The villainess who will stop at nothing to make a coat from Dalmatian fur, Cruella de Vil has been giving children nightmares for more than 60 years.
But how did the evil Cruella, iconically clad in an enormous black and white fur, earn her fashion stripes — or should that be spots? Well now Disney have given us the answer in an eye-popping prequel jam-packed with outfits so extreme they’re to die for (perhaps literally . . .)
Cruella, which charts how a young ‘Estella’ became the notorious villain, will be simultaneously released in cinemas and on subscription service Disney+ on May 28.
With an estimated budget of £140 million, it stars Emma Stone in the title role as a creative orphan dreaming of becoming a designer, with Emma Thompson as her rival, the evil fashion maven Baroness von Hellman.
Emma Stone, who stars in the title role of Cruela, in one of the several outfits created for the film
And in this film the costumes are as key as the characters, providing a fashion extravaganza that will well and truly blow away the cobwebs of months of slouchy lockdown dressing as Cruella attempts to upstage the Baroness at a series of balls and red carpet events.
Designed by Oscar-winning costume chief Jenny Beavan — known for hits including Gosford Park, Mad Max: Fury Road and the King’s Speech — this is a fashion epic with 80 costume changes between the two leads alone.
Jenny and her 60-strong design team had 16 weeks to pull the costumes together — including one dress with a skirt big enough to cover a car and featuring an astonishing 5,060 hand-sewn petals — for the 14-week London-based shoot.
‘Cruella is the biggest thing I’ve ever done,’ she says. ‘Emma Stone has a total of 47 costume changes and Emma Thompson has 33.’
As such, it’s unsurprising that most of the pre-release buzz has centred on the clothes.
‘Fashion is a big character in this film,’ explains producer Kristin Burr. ‘People will go and see it just for the clothes. And they should go multiple times to make sure they see them all.’
Here, CLAUDIA CONNELL previews the blockbuster that will see us all fall in love with fashion again.
Daring designers v classic chic
The decision was made to set the action in 1970s London, where the Punk movement caused a huge clash in society and the fashion scene in particular. Established fashion houses such as Dior, Chanel and Givenchy (whose expensive, old-school glamour the Baroness epitomises in the film) found themselves taken on by an underground, anti-establishment movement.
Designers such as Vivienne Westwood exploded onto the scene with edgy and distinctive looks — as represented by Cruella (or Estella, as she is known at the start of the film).
While the Baroness lives in upmarket Hyde Park, Cruella lives in a squat in a pre-gentrified Notting Hill, indulging in a life of crime with sidekicks Jasper and Horace to get by, while harbouring dreams of becoming a designer. The anarchy of the period provided the perfect backdrop for Cruella on her journey from street criminal to cutting-edge designer and supervillain. Director Craig Gillespie believes the character of Cruella is representative of the rage of youth culture at that time.
Estella (Emma Stone) is pictured before and after her transformation into Cruella De Vil
Punk rebel to vampish villain
Jenny Beavan says that Cruella’s early look, while still Estella, was inspired by a photograph she saw of a German punk singer called Nina Hagen.
‘She’s sitting cross-legged and she has a slightly oversized fluffy jumper on and very ordinary trousers,’ says Jenny. ‘You get the sense that Estella would have gone to vintage stores in London’s Brick Lane when it was a rag market.’
Estella, who first crosses the Baroness’s path while working as a cleaner in London department store Liberty, starts out with an ‘edgy’ vibe. But the more confident and powerful she becomes, the more chic and sophisticated her look.
‘When she’s a young Estella her look is softer and more deconstructed and as she becomes more Cruella she becomes sharper and more tailored,’ Jenny explains.
Cruella is pictured after indulging in a spot of dognapping in a patchwork leather jacket with strips of black fur woven through the sleeves
Armed with ten suitcases of clothes she’d collected from scores of markets and vintage stores in London and New York, Jenny visited Emma Stone at her LA home for a four-hour trying-on session in the actress’s kitchen in order to create a fashion personality for the character. The winning looks were photographed and Cruella’s eventual costumes were all made from scratch by Jenny’s team.
