This story about “Cruella” first appeared in the Below-the-Line Issue of TheWrap’s awards magazine.
You’d imagine that for a costume designer, a film like “Cruella,” Disney’s unexpectedly hip standalone film built around the immortal villain from their 1961 animated classic “One Hundred and One Dalmatians,” would be a dream come true. After all, the film follows young Estella (Emma Stone), who careens through 1970s London as a fashion designer/provocateur known as Cruella as she seeks revenge for her mother’s tragic death years earlier. It’s the rare film where clothes take center stage and also serve a narrative purpose.
But for two-time Oscar-winning costume designer Jenny Beavan (“Mad Max: Fury Road”), the prospect of designing for Cruella was, she said, “totally daunting.” “Fashion in any form is not really my thing, so I was very much out of my comfort zone,” said Beavan, who has played in the live-action Disney sandbox before with “Christopher Robin” and “The Nutcracker and the Four Realms.” “But the script was intriguing and I am a storyteller, so I just had to adjust my thinking to include 1970’s fashion, which I remember.”
Of course, this new film is part of a continuum of amazing on-screen Cruella de Vils, and Beavan made sure to tip her hat—but not to the Cruella you’d expect. Instead of the 1961 film, Beavan was thinking more about the live-action, John Hughes-scripted version from 1996, with costumes by the late Anthony Powell. “I absolutely loved Anthony Powell, who I knew well, so I was conscious of the possible comparisons,” she said. “But our story was so different and an origin story so I felt safe in doing something new.”
If there’s one standout look from a film positively bursting with them, it’s when Estella, incognito in her Cruella persona, crashes a ball that is being thrown by the evil Baroness (Emma Thompson). She comes in wearing a white outercoat, which she lights on fire, revealing a vibrant, blood-red dress underneath. “The description of Estella finding the dress in a vintage store and what she does with it is in the script,” Beavan said. “Also, the lighting of the cape and the reveal of the red dress, I wanted to make it somehow possible. I don’t like cheating an audience.” She considered sewing “fire wire” into the fabric “so theoretically it was almost possible to actually burn off the cape,” she said, though Disney lawyers likely levitated at the mere thought of that.
In the end, the visual effects artists did their finest work—and when Beavan saw the sequence, she was blown away. “We shot the sequence quite far into the schedule so I had lived with the ideas and creation of that dress for so long, I don’t think I could have imagined another way to see it!” Beavan said. While she might have been intimidated initially, Beaven created looks that lived up to the legacy of Cruella, a true fashion icon whose impact resonates regardless of the medium.