Unlike the 2004 cartoon on which it’s based, Fate: The Winx Saga fails to use creative character design and color theory to help tell a story — and that’s a shame.
When the Fate: The Winx Saga trailer was first released, the most common comments you could find online were people wondering where the sparkles and mini skirts from Winx Club went. Though it seemed obvious that there wouldn’t be magical girl transformations in the show because nobody has been able to pull that off in live action, fans still lamented the absence of all the colorful fashion that the original cartoon was known for.
Animation, movies, and television are audio-visual mediums that use many non-verbal techniques and shortcuts in order to communicate more efficiently with their audience: the famous “show, don’t tell.” That goes from everything from camera framing to set and costume design. In animation, this is even more explicit because it allows for wilder and bolder decisions in regard to character design. Watching anything animated automatically puts the audience in a state of suspension of disbelief; the images are moving and alive, so any exaggeration is seen as natural.
Winx Club from 2004 follows a history of animated shows in which groups of teenagers don color-specific costumes to fight evil, like Saint Seiya, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, The Powerpuff Girls, Voltron, and Sailor Moon, just to mention a few. Anyone who grew up watching these cartoons may have spent some time in the playground reenacting plots and coming up with new adventures, casting themselves as their favorite characters. And a lot of times, that decision was based on which character wore their favorite color.
The five main characters of Winx Club each had a civilian outfit and a fairy transformation, both with similar color schemes to make it easier to differentiate them. Their designs were highly specific and recognizable (the objective of any good character design in animation) but also went accordingly with each girl’s personality. The audience could find a character or clothing style that resonated with them specifically. Girls would get together and make comments such as “I’m such a Stella,” “Flora is a lot like me,” or “Tecna and I dress the same.”
Even people who didn’t watch the show could look at a picture of it and identify it as Winx Club. The costumes were an essential part of its identity and plot. The fairy transformation wasn’t just for looking pretty; their power-ups came after each character overcame a personal obstacle and grew as an individual. Bloom’s first transformation and the discovery of her powers are what kickstart the story.
Winx Saga dismisses all of that in favor of a generic The CW style realism. When Bloom asks Principal Fowling about the absence of fairy wings and sparkles, she simply says that they’re “more evolved.” This feels both like an insult to the hard work the original creators put into the designs, and perhaps even an admission of the show’s lack of budget. “I’ve got to be honest: Winx Saga might be one of the strangest adaptations I’ve ever seen,” wrote Beth Elderkin for i09. “I’ve never seen a spinoff diverge this suddenly and intensely from its source material.”
In an era when social media and influencer culture is at its peak, overlooking fashion and color design in a franchise show that inspired the audience as kids is a huge blow to Winx Saga’s credibility, and a huge missed opportunity to connect with the audience in a significant way. Fashion is cyclical, and every 20 years or so we see trends coming back. So currently we have clothing designs from the early 2000s returning, and the clothes from 2004’s Winx Club are very similar to what Instagram influencers and models are wearing right now.
Mindbogglingly, the show doesn’t capitalize on the current popularity of crop tops and baggy jeans. Even if you forego the fairy transformations, the costume choices seen in Winx Saga are questionable for a franchise known for its bright colors and communicative character designs. If we analyze each character closely using some basic notions of color theory, we see a difference in each show’s intentions.
Winx Club’s Bloom is a redheaded girl whose civilian outfit is a pair of blue jeans with a blue and yellow top. Her fairy transformation outfit is entirely blue. Orange and blue are complementary colors, so they look excellent together and the combination is so popular you see it on a lot of movie posters and on animated main characters. We relate orange to heat and warmth, fitting for a character with fire magic; blue speaks to the calmer side of her temperament, or literally to the person being cool. The jeans and top outfit also speak to her practicality and simpler life as a teenager on Earth. It’s a great choice for a character who goes on to lead the group, and who balances both the fairy and non-fairy world.
In contrast, Winx Saga’s Bloom is also a redhead, but she dresses in black and red. It didn’t seem enough to the designer to have the hair as an indication of her magic affinity; they overemphasized it with the constant use of bright red jackets and shirts. Black jeans and combat boots are practical choices one might expect of the character, but it also makes it seem like they didn’t want to risk making her too bright by mixing in any other colors. They seemed too afraid to even use blue colored jeans that didn’t fit her darker personality. The clothes speak of her fire power but say little about her as an individual.
Winx Club’s Stella, the character known as the fashion expert in the group, has light powers and is a blonde girl who mostly wears orange for the first season’s civilian outfit and for all of her fairy transformations in every season. The orange color was combined with green, as to not make it too similar to Bloom’s but also complimenting her look. Both characters start their journey together as friends, so it was important to make sure they matched in looks and personality. Orange evokes fun, carefreeness, and boldness, all things that Stella is. It makes sense to combine it with Stella’s blonde hair as yellow and orange are colors we relate to warmth and light.
Winx Saga’s Stella, on the other hand, lacks all the personality, kindness, and color that the original had. Her differences are the most jarring to everyone who watched the original. The designer used muted beige colors and long skirts that aren’t juvenile or stylish at all. They tried to incorporate some brightness by adding blouses with some sparkly elements and jewelry, but the accessories don’t match the shape of the blouses and the clothing doesn’t seem to be fitted to the actress. They made her dress and even act like a middle-aged woman. When she first appears, she berates every single character and complains about how much she doesn’t want to be there. In the first episode, the school principal wears the exact same combo of pencil skirt and thick material shirt tucked under it as Stella does. Both skirts even have unattractive stripes to the sides that make it look like a recycled Adidas tracksuit.
