The character of Cruella de Vil continues to fascinate and excite audiences today with her exuberance, camp sensibilities and quick wit and after huge success with its “Sleeping Beauty” spin off, ‘Maleficent’, Disney was eager to explore origin stories of other malevolent characters from its library of animated classics. One of its most memorable villains was the coat-happy, dog-napping Cruella De Vil, who was first voiced by Betty Lou Gerson in the animated original and then brought to larger-than-life, live-action magnificence by Glenn Close. But none of these versions presented any back story to the character, except for her having once been a schoolmate of the dalmatians mistress, Anita Darling. But having had a sneak peak at the film already for many its the Cruella costumes that hold just as much intrigue.
Estella’s transformation to Cruella is gradual. At first, she tries to conform to what she’s been taught is the right way to behave in life, which is actually a conflict with who she is as a person. She doesn’t think within the lines and she’s growing up in a world that wants her to behave within the lines and not question things and not challenge things. So for a while, she goes against her instincts, and that’s where she really suffers the most.
Regarding the below-the-line talent assembled for “Cruella,” director Craig Gillespie says, “We hired production heads that were absolutely brilliant. And everybody was given the freedom to really go for it and take the blinders off and do what was right for the period and the characters. It was just ‘let’s do what’s right for this film.’ And we got to really make something unique.
And it’s those Cruella Costumes that are an outstanding part of the film and an enormous amount of thought and effort went into creating the various “looks” of “Cruella”. 1970s London was a very specific period in which there was a culture clash in society and in the fashion scene between the establishment and movements outside of the establishment. There was the highly privileged, patrician, above-ground world that encompassed legendary names like Dior, Balenciaga, Givenchy and later Mary Quant, who was responsible for the mod look, which is represented in the film by the House of Baroness and all her Regents Park trappings But the “squatters” in Notting Hill the punk movement, in which coming from the other side of the tracks, the lower classes, was a badge of honour for self-trained, inventive aspiring designers with unique, distinctive styles, like Vivien Westwood and later Alexander McQueen, on which Estella is modelled. The clash between these two worlds provides the context for Cruella’s story.
The importance of the Cruella costumes cannot be overstated. For this monumental undertaking, the filmmakers chose two-time Academy Award® winning costume designer Jenny Beavan, who had previously worked with Emma Thompson on both “Howard’s End” and “The Remains of the Day.” Beavan says, “I read the script and it was really fun and feisty. I met Craig and I did give it quite a lot of thought because I realized the scale of it and then I thought, let’s have a go.” The huge scope of the production sparked Jenny’s imagination. “I quite like a challenge” she says. “Fashion was omnipresent in this film,” says Gillespie. “We had such a tall order with this show that I couldn’t think of anybody more appropriate for it. And she absolutely nailed it. It was astonishing because she came in with not much time, and the amount of outfits that she had to figure out. And each outfit really had to be a statement.”
Beavan assembled an expert team to design, create and source the spectacular costumes. She says,” I was heading it and there was Sarah Young, Sheara Abrahams, and Sally Turner, all credited as costume designers. They all took different areas. We could never have done it otherwise. Then we had a team of buyers who were also out finding stuff, plus all the cutters. It was enormous – but joyous.” Beavan adds, “This is the biggest thing I’ve ever done. The amount of looks for Emma Stone is more than I’ve ever done. She had a total of 47 costume changes and Emma Thompson had a total of 33. Even Joel Fry and Paul Walter Hauser each had 30 costumes.”
The film features three major galas that required costuming—The Baroness’ Marie Antoinette ball that Estella witnesses as a 12-year-old girl, her Black-and-White ball (where Cruella shows up in a blood red dress from Artie’s thrift shop with a computer-generated flaming white cape), and her Charity Gala where Estella has sent all the guests black dresses and black and white wigs so she can hide in plain sight, as well as a series of Red Carpet events where Cruella upstages The Baroness by arriving by motorcycle in a glittering black leather jumpsuit with tire-tread shoulders, a dress that engulfs The Baroness’ car, a garbage truck dress with a 40 foot train, made from The Baroness’ 1967 collection of gowns; and a dalmatian-inspired coat. (Please note: No animals were harmed during the making of this film) Beavan says that Estella’s look was inspired by a photograph of German punk rock-New Wave singer Nina Hagen. Beavan says, “I think she’s sitting cross legged and she has a slightly over sized fluffy jumper on and very ordinary soft trousers. You get the sense that Estella would have gone to vintage stores in London’s Brick Lane when it was a rag market.”
