An Exclusive Look At The Costumes, Hair And Make-Up Of The Nutcracker And The Four Realms

The Nutcracker And The Four Realms, the sparkly reimagining of the classic E. T. A. Hoffmann tale, is out on digital download, DVD and Blu-ray now. To celebrate, we have an exclusive look at how the film’s costumes, hair and make-up were created…


Costume Designer Jenny Beavan and Makeup and Hair Designer Jenny Shircore Create Out-of-This-World Character Looks

Costume designer Jenny Beavan and makeup and hair designer Jenny Shircore were called on to help bring the world of “The Nutcracker and the Four Realms” to life.

One of the drivers of the character looks is rooted in the genesis of the world of the Four Realms. Clara’s mother, Marie, discovered this parallel world—likely with a little help from Godfather Drosselmeyer. Her toys—from porcelain dolls to toy soldiers to marionettes—not only inspire the inhabitants of the realms, they became them. “That gave us a sense of where it all might’ve come from,” says Beavan. “The actual people in the realms are reminiscent of 18th-century figurines and toys.”

Adds Shircore, “Given the unique opportunity to create the fantasy of the world of the realms, I turned to the limitless imagery that the 18th-century offers us—both in hairstyling and the use of makeup.”

Beavan and Shircore studied Victorian streets, parties, toys and fairy tales for inspiration and reference. The costumes, hair and makeup, both in the real-world sequences and in the realms are a combination of real-life and fantasy.

CLARA, a tomboy at heart, gives little thought to her hair and wardrobe. She’s happiest dreaming up scientific experiments and tinkering with her tools. Clara also struggles with the recent loss of her mother. Shircore and Beavan homed in on the 1870s as it marked the beginning of the industrial revolution. “It was the beginning of electronics,” says Beavan. “Clara’s fascination with all thing mechanical ties in beautifully.”

Clara has five key looks in the film. “When we meet her, she’s wearing a little pinafore frock with a leather belt,” says Beavan. “It’s a slightly somber look because the family is still in mourning.”

According to Shircore, Clara maintains a simple look throughout the film in terms of hair and makeup. “Mackenzie Foy has beautiful hair, so we use her own hair throughout the film. She starts off with tousled hair because she’s been playing in the attic, but in the story, Clara’s sister, Louise, helps brush her hair back and tie it back with a bow before they leave for the party. That’s her main look throughout her journey.”

Clara dons a party dress for Drosselmeyer’s holiday celebration. The dress is lilac silk taffeta with organza and chiffon. Says Beavan, “Mackenzie is tiny, so I wanted to keep it very delicate. This dress takes her from the party into the Four Realms—I hadn’t actually realized how glorious it would look in a snowy forest, but we loved the idea of light coming through it.”

When Clara arrives in the Four Realms, the regents honor her with a grand pageant that tells the story of the realms. Clara gets a new look for the extravaganza, choosing a gold and cream Victorian-style frock made of silk brocade, cream organza, gold silk and gold mesh with pearl, gold and diamanté decoration. Says Beavan, “It’s the kind of a dress you would see in a fairy tale illustration.”

Adds Shircore, “For the pageant, Sugar Plum creates Clara’s hairstyle. But Keira Knightley warned us, ‘I can’t even comb anybody’s hair successfully!’ So I devised a hairstyle that is basically four ponytails—one on each side and two in the back. I bound some ribbon around each ponytail and then fashioned them on her head. It’s very pretty.”

Clara changes again when she decides to venture into the Fourth Realm to take on Mother Ginger. Made from green velvet, red wool and gold braiding, her uniform resembles a brightly painted Victorian toy soldier. Beavan says the look is her favorite. She researched the attire of female soldiers to create the uniform. “There were definitely women who dressed in that military style in the Victorian age, often with skirts. They didn’t do the fighting back then, but more likely worked behind the scenes.”

Culminating Clara’s wardrobe is a coronation dress that proved to be the most labor- intensive costume to create. The dress is pale, delicate and luminous with a range of fabrics, including gold and lilac patterned metallic organza, silver and lilac metallic organza, cream organza with embroidered stars, gold and silver mesh, silver and lilac mesh, white silk gossamer, white lace and silver glitter net. Says Beavan, “It had to be a magical dress that every little girl wants. We used regular fairy lights and put LEDs in the skirt. There are layers and layers with light coming through.”

According to Beavan, 13 people worked on the coronation dress across 351 hours.

  • There are 127 panels of gossamer in the skirt, 10 meters around the circumference
    of the hem of one layer and 40 meters around the hem in total.
  • There are 22 meters of diamanté chain along the seams and 348 meters of spun
    gold and silver yarn along the many seams.
  • There are 1,800 pin-prick crystals around the edge of the cape and 2,500 Swarovski
    crystals on the dress.
  • There are 1,428 little lights in the dress.

DROSSELMEYER, Clara’s eccentric and well-traveled godfather, wears a long dark coat and an eye patch. Says Beavan, “We wanted to keep him underplayed. He’s a man of the world, slightly magical, but you don’t want to give too much away. We decided that he’d have picked up finery here and there, so his coat was a bit longer with these beautifully embroidered panels.”

Drosselmeyer carries a cane that filmmakers sourced, deconstructed and extended for actor Morgan Freeman. The prop modelling department sculpted a perched owl for the cane’s handle, which was cast in bronze.

