complete the look.

As for the Beasts’ costume, it took a little longer. According to an interview done with CNN Entertainment News, New York, Ward had drawn “20 different versions of the Beast” before she and the creative team decided on the final look. Terrence Mann who played the Beast in the Broadway musical underwent 27 fittings and hours of prosthetics just to make sure that the Beast look was just right. 

David H. Lawrence was the make-up artist and hair designer for the show and John Dods was the prosthetics specialist. Dods actually stated that little makeup was needed in the process since most of the Beast’s face and claws were done using prosthetics. The Beast’s jaw and monstrous teeth were very interesting since they were not dentures but prosthetics as well. Two sharp teeth stuck up from the bottom while the top teeth hung down over Mann’s actual teeth to enable him to sing while in costume. Mann wears a wig cap over his hair allowing him to display a headpiece with two large curved horns attached. The horns are fierce and appear as though they are coming straight at you. 

Lawrence collaborated with Dods in bringing the look to life. Staying true to Ward’s overall theme of wanting the costumes to look as if a human being had actually been enchanted, he was able to blend hair into the prosthetics to give it a realistic and believable look. Mann dons a baby blue bow on the back of his hair, reminding you that he is still a prince. To give Mann a more striking figure, he wore a bodysuit. The bodysuit had built-in muscles and extended his head and back out to give him a broad figure. 

As for his attire, Mann wears a blue cuffed tailcoat lined beautifully with extravagant gold and silver detailing. Under the coat lies a vertical striped vest that almost perfectly camouflages into the coat and placed directly on top is a jabot matching the lapel (flap on the tailcoat). In most of his looks, the Beast has a golden chain necklace with a large oval pendant which is also worn when the Beast wears his purple cloak. To complete the costume Mann wears black side-striped pants tucked into tall boots that also have special detailing. If this sounds like a lot, it is! It is said that it took over three hours at first to put everything together but once the team got the hang of it took less than half the time. It also took three people to help the Beast get dressed which is the literal definition of teamwork!

I really admire Ward, Dods, and Lawrence’s work when it came to bringing Beauty and the Beast to the stage. Their healthy balance between creative freedom and respect towards other artists’ works is what art is all about! Ward’s determination and hours of work paid off because she even earned a Tony award for her costume design. That led her to the opportunity to work on other versions of Beauty and the Beast. Here are a few of my favorites:

Now that we have seen Beauty and the Beast on Broadway let’s fast forward about 23 years later. Disney has just released its live-action Beauty and the Beast movie. What could have changed between the musical and the movie? How were the costume designs and processes in the movie different from the musical? In order to answer this, let’s now get to know Jacqueline Durran.

Costume designer Jacqueline Durran pictured in front of the Oscar’s sign at the Oscar’s

You may have heard Durran’s name floating around at a few award shows, or even on our website! That is because she has left such an impact on the entertainment industry. Nominated for an Academy Award for her work on Little Women and Pride and Prejudice, Durran has made her mark. Ironically the British fashion designer did not attend the Royal College of Art in London to study fashion and costume design. In fact, throughout her entire college experience and even after graduation she did not even know that costume design was a career option.

It was not until she started working at Angels, a costume store and London landmark, that she discovered her knack for vintage clothing and dating different wear. Durran stresses the idea of experience and how it has helped her navigate through the costume world. Her assignments working on several movies while at the store pushed her even further to more opportunities. Mirroring Ann Hould-Ward, Durran also assisted respected figures in costume design: Lindy Hemming (Wonder Woman 1984), Mike Leigh (Secret & Lies), and Joe Wright (Pride & Prejudice). Using a combination of her mentors, experience, and interest in older styles of clothing, Durran would be the perfect candidate for Beauty and the Beast.

It fascinates me how different each experience was for the designers. Ward actually stated that Belle’s costume was not as difficult as trying to turn the rest of the cast into cookware. On the other hand, in an interview with ScreenSlam, Durran describes the process behind the yellow dress claiming that, “the yellow dress was one of the most difficult things to achieve” and in an interview with Disney Style,  Durran states that, “the yellow dress is a curious costume because it’s quite simple and quite difficult at the same time. The iconic yellow dress from the animation is so great and so well-loved that you don’t really want to change it.” 

Durran expresses her challenges with trying to live up to the expectations of not just the audience and their known interpretation of Beauty and the Beast but also trying to combine the actor’s, director’s and designer’s ideas together to reference the animation of one of the most beloved Disney princess movies. Some of Durran’s other challenges included elements in the story such as the time period, setting, and tricky scenes between the animated movie and the live-action version. 

