How Elle Fanning Got Dressed in Catherine the Great's Coronation Gown, Pregnancy Corset and All

It took Elle Fanning 25 minutes to get dressed in her coronation gown as Catherine in Hulu's The Great. Don't forget, she's dressing for two this season. But Fanning is a pro when it comes to embracing her characters through wardrobe, and costume designer Sharon Long knew she would rise to the occasion. When she talked to POPSUGAR about dressing a baby bump in the 18th century, we discovered the plan was quite involved.

"There's not a massive amount of reference. You lose the 18th-century shape, which is a tiny waist with structure, and you get a raising belly that you have to accommodate while still making her look regal and light with a sense of purity and optimism," Long said, explaining that if there was any shift in the aesthetic from season one to two, it was in increasing patterns and jewelry as Catherine takes the throne and adopts her stature.

But Fanning also wore a pregnancy corset throughout filming. "It has openings on the sides that lace, so you can expand the corset as the tummy gets bigger and bigger. But since the corset is rigid and the bump is silicone, it was moving from side to side, so we ended up putting the corset under the bump, which helped retain the proper lines of the dress and kept her frame more closed, which felt more on par with the period."

For the coronation dress specifically, Long referenced 1990s and 2000s glamour from the likes of Christian Lacroix and Dolce & Gabbana. She looked to modern, voluminous shapes from Simone Rocha, Cecilie Bahnsen, and Balenciaga, which offer updated takes on opera and evening coats and robes. Believe it or not, as heavy, ornate, and downright complicated as the design looks to be — and Long breaks down its design process for us, ahead — Fanning wore it proudly with tall, gold Manolo Blahnik heels for the scene. You know what we say to that, don't you? Huzzah!

Courtesy of Sharon Long

"The coronation costume is scripted. It's a traditional Russian sarafan that we started developing two months before Elle ever put it on. We reckon that, in total, it took three people two weeks to complete it. It's quite complicated to make something that could look frumpy appear beautiful. The shape of it is a bit like a farthingale, and the members of our work room shaped the skirt first, so we could try that on Elle as soon as possible and establish the shape over her pregnancy, the bump almost disappearing into this kind of cone shape. But it wasn't a maternity dress, which was great, because I think that helped Elle feel beautiful," Long said.

Courtesy of Sharon Long

"Underneath the dress, there is a cage made of steel rings, so it's sort of buoyant. Then at the bottom of that they applied a very stiff, fibrous crinoline, so that the skirt didn't collapse in. On top of that we had petticoats, plus frilled hip pads to soften the overall look from underneath her rib cage. There were probably three days worth of pliqué work, which involved cutting off the golden embroidery and repurposing it onto the bodice layered with beadwork and lace. There's lots and lots of hand sewing involved. I think people probably assume it's done by machine, but it can't be."

Courtesy of Sharon Long

"The apron is made of gold lace, sequins, and beads and goes on top of the gold skirt. The peasant blouse, which is all built in, drops off the shoulders, so that you're able to take in the throat and neck with all the lovely beading."

Courtesy of Sharon Long

"The headdress was one of the hardest parts to do during COVID. There was the jeweler and then the technician, who was making it. They met in a garden somewhere, and I was unable to meet them because I was being tested. It ended up being quite a drawn out thing with Elle trying all different paper shapes on her head, us taking pictures, drawing on them, and sending them to the jeweler who'd then come back with something."


"It didn't just need to be a costume, she had to inhabit it properly."

The first time Elle put on the coronation dress completely finished, Long could only describe her reaction as "gleeful," explaining that off the hanger, there was something she wasn't quite sure about at first. "When she put it on, she went, 'Oh my god.' It did look fantastic," she said, continuing, "The idea was that she walks into the throne room and she just looks spectacular, which is not what everybody expected. Sometimes Elle sent me images, and sometimes I sent her images, so we could make sure she felt fabulous in it. It didn't just need to be a costume — she had to inhabit it properly."