Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Historical Disney princesses

If you're interested in historical dress, Disney or Tumblr, you have probably already come across Claire Hummel's illustrations in which she reinterprets the Disney princesses in outfits that are historically appropriate to the time when the films are set.

I came across them last year in one of those un-annotated Tumblr photosets whose origins were lost several hundred reblogs ago, but I've only just discovered Hummel's thoughtful, well-researched rationales for her choices.

That's Belle from Beauty and the Beast, obviously. What I like about the images is that Hummel has worked hard to keep the recognisable tropes of the characters intact, while being imaginative about their historical contexts.

"Beauty and the Beast has always hovered hesitantly in the late 18th century (especially in the earlier concept art), so I redid Belle's gold dress to match 1770's French court fashion," she writes of this image.

It's fascinating stuff because the Disney films are already such 'impure' texts, with such hazy evocations of time and place, full of anachronisms and anatopisms. Of Mulan, Hummel says, "pinning down her time period stopped being fun and rapidly became a headache- you have the original legend taking place in the Wei Dynasty, the Huns as an actual threat during the Western Han Dynasty, the Forbidden City of the Ming Dynasty, the hanfu fashion setting it earlier AGHGHGhjffjhfghgjhkh".

And of Pocahontas: "the shell necklace should in theory be a deep purple (turquoise is a much more Southwestern commodity), but you lose so much of the Pocahontas visual identity without the splash of teal around her neck."

The project throws an agreeable doubt blanket on the entire idea of 'historical accuracy', about which it's really easy to get pedantic.

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