So with all of this pressure on trying to make sure that Belle’s costume was lovable where did Durran start? Well, she actually took a very different approach when it came to Belle’s costume and character as a whole. Durran focuses on one main idea throughout the entire process which is to present Belle as an active heroine. Belle is the daughter of an inventor, so when it came to her designs she wanted to add elements of practicality and freedom. Belle’s rebellious and curious nature paired with her love of adventure was also taken into consideration when creating the dress.

Durran and the creative team endured a long design process where they tried out different looks and ways of how to interpret the gown. She already knew that the dress was going to be yellow but it was just a matter of how they were going to make it and how close it could be to the animated version. Durran and her creative team came to the conclusion that the dress just needed to flow, especially in the way that Belle was always on the move. She made sure to communicate a lot with Emma Watson, who played Belle, to get her input on the costume. 

Contrasting from the musical, Belle does not have a corset but rather a bodice to accentuate Belle’s need for motion. For even more liberation she adds boots to her wardrobe. As described by Durran, the dress had a “soft structure which was built up by many meters of silk organza that was all dyed yellow and cut broadly in a circular shape so it emphasized her movement” (ScreenSlam).  

Using the 18th century as a guide the team actually made Belle’s dress into a coatdress with a split front helping to add volume to it. The skirt of the dress was created with “petticoats and layers of satin organza” (Disney Style). To stay true to Belle’s active heroine trait, three tiers were added to the dress giving Belle the opportunity to dance as easily as she would like and to give the ruched look that the original animated film had. 

For accessories, Belle has a golden ear cuff that wraps around the sides of her ear, acting almost in an earthly manner. She wears a matching golden cuff around her bun similar to the one that Belle wears in the animated film. The last piece is a simple gold necklace that has a tree/plant-like pendant that feels organic.

We can also thank Durran for the Beast costume. She mentioned that in preparation for the film the costume team was working on physical costumes for the Beast. They were never aware of the Beast would be a prosthetic or CGI (Computer-generated imagery) so they just made 3-dimensional beast costumes. If you have not seen Beauty and the Beast yet the Beast is actually CGI.  

The process behind live-action to CGI is magnificent. Actor Dan Stevens who played the Beast recalled having to wear a big muscle suit while on stilts to capture the movements needed to film the movie. Durran stated that the visual effects department scanned the 3-dimensional costumes that she and the team made and then applied those physical costumes that were created to the CGI beast.  

Along with Belle, Durran also faced challenges with creating the Beast. One of the main challenges that were faced was trying to get the right shape and fit for the Beast. Sometimes the movies needed to switch out actors or do a stunt so there were many different people inside of the Beast costume. And making sure that they had different versions of the costume for each person definitely proved to be a little tough. The Beast also changes form throughout the movie so going from an animal-like character to a human kept her and her team on their feet. But they were able to do it! Like in the musical, the Beast is wearing a dark blue cuffed coat lined with golden detailing. The detailing though resembles a tree, looking very similar to Belle’s hair and earpiece, almost as if it symbolizes their relationship. The coat is also lined with golden buttons. Like the musical costume, the Beast wears a fancy patterned lace jabot to give him that 18th-century prince look. The horns differ however with the curved horns growing backward away from the audience.

Just in the way that Prince was inspired by Villenueve to write Beauty and the Beast in her own style, so were and many were Ward, Durran and so many others still to this day. I wish to continue to see different interpretations of the story and hope to one day be a part of such a wonderful journey. If you have not, please take the chance to watch Beauty and the Beast on Disney+ I hope you all had a wonderful and safe Valentine’s Day! How did you celebrate this year?

Watch Disney’s Beauty and the Beast, Now Streaming on Disney +


If you are interested in learning more about each design, the designers or the story behind Beauty and the Beast feel free to check out these sources!

Adler, Andrew. “Ann Hould-Ward’s Costumes Give ‘Disney’s Beauty and the Beast,’ at the Saenger Theater Dec. 29-Jan. 3.” NOLA.com, 22 Dec. 2015, 11:09pm, http://www.nola.com/entertainment_life/arts/article_e6cfbbcd-cf67-5665-ab4e-1fc6c171291d.html.

Bayley, Leanne. “Emma Watson on Belle’s Yellow Dress in Beauty and The Beast & How It Felt to Wear It.” Glamour UK, Glamour UK, 14 Mar. 2017, http://www.glamourmagazine.co.uk/article/belles-yellow-dress-beauty-and-the-beast-interview.

