Published: 9 December 2015

ICONS: Will Princess Leia be ‘on trend’ this Christmas?

Princess Leia

School of the Arts student, Claudia Wentworth, investigates one of the most iconic female figures in cinema history, as the role is reprised for Christmas audiences in Star Wars: The Force Awakens:

“Now less than a few weeks away from the release of Star Wars: The Force Awakens, fans have been sent into a frenzy with the first look at Princess Leia Organa in all her glory.

“With much of the promotional material in the lead up to the film surrounding “Episode VII’s” newest recruits, Carrie Fisher has finally lifted the lid on her new look for the role, sharing the close-up poster on her twitter feed.

“The actress is reprising her role some thirty-two years after starring in the original trilogy, and understandably, audiences have been keen to see how the look will be reimagined and updated.

“Liverpool Professor of English, Sarah Peverley, who regularly works with costumes as Director of the Liverpool Players theatre group, said: “Costume acts as a label and an instant identifier, helping audiences respond to characters in a specific way that recognises them easily.”

“When we envision Princess Leia of the 70s and 80s, many will draw on two very distinct looks. First, is the white, hooded, roll-neck dress she dons in Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope – the traditional princess gown of Alderaan.

“Completing the look, the actress sports one of the most iconic outré hairstyles in cinematic history, with the placement of two coiled buns either side of her head, often referred to as ‘cinnamon rolls’ or ‘donuts’ in popular culture.  Together, the bold hairstyle and modest white dress help conjure the idea of Leia as a futuristic princess: majestic yet minimalist, striking, but somewhat demure – and ultimately, positions her as a binary to ’the dark side.’

“This futuristic look has informed some of the top fashion houses; only last May, Isabella Rossellini, the famous Italian actress, filmmaker, author, philanthropist, and model, was snapped on the Cannes red carpet in a white, caped Stella McCartney dress, inspired by the gown.

“Second, is the infamous ‘Slave Leia’ costume – the metal bikini-style outfit worn by Princess Leia when she was captured by Jabba the Hutt in Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi. Despite Fisher and her stunt double, Tracy Eddon, only wearing the bikini and chain around her neck on screen for 150 seconds, the outfit is perhaps the most iconic of all her looks.

“It was the outfit that transformed the character into a sex symbol and most certainly became Leia’s identifier in popular culture. The revealing costume, consisting of a brass brassiere and a brass thong with maroon flowing veils attached to the front and back, has made cameos in everything from Friends to Family Guy and hundreds of female fans and cosplay enthusiasts imitate the look at Comic Con every year.

“Back in April at the Star Wars Celebration in Anaheim, California, Fisher was quizzed on whether fans can expect to see the ‘fashion forward’ princess’s bun hairstyle once again. She replied, “The buns are tired now, so no, you’re not going to have the futuristic buns,” before joking, “We have an alternate thing that I think you’ll be into, that is not the metal bikini, I promise.”

“Although the buns were by no means her only hairstyle, the identifiable ‘do’ was a key player in solidifying her status as an icon. So if the character is forsaking the buns and bikini, then what can we expect from the new look?

“The trailer for The Force Awakens is not much to go on, however, the poster and the behind the scenes video that premiered at San Diego Comic Con International in July hints at a more structured, functional look. Almost three minutes into the reel, Fisher is captured on set in a solid grey blue open-collared jumpsuit, with her sleeves rolled up. Over the top she wears a structured black vest/jacket with pocket detail, not too dissimilar to the structured sleeveless blazers favoured by fashionistas this autumn.

“Jason Ward, owner, editor and content supervisor of MakingStarWars.net observes the way in which Leia’s costume particularly evokes the look and feel of the Tantive IV troopers circa Empire Strikes Back. He notes how the blue in combination with the black vest and the black boots works in a way as to state “she is or was of those people”, crowning her, “queen of the Tantive IV troopers”. The more functional, military look does indeed seem to suggest that Leia has grown into a more authoritative figure in the Rebel Alliance.

“Communications and Media lecturer, Georgina Turner, who’s interest is primarily in gender and media, identifies how Princess Leia’s uniformed look is, “in keeping with efforts to place Princess Leia as a courageous and experienced fighter, not eye candy”. She references the way “Slave Leia” merchandise is no longer permitted, and goes on to explain: “The makers of the film have made efforts to ensure that the bikini look becomes a less prominent memory from the original films; it was supposed to be symbolic of her temporary enslavement, whereas for most of the film she was a ‘kickass’, autonomous character.”

“And that is exactly it: Princess Leia does not need gimmicks like gold bikini’s and crazy buns to be iconic. The simplifying and updating of her costume perhaps reflects the recognition of Leia as a strong female protagonist, regardless of looks.”

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