Mary Poppins’ entrance costume — a sleek coat with orange polka-dot lining — embodies the all-important elegance of the iconic English character: a powerful blue coloring, an eccentric patterned interior, and, according to costume designer Sandy Powell, a little bit of sexiness, too.
“She had to be elegant, and [Rob Marshall] wanted chic … he didn’t say sexy because I don’t think — Mary Poppins shouldn’t be sexy — but she is a little bit, isn’t she?” Powell told Variety.
“Mary Poppins Returns” marks the first musical for the three-time Oscar-winning costume designer, whose work spans a host of hit films, including “Shakespeare in Love,” “Carol,” and “Cinderella,” but as a fan of the original, she says aspects of the movie were quite daunting.
“The arrival probably is the most important, and for me it was the most intimidating thing to tackle because you know she had to be instantly recognizable,” she says. “We had to recognize her from the previous ‘Mary Poppins,’ but yet it had to be different and not disappoint anybody.”
Powell says Marshall was fixated on giving the titular character a “chic” look inspired by the American actress, singer, and dancer Ginger Rogers. “He wanted Mary Poppins suddenly to become Ginger Rogers,” she says. The challenge, however, was transitioning Rogers’ flowing skirts into the “Mary Poppins” time period, resulting in a long skirt that concealed pleats to allow for more movement without sacrificing the sleek silhouette.
Star Emily Blunt praised Powell’s designs, especially their ability to reflect her character’s personality so clearly.
“I think the thing I found really exciting about the arrival costume is that it’s sort of representative of really who she is and how I wanted to play her. That amazing duality of the character that I found when I read the books, that she has this rather sort of imperious, put-together, very vain exterior and yet on the inside, there’s a sort of wildness and eccentricity. And so the lining of the coat was this fabulous bright, orange, polka-dot lining and that is so the character,” she says.
Blunt also complimented Powell’s work on the animated scenes of the film, which boast costumes remarkably different than the film’s predecessor. While watching the original “Mary Poppins” as a child — it was the first film she ever saw — Powell says she thought the characters looked a little too separate from their animated surroundings, which inspired the hand-painted costumes that Blunt wears in the sequel.
“We started with the costumes and the color of those, and then the animator sort of followed and built a world around that,” Powell says. “For me that’s just really exciting because that whole idea of those costumes, it was an experiment really, it was a risk I took, and we didn’t know if it was going to work, so to actually see it working is extraordinary.”