Emma, 32, says: ‘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, and Jenny has created something really special.’
It’s at the Baroness’s Black and White Ball that Cruella is first unveiled. Her white satin cape catches fire to reveal a blood red dress underneath. In the movie Estella sees one of the Baroness’s dresses in a vintage store and cuts and remakes it into something stylish for the ball and Cruella is born.
Cruella’s dress was inspired by the ‘Tree’ dress created by American fashion designer Charles James in the 1950s: structured and corseted with draped fabric to create a feminine silhouette. The flames were added by CGI afterwards.
A runaway train
In one particularly dramatic scene, Cruella can be seen clinging to the side of a rubbish van wearing a stunning dress with a 40ft train made entirely from the Baroness’s satin gowns from her 1967 collection that Cruella has stolen. She’s also sporting a huge wig, one of 240 used throughout the entire production.
CAR CRASH COUTURE
Costume designer Jenny Beavan used the annual Met Gala, where celebrities try to outdo one another in outrageous outfits, as her inspiration for Cruella’s most dramatic fashion moment. A military jacket is teamed with a huge billowing skirt as Cruella jumps on the Baroness’s car as she arrives for a red-carpet event, her skirt enveloping the entire vehicle.
It uses 1,300 ft of organza fabric, with a skirt made of 5,060 hand sewn petals. The costume took up half of Jenny’s workshop and she had to recruit fashion students to help stitch the petals.
The Baroness’s bold look
Cold, catty and with an arsenal of withering put downs, the Baroness is described as what you’d get if you crossed Coco Chanel with Vladimir Putin.
With fashion very much still a man’s game in the 1970s, she’s had to be tough and ruthless to reach the top.
When it came to creating her on-screen look, Jenny describes it ‘very sculptural and very Dior-influenced’.
Epitomising old-school glamour, the Baroness dresses in thick taffetas, silks and duchess satins, with Emma Thompson, 62, explaining that they ‘channelled the old screen divas from Joan Crawford to Elizabeth Taylor.
The Baroness hosts three balls in the film: a black and white one, a Viking themed gala, and a Marie Antoinette theme that all required striking, statement dresses.
DOGGY SPOTS … OR POLKA DOTS?
With the Baroness boasting a set of three precious Dalmatians, the big question for viewers will be whether Cruella is about to kickstart her love for dog fur coats as she seeks to wreak revenge on her rival.
Let’s just say that having indulged in a spot of dognapping — and looking particularly stylish in the process, in a patchwork leather jacket with strips of black fur woven through the sleeves (left) — we see Cruella storm the catwalk wearing a spotty dress, modelled on the one worn by Glenn Close when she played Cruella in Disney’s 101 Dalmatians in 1996. But is it fur, or is she mocking us with polka dots? We’ll let you find out . . .
Jenny teamed up with bespoke costume maker Jane Law who specialises in corseted, structural period costume. She says: ‘I’ve worked with Emma since the Eighties and she still has the most wonderful figure, so why not just make the most of it?
‘She brings something to the whole costume. Some people just stand in it, she embodies it.’
Picture research: Claire Cisotti
HIGH HAIR & MEMORABLE MAKE-UP
Bafta-winning hair and make up designer Nadia Stacey created Cruella and the Baroness’s look with a 37-strong team.
When it came to Cruella’s dramatic makeover, complete with black and white hair, Nadia says she just ‘went for it’, adding: ‘The character is so into playing with her look I felt she would also do that with her hair and make-up.’
In one dramatic scene, Cruella roars up on a motorbike to upstage the Baroness, wearing a black leather jacket looking like it’s made from old tyres (left) — and the provocative message ‘The Future’ painted across her face.
For the Baroness (right) it was important that she looked immaculate at all times. Nadia says: ‘The hair is back off the face, there’s a severity to her, a hardness.’