Shircore gave Freeman a straightforward wig and beard, based on traditional looks of the 1870s.

CAPTAIN PHILLIP HOFFMAN, the Nutcracker of the story, dons a soldier’s uniform that’s bright and made to look like a painted tin toy soldier. It was inspired by illustrations by Gennady Spirin, a Russian painter and children’s book illustrator, and constructed from red wool, cotton moleskin and gold braid and tassels. “I was very faithful to the Nutcracker doll, although most nutcrackers wear the shako—a black helmet—not the golden helmet like our nutcracker. The rest of our soldiers wear black shakos, so Phillip stands out.”

Shircore also relied on the doll for inspiration. “Jayden Fowora-Knight is gorgeous,” she says. “All he needed was a little bit of bronze and gold with lovely rosy cheeks.”

For Phillip’s sword, the prop modelling department acquired swords and adapted and embellished them for the production.

SUGAR PLUM FAIRY, regent of the Land of Sweets, is dressed in a garment that’s the color of crystallized sugar. It is constructed from metallic organza in pink, purple, silver and gold, with netting in different shades of pink, as well as pink and lilac organza and purple silk satin. The dress also has silver embroidery, silver braid and diamanté, plus pink beads, pearls and sequins. Beavan actually started the process by studying sugarplums. “I loved the gorgeous mauvy color and when they’re dipped in sugar,” she says. “We wanted a dress with a lot of movement, so it’s made out of layers of little pleated fans—there must be 200. They take a phenomenal amount of fabric to create!”

Sugar Plum’s dress is the most voluminous of all the costumes that were made.

  • The garment required more than 100 meters of fabric.
  • The first version of the dress took more than 1,000 hours to make.
  • The skirt of the dress was too wide to go through normal doors.
  • Keira Knightley could not sit easily in the dress and had to perch on a little stool under the skirt between takes.

According to Shircore, Sugar Plum’s hair is designed to resemble candy floss. “It had to be pink,” she says. “I had a wig made using yak hair, dyed to various sugary candy floss colors of baby pink and lilac, and then dressed it whipped high upon her head with strands of spun sugar-like fine gold ribbon around it.

“Her makeup reflects the idea that she started out as a doll,” Shircore continues. “I researched vintage dolls. Their eyebrows and lips are distinctly painted—so we applied that look to Sugar Plum and to all the characters of the realms. Keira Knightley has a flat pale makeup with strategically placed highlights to also give a doll-like porcelain finish. I think she looks absolutely gorgeous.”

MOTHER GINGER, as regent of what was once known as Land of Amusements, embraces the circus—though one that has been abandoned and long neglected. Mother Ginger initially appears as a larger-than-life character whose skirt is a big-top circus tent. But inside is the real Mother Ginger. Says Beavan, “It’s as if she found the dress a complete encumbrance and took it off, and underneath, she’s wearing a rather dusty, old top with a pair of trousers and boots.”

The banished regent of the Fourth Realm wears an exotic and colorful outfit made from furnishing fabrics and braids found in markets. The mostly vintage fabrics were sourced from many different countries. Beavan created her own backstory for Mother Ginger. “She’s the puppet who was too big to fit inside Marie’s curio cabinet,” says the costume designer. “So she was kept on top where she got a bit dusty and maybe lonely.”

Mother Ginger’s hair and makeup underscores her outsider status. Her face bears the cracks of a doll that’s seen better days. And her hair is a little wild. Says Shircore, “Mother Ginger had to be ginger. Her hairstyle was loosely based on Thomas Gainsborough’s paintings from the 1750s, but we played with the style. Helen Mirren, who was so happy to be a redhead, wanted a slightly piratical look, so we did her hair to go with her costume.”

SHIVER sports a costume that is silver and sparkly—like the ice he represents as regent of Land of Snowflakes. The buttons on Shiver’s costume were handmade and his stockings were hand-glittered every time he wore them. According to Beavan, the palette had to venture away from pure white. “We wanted more depth to the look, so we went a bit darker into the grays, silvers and blues,” she says.

Says Shircore, “Richard E. Grant, who plays Shiver, was made up in a very pale, icy color with liquid blue markings throughout his face.”

According to the hair and makeup designer, all the men wore a tieback hard-front white wig reminiscent of the period. “But I adapted each wig to the personality of the character. Shiver’s hair had rolls on the side of it with sculpted peaks of ice—and the ice comes down onto his face. He’s just covered in ice.”
HAWTHORN, regent of Land of Flowers, looks like he is from a Giuseppe Arcimboldo painting. His costume is flowery and frilly with buttons made of flowers. Hawthorn’s stockings were hand-painted with a floral design that climbs up the legs. Beavan’s team incorporated a lot of color, but leaned into one in particular. “We have some woody hues, but green is the predominant color—with lots of flowers on top.”

According to Shircore, the basic shape of Hawthorn’s wig is also based on 1750s men’s hairstyles. “I introduced flowers into the style by forming the hair in the wig into shapes of flowers,” she says. “We incorporated blue, lavender, lilac, yellow and green into the rose and rosebud shapes. They were the most beautiful wigs I’d ever seen.”

For Hawthorne’s makeup, Shircore looked at French Impressionist painters. “I wanted that organic feel,” she says. “Hawthorn was made up with splashes of color—and his eyebrows were painted like summer grass.”