When Disney announced that they would be developing a movie about the origins of one of their most iconic villains, Cruella De Vil, I had conflicting feelings. On one hand, Cruella is my favorite Disney villain of all time; she is the embodiment of glamour and is arguably the most fashionable of all the villains, but at the same time holds personality traits and qualities that make her despicable to the audience, thus holding up her status as a proper Disney villain. I loved the 1996 adaptation of 101 Dalmatians because of how well Glenn Close performed the role of Cruella, which only made me fall in love with the character more (let me just clarify, I don’t love Cruella as a person; I love how the character was written and how well she acts as a villain).
But on the other hand, adaptations of beloved film franchises and characters are often a hit or miss when it comes to the audience’s reaction. For example, the 2014 movie Maleficent starring Angelina Jolie received an audience score of 70%, meaning one could argue that it was a pretty well-received adaptation of yet another iconic Disney villain. But Cinderella II: Dreams Come True, the sequel to one of the most popular Disney stories ever told, received a score of 32%, doing not nearly as well as its original counterpart. So when I heard that Cruella De Vil’s story was going to be told, I was both excited that I was going to be receiving more content from my favorite Disney villain of all time, but worried that this film could potentially alter the character and her story in a way that ruins what we already know about her from the “101 Dalmatians” movies and everything it is that we love about her.
It should also go without saying that no matter how much you may love Cruella’s fashion, style and demeanor, at the end of the day, she’s still a fur-obsessed puppy killer. Any attempts to try and get the audience to sympathize with her would not be received well at all because of the fact that she’s arguably one of the cruelest (no pun intended) villains of all. Following the announcement of Cruella, many took to social media to express their concerns about whether or not Disney would make this attempt to humanize her despite knowing the kind of person we know she ends up being in the future.
But any reservations I had about the movie very quickly dissipated after the first promotional pictures were released. I was excited to learn that this movie was going to primarily focus on Cruella’s background in fashion and style, my favorite things about her. I knew that by revolving the story around fashion that I could expect great costume design throughout the film, and so I was excited for it to soon release so that I could indulge myself in all the great fashion the movie had to offer.
In the end, Cruella, starring Emma Stone as the titular character, did not disappoint in the fashion department. Lead costume designer Jenny Beavan, who has won two Oscar awards for her work in other notable projects such as A Room with a View and Mad Max: Fury Road did an excellent job at making sure that the fashion didn’t disappoint, especially in a movie that revolves around it. Each outfit represented the characters and what stages in their lives they were in so wonderfully that it was possible to distinguish what kind of person they were and what they were like solely by looking at their clothes alone.
Cruella’s costumes were obviously my favorite; as an up-and-coming fashion designer in London during the 1970s, her style was much more edgy and rebellious, but still included a lot of elegant and refined details alongside her punk aesthetic. Two of my favorite costumes of hers were the garbage look she wore, which was made out of newspaper, tulle and lots of fabric scraps and garbage bags, as well as her English soldier-esque gown with the blazer decorated with medals, chains and sashes with the long red skirt and train. Through her fashion, Cruella intended to disrupt the fashion scene as it is and to introduce a new era of style that rebelled against what was the norm at the time. Cruella’s signature colors of black, white and red were abundant throughout the movie, which I loved because those colors are essentially symbols for her entire character, but Beavan still chose to incorporate other colors alongside those three to show the versatility of Cruella’s style, and it turned out to be a fantastic decision.
The costumes worn by other characters such as The Baroness, brilliantly played by Emma Thompson, were very well-done as well. The Baroness is a high-profile, glamorous and ruthless fashion designer in London - with quite the unhinged side - and I was pleased to see how well her clothes reflected that. Her outfits compared to Cruella’s were much more mature and polished, which also describes the differences between the two characters: another thing I love about fashion and its use in media. It can be a source of self-expression and a way to get to know characters before they get to introduce themselves. When costume design is done well, the outfits can often speak for themselves in movies, and I would like to commend Jenny Beavan for doing exactly that in Cruella.
The story of the movie was great as well (although the ending draws some questions as to whether or not this is the same Cruella we know from 101 Dalmatians; the movie sort of tries to redeem Cruella and attempts to get the audience to sympathize with her due to her broken past, but again, I expected that), but the fashion is really what stole the show at the end of the day. In a Vogue article about the movie, Liam Hess makes a great point in mentioning how the movie plays with stereotypes about the fashion industry - that it is toxic and unforgiving - as buildup towards Cruella's breaking point. Her obsession with fashion is ultimately what led her to start embracing Cruella rather than Estella as who she really is, as well as starting a fashion revolution that was widespread and a true embodiment of her genius (and/or chaos).
I think that Cruella serves as a great example of what good costume design looks like, and I was relieved to see that the prequel movie held up her iconic style and crazed personality through what she was wearing. I look forward to seeing more of Beavan’s work and hope that Disney puts this same amount of attention and detail when it comes to costume design in all their future projects.
All photos belong to Disney Enterprises.