Vanity Fair recently published a piece outlining Maleficent costume designer Anna B. Sheppard’s efforts to create an innocent, age-appropriate, non-sexualizing costume for 14-year-old Elle Fanning, who plays princess Aurora in the new Disney hit.
“I really walked away from that [animated] image [of Aurora] completely. I wanted something really girly and innocent and also closer to nature.” With those constraints, Aurora’s off-the-shoulder necklines in the original did not make much sense. In fact, Sheppard was so intent on maintaining Aurora’s modesty that she incorporated a conservative layer of chenille under Aurora’s costumes and insisted on sleeves so long that they almost covered her hands.
Instead of the hourglass silhouettes that [Disney animation director Marc] Davis championed in the original [1959 animated film], Sheppard strove for “very long, very fluid, and not sexy at all” shapes to Aurora’s costumes.
It is rare and refreshing for a costume designer to not only swim against the tide of sexualizing teen girls on screen — one survey of recent film releases found that 33.8% of female teen characters on screen were depicted in sexy clothing, and 28.2% were shown with exposed skin in the cleavage, midriff or upper thigh regions — but to actively seek to emphasize innocence and modesty in the costume design.
More importantly, audiences are embracing this vision – Maleficent’s opening weekend box office topped $70 million domestically, and $100 million internationally — especially women and families. Sixty percent of audiences for Maleficent were female, 45% families, and 18% teens.