The Message Behind The Mirror

Snow White

This year, in the short space of just a few months, there were two reworkings of the classic fairytale Snow White: Mirror Mirror and Snow White and The Huntsman (SWATH). Although the latter has now been overshadowed by the ridiculous spectacle the media has made of the affair between Rupert Sanders and Kristen Stewart and both films have ultimately failed to wow the critics, there’s still something to be said for the fairytale that inspired both the film and the fashion designers.

Perhaps you, like me, were first told the Ladybird Disney classic of the fairytale and then watched the 1937 Disney classic. Snow White was the first in a long line of Disney princesses, becoming fashion icons for little girls everywhere. We brought the t-shirts, the shoes and the princess costume dresses complete with the tiara.  We’re university students now, so we can only get away with channelling Disney princesses if it’s a fancy dress party. But one student blogger, Calli from LSU, saw her fashion blog soar in popularity when she began a series of Disney-inspired fashion. She showed young women how they could subtly incorporate the style of their favourite characters into their daily wardrobes. Needless to say it was a big hit, and it all began with a post on the fashion icon, ‘Snow White’ (Check it out: www.collegefashion.net/inspiration/fashion-inspiration-walt-disneys-snow-white/)

Both Mirror Mirror and SWATH, and their respective costume designers, took advantage of the fact that there is no definitive text. They’ve blown Disney’s Snow White out of the water, harkening back to the original Grimm’s fairytale and its variants to empower and modernise their respective Snow Whites.  Visually, Mirror Mirror is the final masterpiece of award-winning costume designer Eiko Ishioka, who died earlier this year from pancreatic cancer. As she underwent chemotherapy she worked tirelessly on the costumes, creating 400 costumes, altering 600 rented costumes and making all of the accessories. Each character’s costume subtly revealed their characters; Snow White’s affinity with nature displayed in a gown with embroidered butterflies, flowers and hummingbirds and her gentleness and femininity with soft, open necklines. Mirror Mirror, much like its Disney rival, sidesteps the darker elements of the fairytale while offering modern audience a different, feistier Snow White. There are so many stories where the prince saves the princess; it’s time to change the ending, with help from bold eyebrows and bolder colours. It’s now her fight.

On the other hand, SWATH embraces the danger and the darkness of the original Grimm’s fairytale where lips are as red as blood, hair is as black as night and insecurities and sexual jealousies proliferate. Much like Ishioka, three-time Oscar winter Coleen Atwood designs her costumes to reveal not only the arcs and characters of each person but intensify the dark edges of the story. It has to be said that sometimes the costumes did a better job of telling the story than the actresses themselves. Coleen Atwood, who is no stranger to tough times herself, dismissed ‘the puffball Snow White’ in favour of a ‘badass Snow White’, an insult which hits home for the puff-sleeved Disney version and to a certain extent, Lilly Collin’s Bollywood-ised Snow White. In an interview to Seventeen.com, Atwood said:

“Kristen’s Snow White is a totally different kind of character. She’s much less princess-y and more of a bad-ass girl. Her costume is leather with clamps and different stitching on it, so it’s quite different.”

After all, the only thing that could be more bad-ass than a leather wedding dress is Snow White’s decision to rule her kingdom without a man by her side.  Oh, we know that come the sequel it will be a toss-up between the childhood sweetheart and the huntsman and Snow White will eventually marry. And I love a good marriage – who doesn’t? But what is so bad-ass is that she does not need a man to live out her story, becoming who she is always meant to be.

Fairytales have always had the power to fascinate us, drawing us into a world that will haunt us in our own. Along with two full-length feature films, she has her own TV series and another one apparently in the works – I mean, that’s power. Then there are the several Snow White make-up collections, Atwood’s HSN clothesline and the translaion of Ishioka’s Mirror Mirror into ‘clothes fit for the modern heroine’? But what is it about the girl with skin as white as snow, lips as red as roses and hair as black as ebony wood?

It’s bordering on cultural obsession. It has to be more than her beauty. If I would dare to hazard a guess, it is her security that draws us. After all, she first hit the silver screen during the 1930s’ Depression and is now experiencing a resurgence in the wake of a worldwide recession that looks set to get worse before it gets better. In an uncertain world she is secure in who she is. The evil stepmother is as beautiful, but her insecurities make her a royal pain in the [fill in the blank]; constantly looking in mirrors and jealous of any rivals, real or imagined. Nothing has changed. Today in a world of lay-offs, loudmouths and letdowns, each woman has to fight off her insecurities. Yet we persist in using guys like mirrors, to see if we’re valuable. Desirable. Beautiful. And if we’re not looking to men for affirmation, we harbour resentment against those who have let us down, whose words and actions have left us feeling worthless. Men are as insecure as we are, and still we look to them, singing sweetly ‘Someday My Prince will come’.  Is there no validation of our womanhood apart from a man?

There just has to be.

Maybe if we start dressing like we’re part of a story, we might start thinking like her, and if we start thinking like her, we might start acting like her. Instead of being the queen, fighting off our insecurities, we would begin to fight not only for ourselves but something larger, like these modern Snow Whites. In these tales, there’s always a saviour, but we can’t just wimp out because he’s there. We also have take courage and live out our own stories.

Siobhan Dooley

Image – Wikimedia Commons