The live-action adaptation of Belle’s iconic dress was revealed a while ago and I have been mulling it over for a while. I think it’s going to bug me. Particularly when she’s joined by the Beast in his gold-embroidered blue coat and swathes of lace, her dress looks too flimsy, too simple, too contemporary.
Emma Watson had a say in the dress. In Entertainment Weekly, she says, “I really embraced working on the dress, making sure that it was utterly whimsical, and magical.” The problem is, it just doesn’t look that whimsical and in a film that so far appears to evoke the 18th century so beautifully, it simply doesn’t fit. Jacqueline Durran says, “In Emma’s reinterpretation, Belle is an active princess. She did not want a dress that was corseted or that would impede her in any way.” Of course, women in the 18th century were active. Corsets were often worn sensibly, loosely laced. They provided the necessary structure for the gowns of the period, particularly taking into account the lack of modern underwear. Women of all classes wore corsets and, of course, the fashions of the time, and many of those women performed physical tasks. They worked and they played. Certainly, women in magnificent gowns were capable of dancing. There seems to be a basic disconnect with the lived reality of 18th century fashion. Furthermore, the dress that Belle wears needs to be the most fantastical concoction. It needs to be rich and adorned. The image below of Louis XV’s mistress is from the decade or so after publication of Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve’s “Beauty and the Beast” (1740) and gives an idea of the elaborate nature of aristocratic fashion. It simply wasn’t minimalist.
The stage productions of Beauty and the Beast have been better at capturing the amazing concoction of the dress. I particularly admire more recent productions.
The gown sparkles, as you can see from the trailer, and, of course, Maas is able to sing and dance in it. I’d even hazard that the stage Beast is more attractive than what looks like a CGI’d Beast from the film.