Winx Saga’s Musa keeps some of the original Winx Club style with her baggier clothes, headphones, and hair buns, but they switch her color scheme from blue and red to purple. Red and blue is a basic combination of the primary colors. It’s like a more saturated variation of Bloom’s palette, and it’s usually what we see in main characters and heroes (think Spider-Man, Superman, Miraculous Ladybug, and Sailor Moon). But Winx Club’s Musa had less detailed clothing and hair than Bloom, which helped distinguish who the main character was. It also made sense considering Musa was a musician and dancer who needed comfortable clothes to move.
Now that Musa’s powers have been changed from music to empathy, purple is the chosen color. Purple is a mysterious color, yet not related with any specific element because it is hard to find in nature, so it’s regularly used for the supernatural. Musa in Winx Saga fits the supernatural element because her powers are empathic, which is why she wears headphones most of the time to distract herself from other people’s feelings, although how she manages to do that if she admits to not even playing music in said headphones eludes me.
The hi-tech Tecna in Winx Saga used purple, but because Winx Saga wrote her out, it seems fair game that Musa borrows elements from her. Musa’s big hoop earrings combined with her clothing and hair reminded me of Karrie Martin’s character in Gentefied and other Latinx urban styles I’ve seen, as if she was somehow also channeling Winx Club’s Flora (who was based on Jennifer Lopez). She has some bizarre clothing combinations that have been mocked on social media, and that could usually work for a character who is a bit awkward and doesn’t care what people thing (like Luna from Harry Potter). But Musa here is so closed off and antisocial that you would think she’d choose clothes that don’t make her stand out instead.
Flora was replaced by Winx Saga’s Terra, who is the most similar in personality to her animated counterpart — although the whitewashing is lamentable. She’s a sweet and caring girl who does her best to be kind to everyone around her and make friends with her classmates. For her, they kept the muted green from the original design but removed the frills and fabric prints that made her look feminine and sweet.
Instead, Terra often wears clothes with unflattering straight lines that are so desaturated she kind of blends with the background. It’s understandable considering her new characterization deals with body image issues, but it would have been nice to have a plus-sized character’s story not be about her body. Plus-sized clothing is also notoriously known for being unflattering, so I wish her story was actually about enjoying dressing up in cute and flattering clothes like Flora’s was.
Aisha originally became part of Winx Club in its second season, after most colors had been given away to other characters. Her powers are water-based, but both Bloom and Musa had blue colors so that wasn’t an option. Since no character had green in their fairy form, that’s what they gave her in both her civilian and fairy garb. Green represents a strong connection with nature, stability, and reliability, and it’s a refreshing and peaceful color to look at. It’s strongly associated with nature, it’s the color of life. Aisha is lively, she likes dancing, swimming, and having fun but also reliable and stable.
In her civilian outfit, the skirt with big pockets and climbing shoes made her look practical while the lilac crop top and leg warmers added femininity and hinted at her love for dancing. Later seasons updated her to pants, which added more to her comfortable appearance. You can really tell from her clothes that she’s athletic.
In Winx Saga, Aisha is first introduced in a long pink dress. While the dress is probably the nicest piece of clothing on the show, it’s more the style we would expect from Flora. I know sporty girls dress up for special events, but in the show, Aisha claims she had just been out swimming, and those clothes aren’t something one would wear for that. She also has blue hair strands so that the audience can know she’s a water fairy even in the rare occasions she’s not wearing the color in her clothes. Personality-wise, Aisha fits with the water element in that she’s calm and serene, but she’s a bit of a teacher’s pet and always trying to follow the rules which goes against the fluid nature of water and against the liveliness of her animated version.
In the end, Winx Saga’s attempt at color coding was quite detrimental to their objective. It focused on the powers but not at all on the personalities, and fashion is all about externalizing an individual’s traits. Fashion and costume design are forms of artistic expression. Disregarding the hard work that the original animation team put into the iconic characters that anybody could identify at a glance, and changing it for muted colors that are barely visible through the dark cinematography, feels both disrespectful and out-of-touch with present day trends.
Ultimately, it’s possible to have bright outfits and colorful sets in a production with dark themes. Not everything has to be desaturated and boring in order to look mature. We just have to look at the work of Edgar Wright, Guillermo del Toro, Wes Anderson, Greta Gerwig, Baz Luhrmann, and others.
The show literally name drops Harry Potter more than once, but even that franchise balanced a dark story with the bright colors of the individual houses. This of course also helped the studio to sell merchandise. Even Riverdale, which is the show most critics and viewers compare Winx Saga to, has created appropriate looks for its characters that are marketable and use color cleverly.
Though Winx Saga was renewed for Season 2, it’s hard to imagine the show attracting a similar following based solely on its mediocre designs. In an era in which fashion, make-up, and cosplay are the most viewed and liked topics on social media posts, it’s baffling that a property that was originally conceived around those ideas decided to drop them entirely. It leaves them without opportunity for fans to engage with the franchise in creative ways, and it doesn’t help the show to stand out among the many, many dark teen shows Netflix has.
There’s nothing wrong with feminine clothing and interests, and it’s about time that colorful and bright aesthetics get the respect they deserve. Anyone can dress completely in black and call it a day, but it takes a lot of thought and effort to properly combine colors in a pleasing way. I only wish Winx Saga knew that.