Costuming ‘Cruella’: The Fashion Behind a Villainous Disney Origin Story

Cruella Fashion
Courtesy of Thom Bottwood/Disney

Cruella de Vil has always been known for her notorious and outlandish sartorial statements, but how her signature black-and-white looks came to be is a story unto itself. Director Craig Gillespie traces the Disney villain’s origin story in the new live-action feature film “Cruella,” which follows Estella (played by Emma Stone, who also serves as an executive producer), a young, quick-witted, fashion-obsessed orphan in 1970s London. The budding talent crosses paths with her nemesis, iconic designer Baroness von Hellman (Emma Thompson), setting the stage for Estella’s descent into madness as vengeance-filled antihero Cruella, played by Glenn Close in 1996’s “101 Dalmatians.”

Gillespie tapped Jenny Beavan to bring Estella and the Baroness’ fashion faceoff to life, a feat the two-time Oscar-winning costume designer achieved with 47 costume changes for Cruella and 33 for the Baroness — the largest project Beavan has worked on to date.

“I was around in the ’70s, so I remember a lot of the feelings and the looks, and where we got clothes — Portobello and vintage markets and stuff,” explains Beavan, who chose to ground the film in the shapes of the era (think nipped waists, exaggerated flares and oversize lapels). “I found if I overdid the excesses of the ’70s, it started to look like costume more than clothes,” she adds.

Beavan stayed the course with Cruella’s trademark color palette, adding in shades of gray and pops of red — a marked contrast to that of flame-haired young Estella, whose DIY punk aesthetic takes cues from German new wave singer Nina Hagen, says Beavan. For the Baroness, Beavan chose a more old-fashioned, Dior-inspired route with a wardrobe of warm browns and golds, punctuated with turbans, taffetas and “duchess satins with a bit of sheen that you could sculpt almost,” she says.

Several fashion moments in the film were dictated by the script, which provided Beavan with a framework as she approached each look. At the Baroness’ Black and White Ball, one of three major galas featured in the film, Cruella arrives in a thrift store-bought scarlet dress, ensconced in a white cape that goes up in flames. Later, she dons a voluminous gown crafted from newspapers splashed with headlines about the feuding Cruella and Baroness as she steps out of a dumpster truck. (“I loved making that dress,” says Beavan.) Another standout look: Cruella’s sweeping dress that covers the Baroness’ car with its oversize train when Cruella stands atop the vehicle. “I think at one point I saw 12 people sitting around the table — students and trainees — hand-stitching petals,” says Beavan of the time-consuming piece crafted at Shepperton Studios in the U.K., where the majority of costumes were built.

Other less laborious but equally impactful scenes include the Baroness’ Marie Antoinette-themed ball, which Estella attends as a child. “That wasn’t that difficult to do,” explains Beavan. “There’s a lot of 18th-century costume house stuff around.” Coupled with 1960s jewelry, makeup and accessories, “you can turn it into something that isn’t just straight fancy dress. You can make it more of its period. I thought that was really fun and quite possible.”