The Story Behind How Fifty Shades Freed's Wedding Dress Came Together

Fifty Shades Freed Wedding Dress Back, Focus on the buttons

Fifty Shades Freed smartly used the dress Dakota Johnson wore for Anastasia and Christian's wedding in all of its key marketing moments. By now the dress, with its buttoned down back and its lace overlay, is iconic. I even watched an episode of Say Yes To The Dress where a client wanted to look like Ana does on the poster for the final movie in the trilogy. The dress look came together thanks to a collaboration with Monique Lhuillier, but although the partnership was easy, actually getting the dress together was a bit of a wild ride. Costume Designer Shay Cunliffe recently revealed the story to us ahead of Universal Pictures Home Entertainment's Blu-ray release, and it starts on a dark and stormy night...

OK, not really, but it is rainy a lot in Vancouver, where the wedding sequence was shot. Shay Cunliffe said she had previously worked with Monique Lhuillier, and it was an easy fit for that team to help out with the bridal dress, as well as --fun fact -- the dress in Fifty Shades Darker Ana Steele wears to the masquerade ball. But the process was a long and wending one and it almost didn't come together in a timely fashion. First, however, Cunliffe says she collaborated with Dakota Johnson to get the look of the dress just right.

It really started the first time I met Dakota. I had prepared a kind of a look book of thoughts and different scenes, the way the character would develop through two movies both together, and she herself came with a Pinterest page you wanted to share with me with things that she'd been thinking. So we both were very much on the same page. We'd even rounded up some of the same images in the different look books. But she had a photo of a wedding... It was really her one thought of a wedding dress. It was really very beautiful, sexy but old-fashioned dress, shot from the back from some fashion shoot, um, with sort of a layer of fish tail, and body hugging and yet modest at the same time. And she said that was very much her image. I thought it was perfect, because Ana is kind of Jane Eyre, old-fashioned girl really, and yet a modern woman at the same time. And the audience wants it to be sexy, but you don't want to make her ridiculously sexy and forget the girl who was a virgin, like, a few storylines earlier. So we took that image as a starter. I pulled together more images, we shared them with Dakota. I then sent the kind of a little look book folder to Monique Lhuillier herself and said, 'This is what we're thinking. This is the direction we want to go.'

After talking to Monique Lhuillier, the dress was out of Cunliffe's hands. This was a bit tricky, because normally she has direct input into everything from the design to the fitting, and this time she did not. Shay Cunliffe explained how the dress almost wasn't ready by the time the rest of the Fifty Shades Freed team was set to shoot the big wedding sequence. She said:

But then it got to be a bit nerve wracking for me. I think everyone else was too busy making the movie. But on my end, I had this most important dress being long distance. I normally would've had it made by my work group, and I would've been able to take a look at it every day, and said, 'How are we doing?' We wanted a fitting very soon on this. But instead, I was like sending emails to the Monique team, saying, 'I really, really need to see this soon. I'd like to know that we're all good.' That came down to the wire. I think Monique was away doing Bride's Week in New York, just when I would rather that she would only working on my dress. [Laughs.] That was a little nail biting. I would have been more distraught except that we've had already gone through a similar experience getting the gorgeous gray satin dress made for the silver gray dress made for the masquerade ball, which had just shown up fairly close to the wire.

Then the dress came in, like all good dresses do, just in the nick of time. Shay Cunliffe also revealed to CinemaBlend that the dress only came in right before the scene was going to shoot, so there was really no way to do major fittings so that the dress fit Dakota Johnson's body, as Johnson was filming two Fifty Shades movies back-to-back in Vancouver and Monique Lhuillier's design studio was in Los Angeles, making a fitting collaboration impossible. In addition, normally when a wardrobe is made, multiple versions of a costume are created in case there is an accident, like a tear. That wasn't the case at all for the wedding dress in Fifty Shades Freed. There was one copy and one copy only. Therefore, Cunliffe told us she prayed "to the wardrobe god" that the dress would hold through all of filming. But, first, she had to worry about whether or not it would fit. She said:

I got Dakota. She was exhausted and didn't really want to do it, but I made her come from the studio, to the costume department... even though she was about to shoot a huge wedding scene the next day. I said, 'You have to come. You've just got to. If there's any problem, I've got my seamstress just standing by to fix it all night.' But she walked in, she walked into the room, she walked into the dress, and it was perfect. I think me and my assistant might have wanted to cry. We had that sort of 'Bride' moment, but it was mainly relief. It looked exquisite, and yet the character hadn't gotten lost. I think I was slightly frightened something much, much too grand was going to show up for this spirit of purity and simplicity in this character.

Luckily, Cunliffe says she was very happy with the final product, and wishes the audience had gotten to see a little more of the stuff the creative team shot.

I loved that when I saw the film. I was really happy. In truth, the entire wedding sequence was a hell of a lot of work and they sort of just use it to get the opening credits over, and we were all like, 'Dang!' But it was a great collaboration with Monique Lhuillier, who makes fabulous, slinky dresses.

If you've seen the movie, by now you know that the wedding flits by very quickly. We get to see a highlight reel of the big moments, but the story in the film really only picks up once Ana and Christian are on their honeymoon. As the story of this wedding dress shows, the creative team went to painstaking lengths to get all of the little details right in the movie. If you'd like to take another look into the world of Fifty Shades, Fifty Shades Freed hits Blu-ray today, and if you'd like to see some of the other cool stuff the design team used to create the wedding setting, be sure to look at the extras on the disc. In addition, you can order your own DVD, Digital or Blu-ray copy of the flick, here. If you'd also like to know more about Dakota Johnson's looks in the movie, we have you covered.

Jessica Rawden
Managing Editor

Reality TV fan with a pinch of Disney fairy dust thrown in. Theme park junkie. If you’ve created a rom-com I’ve probably watched it.