” Says Beavan, “It was important to me for Cruella to be black, white, grey and red.” Stone recalls, “To first see the entire look of Cruella together, I have to admit I took a lot of pictures. It was a very narcissistic day. Which is perfect for Cruella.” The Baroness, on the other hand, is slightly old-fashioned, with thick taffetas and silks and duchess satins, and lots of turbans, with a color palate of mostly warm browns and golds, since Cruella’s ultimately would be black-and-white. Beavan says, “The Baroness I saw very clearly. Very sculptural. Dior-influenced.” Thompson explains, “We sort of channel the old screen divas, from Joan Crawford to Elizabeth Taylor.” Says Emma Stone, “The sheer luck of a movie like this is that the costumes do a lot of the work for you as an actor. Once you put those things on, you feel like Cruella de Vil. Jenny has created something really special.”
But as stunning as the Cruella costumes are for Emma Thompson (see her at the Dolittle premiere HERE going a bit potty!) it was not always that comfortable. ‘My underwear was like a ship’s rigging’ Thompson told us, ‘There were people hauling on ropes! It was a lot. Peeing was hard and involved a team of people. Also the shoes were a real challenge because I don’t wear anything higher than a flip flop really in real life and also I hads wigs as well so I was a great deal taller than I’m used to being. I had to move in and out of space sideways generally. I had three dalmations at my feet too so yeah the underwear was a big old deal not for Miss Stone obviously because she’s slender as a lily and didn’t need to wear a corset. If you have flesh like me you squeeze it in the middle and it moves up and down like toothpaste in a tube so you can make quite extreme shapes. It’s good fun but not fantastically comfortable at the centre but…..bits of me would squish out of the top of the costume and then they’d push a bit back again and pull it in again’.
Completing the looks were the makeup and hair designs by Academy Award® nominee Nadia Stacey, whose tall order included designing 152 wigs for the Marie Antoinette Ball and 88 wigs for The Baroness’ Viking Gala Charity Ball. Of Stacey, producer Kristen Burr says, “Nadia nailed the looks for the first moment we met. She got that we were going for a punk vibe but also wanted it to be elegant and outrageous and unique and memorable. People will be copying her looks on costumes for years to come.” For Stacey, the biggest challenge was making Cruella look different enough from Estella so that The Baroness wouldn’t know it was the same person. Says Stacey, “As it turns out, the looks have been so big for Cruella, that actually, that – that’s fine. I always wanted to create a look for Estella – and my reference a lot of the time was Debbie Harry. I had this real sort of kind of understated look, but very kind of cool, slightly edgy punky seventies. And then, for Cruella, it was just kind of a go for it. The looks became huge every time we see her, and also to have someone that’s so into fashion and playing with her looks all the time, I felt like she would also do that with her hair and makeup. She would change that every time.
Says Craig Gillespie, “I was constantly blown away by Nadia ‘s work. She really pushed in the best way to go beyond what you would expect Cruella would look like, with her black-and-white hair. There are times where Cruella’s makeup is harsher where it fits her character and what she’s doing and times when it’s a little softer when she’s becoming a little more nuanced. And all of that was beautifully done.” Stacey says, “With the Baroness, we wanted to make sure that she was immaculate. Perfect. Nothing out of place. Everything is thought out in her look. We wanted the silhouette to always look the same. Something always kind of scraped back, the hair’s back off the face, and there’s a kind of severity about it, a hardness to it.” She adds, “Women get a look, and then they sort of stick with that. Her hairdo and her look would have been more in the fifties. It has a kind of Audrey Hepburn sort of feel about it.”
For fans of fashion Cruella is something of a must see with its huge array of Cruella costumes and to allay any fears absolutely no dalmations were harmed in the making of the film!