Beresford, Trilby. “Meet Oscar Nominated Costume Designer Jacqueline Durran.” Medium, Amy Poehler’s Smart Girls, 2 Mar. 2018, amysmartgirls.com/meet-oscar-nominated-costume-designer-jacqueline-durran-4ad3bef4cef6.

Gray, Channing. “Ann Hould-Ward Talks about Designing Costumes for ‘Beauty and the Beast,’ Making a Return Visit to PPAC.” Providencejournal.com, Providencejournal.com, 24 May 2013, 12:30pm, http://www.providencejournal.com/article/20130524/ENTERTAINMENT/305249989.

Hagwood, Rod Stafford. “Tale ‘as Old as Time’ Gets New Twist.” SunSentinel, 11 Nov. 2011, http://www.sun-sentinel.com/entertainment/events/fl-xpm-2011-11-11-fl-features-beauty-beast-advance-20111111-story.html.

Hebert, James. “Preview: ‘Beast’ Is a Bear to Wear.” Tribune, San Diego Union-Tribune, 17 Nov. 2015, 9:27am, http://www.sandiegouniontribune.com/entertainment/theater/sdut-beauty-and-the-beast-preview-2015-2015nov17-htmlstory.html.

Hodgins, Paul. “’Beauty’ Was No Beast for Costume Designer.” Orange County Register, Orange County Register, 15 Nov. 2010, 8:05am, http://www.ocregister.com/2010/11/15/beauty-was-no-beast-for-costume-designer/.

Hoggard, Liz. “Ann Hould-Ward: ‘My Dad Was a Dry-Land Farmer, He Taught Me to Work Real Hard’.” The Stage, 17 Feb. 2020, http://www.thestage.co.uk/features/ann-hould-ward-my-dad-was-a-dry-land-farmer-he-taught-me-to-work-real-hard.

Hoo, Fawnia Soo. “How Jacqueline Durran Went From Selling Vintage Post-Grad to Winning an Oscar for Costume Design.” Fashionista, Fashionista, 3 Feb. 2020, fashionista.com/2020/02/little-women-jacqueline-durran-costume-designer-career.

Hoo, Fawnia Soo. “How the ‘Beauty and the Beast’ Costume Designer Worked With Emma Watson to Bring a ‘Modern’ Belle to Life.” Fashionista, Fashionista, 13 Mar. 2017, fashionista.com/2017/03/beauty-and-the-beast-2017-dress-costumes.

Jesse. “Jacqueline Durran Wiki: Everything To Know About The ‘Pride & Prejudice’ Costume Desgner.” Panda Gossips, 11 Apr. 2018, pandagossips.com/posts/2298.

Lanes, Elliot. “BWW Interview: Theatre Life with Ann Hould-Ward.” BroadwayWorld.com, BroadwayWorld.com, 6 Aug. 2018, http://www.broadwayworld.com/washington-dc/article/BWW-Interview-Theatre-Life-with-Ann-Hould-Ward-20180806#:~:text=Ann%20Hould-Ward%20Today’s%20subject%20Ann%20Hould-Ward%20is%20both,limited%20just%20to%20the%20theatre%20by%20any%20means.

Lang, Kevin. “The True Story Behind Beauty and the Beast.” HistoryvsHollywood.com, History vs. Hollywood, 24 Oct. 2019, http://www.historyvshollywood.com/reelfaces/beauty-and-the-beast/.

Staff, Playbill. “Look Back at the Original Broadway Cast of Beauty and the Beast.” Playbill, PLAYBILL INC., 18 Apr. 2020, http://www.playbill.com/article/look-back-at-the-original-broadway-cast-of-beauty-and-the-beast.

Syme, Rachel, and Rebecca Mead. “How Jacqueline Durran, the ‘Little Women’ Costume Designer, Remixes Styles and Eras.” The New Yorker, 13 Jan. 2020, http://www.newyorker.com/culture/on-and-off-the-avenue/how-jacqueline-durran-the-little-women-costume-designer-remixes-styles-and-eras?irclickid=W7iWzv1Z8xyLRygwUx0Mo38-UkEWfxQ5yS6pwE0&irgwc=1&source=affiliate_impactpmx_12f6tote_desktop_Bing+Rebates+by+Microsoft&utm_source=impact-affiliate&utm_medium=2003851&utm_campaign=impact&utm_content=Logo&utm_brand=tny.

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