Steampunk Disney princesses

All images in this post come from Disney Screencaps.

I have kind of a love-hate relationship with Disney princesses. On one hand, they’re pretty and colourful and sparkly and various other things I’m not. On the other, they’ve always struck me as being passive and a little useless (with a couple of exceptions).

This project is supposed to be an exercise in design: to take known characters and put them in a different setting and style, while staying as true to the original as possible. I want to keep the character’s costume close to the original silhouette, and for their designs to be character based.

Here’s the list of characters, and an outline of what I want to do with them:

Snow White (Snow White): I don’t actually recall watching all of Snow White, so if I have, it was a very long time ago. But there’s a wealth of Disney information available online, and, from November 2010 onward, NGV hosted a Disney exhibition full of concept sketches, character sheets etc. So from what I’ve seen and remember, Snow White seems a pretty childlike character. From the start, I wanted her to be playing with a clockwork bird. Her costume is a little harder, because although she’s childlike in personality, her dress and her role within the story (sexually maturing girl threatens aging stepmother) are adult. Eventually, I decided on an adult styled outfit with a few childish elements e.g. pale primary colours, fluffy lace, maybe a sweet pattern. Perhaps something with a Lolita twist, although I’m inclined to avoid that because, as many adherents to Lolita fashion will argue, Lolita the fashion has nothing to do with Lolita the novel. Because it wouldn’t be a picture of Snow White without some kind of reference to apples, and because stills from the beginning of the film feature them, apple blossoms should be present somewhere.

Cinderella (Cinderella): Foot fetishism and a pretty face don’t really seem like a smart way to choose a life partner, so in my head, Cinderella is a trophy wife. Ornamental. So her costume (based on the ball-gown, obviously) should look expensive: lots of fabric, lots of patterns, decadent. I don’t see her doing much of anything; the gown is probably heavy and ornaments don’t clean. In an earlier scribble, I planned to base Cinderella’s costume on the outfit she wears at the beginning of the film, as a domestic servant. She was going to be a rat-catcher. I thought about it, and decided that instead, I’d make her mouse friends into taxidermy specimens that she makes believe are real. Perhaps she even hears their little voices. It seemed in keeping with an abused, lonely woman.

Aurora (Sleeping Beauty): My least favourite Disney princess. Love at first sight has always irked me in stories, but Aurora takes it to stupid levels. Both in the original fairytale and in Disney’s version, Aurora’s only real value is that she’s pretty (though admittedly Disney does try to show that she’s also kind and gentle). Before I settled on a design for Aurora (she was going to just be modeled after a Victorian child), I read an article on Victorian ideals of womanhood. In it, there was a comparison between a “proper” woman, and the “fallen woman”. From there, I decided to make Aurora a prostitute. Partly because the focus is mostly on her looks (and, by inference, her sexuality) rather than on her caring nature (one of the things prized in Victorian women as mothers and wives), and partly because I don’t like her much.

Ariel (The Little Mermaid): As much as I’d love to draw a steampunk mermaid, by now I’ve decided to base all these costumes on their character’s princess-y gown. Which means no tail for Ariel, and I get to play with that pink thing she wears. Ariel collects junk, so I thought about the kinds of things that might have been shipped in the Victorian period, which she might have found in shipwrecks. I liked the idea of her wearing lots of jewellery, some of it actual jewellery and some it things that she thinks look kind of interesting, and her dress having swathes of possibly clashing fabrics draped over it. In my head, she’s got a pirate/adventurer sort of thing going, being curious about the surface and humans.

Belle (Beauty and the Beast): This one was the easiest because Belle’s father’s inventions look to me like they’d be right at home in a steampunk setting. I don’t want Belle herself to be an inventor; she doesn’t strike me as the type. Instead, she’s a librarian, or possibly museum curator. I want her library to have books and curios, hopefully suggesting the direction her story unfolds. Unlike the other characters in this series, I’m going to base Belle’s costume on the blue gown she wears for the majority of the film. This is because, of all the Disney princesses here, Belle seems the least likely to have a fairytale ending to me. Her romantic nature and love of reading suggests to me a character who, if she ever found a partner, would always be slightly disappointed with them because no romance can live up to the epic fantasies she reads. So Belle’s a librarian, proper, neat and quite alone with her books.

Jasmine (Aladdin): When I was a little girl, Jasmine was my favourite princess. I don’t remember why. Maybe it was exoticism and the way the Middle East is romanticised in Western arts. Probably it was the tiger. Maybe it was because she actually has some balls. Up to a point, at least. My problem with her now isn’t really much to do with her character (although I liked her better when she went evil in the cartoon series. Then she turned into dominatrix!Jasmine and I approve). What bothers me is actually her character design. Middle Eastern princesses didn’t dress like that. From what I’ve read, women’s adherence to Islamic dress codes varied from region to region, but I seriously doubt any of them would have worn so… little. I get the impression that that part of her design was specifically for modern audiences, especially considering many of the other women shown in the film are wearing much more accurate clothing. Anyway. It only bothers me because I feel like it sort of neuters her, so to speak. Instead of being a strong woman in her own right and cultivating her political power, when she wants to accomplish anything, it seems to me she just uses her sexuality. So my version of Jasmine is what I would have liked to have seen happen (unrealistic though it may be): Jasmine spends increasing amounts of time around her father and studying the laws of her country. She gains a reputation as an intelligent if occasionally brutal leader and convinces her father to alter the laws to grant her power, with or without a husband. Then she quietly has Jafar assassinated and has Aladdin keep an eye on the peasantry because she’s nothing if not Machiavellian. Iago is given to Rajah to play with.

Mulan (Mulan): Another favourite, actually. I’ve always been interested in Chinese art and mythology, so this was a given. The only change I’d make to my version of Mulan is that she didn’t go home at the end of the film and went on to become a general. I would also like to give her an eye piece with a dragon’s eyeball as the lens. Not Mushu’s, his eyes are too small. I don’t really have a story behind the eye piece, I just think it would be cool. Maybe she traded her eye for the dragon’s eye, giving her the ability to see beyond reality to better protect China. Or something.

For more Disney princesses, have a look at this post on Flavourwire, featuring historically accurate costumes by Claire Hummel.