Costume designer Sandy Powell recalls that the original Mary Poppins film was one of the first films she ever remembers seeing and that she was brought up on the film. So, it’s no wonder she said yes to designing the whimsical wardrobe for the new Mary Poppins Returns, in theaters now.
During production, we visited the set of Mary Poppins Returns to learn more about Sandy Powell’s vision for the wardrobe in the film, and the process in which the costumes came to fruition. Of course, she started how we all probably would — by watching the original Mary Poppins. However, after watching it just once to make sure she remembered it as well as she had assumed, she put it away as to not refer to it often. She wanted the costumes of this film to pay homage to the original, without being too similar. For example, in creating Mary Poppins’s hat, she didn’t want to include berries or daisies like the original, but knew something should decorate it. She went through everything including embroidery and birds, but then remembered the robin from “A Spoonful of Sugar” and thought to reintroduce it here in Mary’s hat.
The film is set sometime in the Edwardian period, so the clothing, shoes, and accessories are all representative of that time. For Mary Poppins’ costumes, color and pattern were the focus. Even as Mary takes off her coat, we see more patterned layers beneath.
When I first met Emily, I tried lots of different 1930s clothes on her to arrive at a silhouette and color scheme that works … For Jack, lamplighters are working folks. They wouldn’t have had particular work clothes, these guys just wore their older clothes. So 1930s working men just wore old clothes, even suits.
When it comes to designing for the leads, Sandy appreciates collaboration because she wanted them to look like what they think their character would look like as well.
I really like collaborating and working with the actors because the actors also have an idea about their characters. I might have an idea about the character and I might hear what Rob [Marshall] has to say about the character, but it’s really the actors themselves who think mostly about their characters.
Every costume was made entirely by Sandy and her team, who sourced fabrics from all over the world.
In the scene where Mary Poppins, Jack, and the Banks children journey into the Royal Doulton Bowl, much detail went into the design of their costumes. Sandy wanted the costumes to look like they were 2D, but in 3D. So they experimented in many different ways to see what would manipulate the paint to look like watercolor on paper. Then, skilled painters hand-painted each costume flat before piecing the costume together. After the costumes were whole, they went back through and painted them again. “It’s a lot of trial and error,” Powell describes of her process.
If you haven’t seen Mary Poppins Returns yet, get your tickets here. And if you have, it’s worth another watch with these behind-the-scenes details of the costumes in mind!