Director Craig Gillespie, costume designer Jenny Beavan, and production designer Fiona Crombie break down the wicked glamour of the Disney villainess origin story.

By Mary Sollosi
April 20, 2021 at 09:45 AM EDT

Fashion isn't just a job, it's a lifestyle. As everyone who's heard of Cruella de Vil knows, a commitment to nailing the perfect outfit can lead to mass puppy murder, at best (prison at worst). So when I, Tonya director Craig Gillespie took the helm of Cruella (out May 28), the live-action origin story for the viciously stylish 101 Dalmatians villainess, he took the look seriously.

"We're in a fashion world," he tells EW of the film, which stars Emma Stone in the title role, a young nobody with designer dreams. "That made it much more complicated, because everybody's going to have their fashion lens on as well. [We] run the risk of it taking you out of the film if you're not buying what they're selling."

That meant Oscar-winning costume designer Jenny Beavan (A Room with a View, Mad Max: Fury Road) couldn't merely make expressive costumes — they also had to double as gorgeous, covetable fashion.

Emma Stone in 'Cruella'
| Credit: Disney

Luckily, there was no shortage of edgy glamour to mine from the 1970s London setting, which "immediately set a tone" for the overall look of the film, says production designer Fiona Crombie (The Favourite). "This story has heightened elements to it, but it needed a real sense of location." The team grounded Cruella in seedy, pre-gentrification Notting Hill and the nascent London punk scene; Gillespie and Beavan cite the iconic designer Vivienne Westwood, who dressed the Sex Pistols, and the subversive label BodyMap as inspiration.

From this world emerges Cruella — a rebel who challenges the fashion establishment in the form of the Baroness von Hellman (Emma Thompson), whose aesthetic was loosely inspired by Dior: "By [the '70s] she's slightly old-fashioned," Beavan explains. The rival designers' conflict, ever escalating in high stakes and high style, is "the most delicious part of the film," Gillespie promises. Because fashion isn't just an art form. It's a weapon.

A 'Cruella' costume in progress; Emma Stone in 'Cruella'
| Credit: Laurie Sparham/Disney (2)


Early in her process, Beavan scoured "every vintage store in London, and then in New York, and then again in L.A.," collecting piles of items for Stone to try on in different combinations. She didn't end up using most of the things she bought as actual costume pieces, but the practice provided inspiration for Cruella's eventual look — as well as the character's own design sensibility. In the film, Cruella recuts a vintage Baroness piece to make this dress. Aligning with both a punk DIY approach and modern sustainability efforts, "I thought [using found clothing] would be part of her ethic," says Beavan. Inspired by Charles James' "Tree" dress, the careful twisting on the bodice "took some time, let me tell you!"

Emma Stone in 'Cruella'
| Credit: Laurie Sparham/Disney


"It's quite clear in the story how [Cruella] develops, so you've got a good arc to her life in clothes," says Beavan, who maps out the evolution of a deranged fashionista through her design choices. As young Estella, her wardrobe is softer and more deconstructed, but "as she becomes crueler and Cruella-er, she becomes sharper and more tailored."

Emma Stone in 'Cruella'
| Credit: Laurie Sparham/Disney


"The 1970s is a period I actually remember the first time round, so that was sort of helpful," says Beavan, who Gillespie says was tasked with making the film's fashion "of the time, but in some way also current." This silhouette, of a fitted jacket atop a full skirt (plus Doc Martens), has "never gone away," Beavan observes appreciatively. In keeping with the general spirit of anarchy, the military jacket's epaulets are piled with figurines: "There's a whole world on that shoulder!"

Emma Thompson in 'Cruella'
| Credit: Laurie Sparham/Disney


"You have to remember, even though she's evil, she's a very, very good designer," Beavan notes of Thompson's Baroness, whose more refined aesthetic — of which asymmetry is a hallmark — was intentionally made very distinct from Cruella's. Their preferred palettes differ significantly, too; where red is our antiheroine's signature color, her nemesis appears primarily in browns, greens, and golds (though she's pictured here at a black-and-white ball).

A 'Cruella' costume drawing; Emma Stone in 'Cruella'
| Credit: Disney; Laurie Sparham/Disney


Nothing ruins a bold entrance like a drab outfit, so this look needed to be as thrillingly disruptive as Cruella's arrival (on a motorcycle, naturally) when she wears it. Worked into Stone's makeup is a recurring motif that appears throughout her wardrobe: "The graffiti element is important," Beavan says. Badass.

Emma Stone in 'Cruella'
| Credit: Laurie Sparham/Disney


With this look, Beavan paid "a slight homage to [the] Glenn Close Cruella, but it was our version." Worn at a climactic fashion show — one of Cruella's "fashion bomb" moments, as Gillespie enigmatically calls the scenes featuring her most show-stopping looks — this coat incorporates the print that has previously defined the character: Dalmatian spots. The film illustrates the origin of Cruella's obsession with the unique fur, but rest assured, this textile "was completely fake, printed by our printing department," Beavan says. "No animals were harmed in the making of this major motion picture!"

Cruella hits theaters and Disney+ Premier Access on May 28.

Related content:

Cruella (2021 Movie)

  • Movie
  • PG-13
  • Craig Gillespie