Cruella: when ingenious designer meets stylish supervillain

If you know The 101 Dalmatians (the Disney 1961 animated film) then you must know Cruella de Vil – a pampered and glamorous London heiress, who kidnaps Dalmatian puppies for their fur. From the unsubtle symbolic name (a pun of the words “cruel” and “devil”) to her sinister physical appearance, the character has been a pop-culture incarnation of vanity, greed, and evil.

One Hundred and One Dalmatians (1961); 101 Dalmatians (1996); Cruella (2021)
 Disney/AF archive /Alamy; Walt Disney/Alamy; Disney

The new Disney live-action film was first announced in 2011, featuring screenwriter Aline Brosh McKenna, best known for writing The Devil Wears Prada. Disney and fashion fans alike have been excited to see this movie for the last 5 years, as Disney announced Emma Stone as cast in the titular role of the fashion designer turned villain – Estella (“Cruella”) in 2016.

Emma Stone in different Cruella looks (images via Disney)

The movie is a prequel to the live-action 1990’s 101 Dalmatians and is set in the 1960’s to 70’s. The dynamic between Emma Stone (Estella later Cruella) and Emma Thompson (The Baroness) is amazing: in the movie, Estella and The Baroness are both crème of the fashion industry; but The Baroness is Estella’s cut-throat boss later turned nemesis. While the Baroness would be compared to a Rockstar in the fashion world, Estella, on the other hand, was the people’s Idol.

Cruella and the Baroness (images via Disney)

The costumes were truly works of art. Designed by Jenny Beavan, the British talent is best known for winning the Best Costume Design Oscar for Mad Max: Fury Road (2015) and entering the stage to receive her award wearing the coolest motorcycle jacket emblazoned with a flaming skull. Her stage design career spans more than five decades: she’d previously taken home the prize for A Room with a View (1985) and has been nominated for The Bostonians (1984), Maurice (1987), Howards End (1992), The Remains of the Day (1993), Sense and Sensibility (1995), Anna and the King (1999), Gosford Park (2001) and The King’s Speech (2010).

Jenny Beaven posing with her Oscar. Dan MacMedan/WireImage; Kevin Winter/Getty Images

When talking to Vogue about the costume inspirations, Jenny said that she witnessed 70s London fashion first-handily: “I was there! I was more into theater than fashion at the time — set design, scene painting. But, I do remember the things I wore, even though they weren’t that exciting. I couldn’t afford Vivienne Westwood and even Biba was a bit out of my price range. So, having read the script, I made a list of what each character needs and then started printing out images. In terms of references, we had masses, including Westwood, [German singer] Nina Hagen, [fashion label] Bodymap, and Alexander McQueen.”

The designer also reveled that Cruella had a total of 47 looks in the film. Apart from original designs, the team also sourced vintage costumes from the 70s from Portobello Road Market in London, the vintage fair A Current Affair in LA, and many other costume houses around the world.

This combination of images released by Disney shows a seamstress working on a costume for the film “Cruella,” left, and Emma Stone wearing the costume in a scene from “Cruella.” Costumes for the film were designed by Oscar winning designer Jenny Beavan. (Laurie SparhamDisney via AP)

The baroness Hellman, on the other hand, had a very different aesthetic from Cruella. The character’s costumes were highly influenced by 1950s and 60s Dior.

The soundtrack mainly composed of remakes of 70s hit rock songs. There are also some original songs in the film, such as Florence and the Machine‘s a song titled “Call Me Cruella”.

Cruella is definitely a woman empowerment movie. The film is just over 2 hours and is much better than 2014’s Maleficent. I would highly recommend all fashion lovers to give this movie a watch!

Watch the official trailer here:


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