'Maleficent: Mistress of Evil' costume designer shares the secrets behind the film's fairy-tale fashions (exclusive)

Ethan Alter
Senior Writer, Yahoo Entertainment
Angelina Jolie strikes a pose as Maleficent in 'Maleficent: Mistress of Evil' (Photo: Disney)

Five years ago, Maleficent offered audiences an alternate version of the traditional Sleeping Beauty narrative — one told from the point of view of the fairy tale’s supposed villain, played by Angelina Jolie. The Oscar-winning actress is back in Maleficent: Mistress of Evil, but the sequel — due in theaters on Friday — isn’t a one-woman show. Instead, the movie divides its time between three very different women caught in an emotional tug of war with dangerous ramifications. Holding one end of the rope is Jolie’s Maleficent, a Dark Fae who regards the outside world with suspicion and vice versa. On the other is Queen Ingrith (Michelle Pfeiffer), the cunning power behind the Kingdom of Ulstead’s throne. And caught in between them is Princess Aurora (Elle Fanning), who is poised to unite the human and fairy world via her marriage to Ingrith’s son, Prince Phillip (Harris Dickinson).

That central conflict, rooted in themes of maternity and personal independence, plays out both in trio’s interactions and also via their regal attire, designed by Emmy-winning costume designer Ellen Mirojnick. “The triangle between two mothers and a daughter is a great theme throughout fairy tales,” she tells Yahoo Entertainment. “And it’s a particularly strong theme in our story as well. It’s about fighting for a child’s love and a mother’s love at the same time. One very important thing about creating the designs is that these are three queens, and we had to decide how [their costumes] represented them individually and played opposite each other.” Here’s how Mirojnick cracked each character’s look for Mistress of Evil, with some exclusive sketches as illustration.

Maleficent

Because of Maleficent's own aversion to iron, no metals were used in the creation of Jolie's costumes (Photo: Disney)

“This is Maleficent 2.0,” Mirojnick says of the style evolution that Jolie’s alter ego has undergone between 2014 and 2019. “There’s far less cover-up that’s involved in her costumes, which exhibits her vulnerability and openness to what she’s about to learn.” Mistress of Evil marks Mirojnick’s third collaboration with Jolie after By the Sea and First They Killed My Father — both of which the actress also directed — and she credits her with recognizing how important costuming is to creating a fully rounded performance. “Angelina thinks of the totality of the film, and one of the things she felt is that Maleficent’s costumes should be very black and white, like a 1930s or 1940s movie star. That creates a very strong cinematic image, and also acts as a driving force throughout the course of her story.”

In keeping with Maleficent’s own aversion to iron, Jolie’s costumes are free of any and all metals. “Her accessories are all sculpted bone, and everything is made from organic material, sculpted in a way that represents her silhouette. We had these fabrics that were exceptionally fluid, and used different layers to create different tonalities.” The one thing that Mirojnick didn’t build were Maleficent’s wings, which exist only on a computer. “They’re fabulous wings, but they are digital. We always had markers to design around where the wings would go. They’re strong, they’re fierce and they’re gorgeous.”

Queen Ingrith

A sketch of the costume designs for Queen Ingrith's royal wardrobe (Photo: Disney)

While Princess Aurora’s engagement results in Ingrith and Maleficent’s firsts skirmish, their larger battle involves the future of their respective kingdoms. During the course of the movie, the solitary Dark Fae discovers she’s not as alone as she thought, but has no refuge to offer her winged comrades. And Ingrith isn’t about to let any non-humans through Ulstead’s gates. “She has a new plan for her kingdom,” Mirojnick says. “She’s very modern and independent in her approach to things in that she takes no prisons — she has an idea she wants to execute and she doesn’t want anybody in her way.”

Before Michelle Pfeiffer was cast as Queen Ingrith, the character was drawn with tall headdresses. This sketch takes the actress's proportions into account. (Photo: Disney)

Pfeiffer hadn’t been cast when Mirojnick first started designing Ingrith’s regal wardrobe, and once she joined the film, it required a significant change in direction. “Before Michelle, all of Ingrith’s ensembles had hat-like headdresses, which were not uncommon for this period. They were very elaborate as well: they travelled all the way up. But once Michelle was cast, it was clear that we shouldn’t do that. Instead, we worked with her hair designer and created [headdresses and crowns] that were very jeweled and accessorized. It was all in relation to Michelle’s proportion and what she was able to wear.”

Princess Aurora

A sketch of Princess Aurora (Elle Fanning) in her fairy-made blue dress (Photo: Disney)

With Aurora’s own coming of age a key part of the film’s narrative, Mirojnick designed Fanning’s clothes to “grow up” alongside her character. “Her first costume is very fairy-tale, and feels like it was made by fairies. It’s not a dress-dress made by someone in a castle; it’s a dress from nature, and has a leaf pattern in a very special blue yarn created by a great embroiderer named Cathryn Avison. It was the best way to introduce her.”

Fanning personally requested this Sleeping Beauty-style dress for her character (Photo: Disney)

According to the designer, Fanning herself personally requested a “Sleeping Beauty dress” for the ill-fated first dinner between Maleficent and Ingrith. “That dress also has hand-embroidery that were cut-out flowers, which were applied to the dress. It needed to feel as if all the little flowers were made by the fairies. It was her dressiest ensemble, since she was going to be having dinner at the castle and meeting Phillip’s parents.”

Aurora after she receives an Ingrith-led makeover (Photo: Disney)

That dinner inevitably ends badly, forcing Maleficent to flee after sustaining two wounds: one physical in the form of a metal projectile that pierces her wings, and the other emotional after watching Aurora side with Ingrith rather than her. Aware that she’s the favored mother figure, at least for now, the Queen moves quickly to make over her would-be daughter in her own image. The result is a more restrictive dress than the ones she wears in her forest dwelling. “It’s totally contrary to the other dresses, because it’s hand-loomed in the castle and very structured. She’s learning all about princess life in the castle, and what her duties will be. Aurora has to give up all of what and who she is to become this princess that Ingrith is trying to mold. You’ll see how unhappy she becomes.” And as Ingrith quickly comes to discover, you don’t make Aurora unhappy. You wouldn’t like her when she’s unhappy.

Maleficent: Mistress of Evil opens in theaters on Oct. 18.

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