Disney’s Cruella boasts two iconic performances from two Oscar-winning Emmas. Emma Stone plays the titular Cruella De Vil and gives us hints of the maniacal villain she would become. Emma Thompson supports as a character known only as The Baroness, the height of the traditional establishment fashion world. What’s most fun about Disney’s reimagining of the Cruella De Vil myth is the world in which it’s set.
Director Craig Gillespie (I, Tonya) and his ludicrously talented production team fashioned (pun intended) an incredibly detailed and period authentic battlefield. One that could contain this towering battle of wits.
To start, production designer Fiona Crombie needed to create not only new spaces reflective of Cruella and The Baroness but also an authentic recreation of the iconic London department store Liberty’s. In doing so, Crombie earned major raves from her director.
“The production value in those sets is insane. Just the detail and the enormity. The flower work up the stations,” Gillespie gushed. “It was so opulent. It was amazing.”
Production Design Sets the Tone
Crombie’s work across the film required her to keep pace with the script’s penchant for assembling major fashion events at the drop of a feather. There are at least three major balls within the film – a pastel-tined ball, a black and white ball, and a Viking-themed ball – each requiring their own unique color palate. There’s The Baroness’s workshop. There’s Cruella’s lower-income workspace. In total, the film features over 120 sets to create in varying degrees of opulence.
“One of the things that I’m most pleased about with the film is the level of detail in every single one of those sets,” Crombie shared. “I’m making a movie at the moment, and I’m like, ‘I’m not busy enough. What’s happened?’ ”
To recreate Liberty’s of London in which the young Cruella toils as a janitor, Crombie and team scanned the details of the existing store and rebuilt a 1970s version on a soundstage. When viewers are first treated to the set, the camera swoops down from a skylight to expose the upper levels of the store before flooding onto the main floor of the store. It’s a breathtaking sequence that incorporates VFX work in addition to Crombie’s designs.
Also incredibly important to the story are Cruella’s and The Baroness’s lairs.
The House of Baroness needed to reflect The Baroness’s stifling and controlling personality. To do so, Crombie imagined a space in which The Baroness can observe her workers from on high – an office positioned above the meticulously organized work floor. On the floor, each table lines up with surgical precision in a monochromatic paradise.
That completely contrasts the world of Cruella.
“Her workspace is improvised and found furniture and messy and crumbling. I just wanted there to be this cultural clash,” Crombie said. “There is a generational and cultural clash coming together in the film. Their environments contrast in terms of the establishment versus the new reality.”
Fashion Tells the Story
The theme of The Baroness’s establishment contrasting with Cruella’s rule breaking also reflects in Jenny Beavan‘s astounding costumes. In the film, Cruella (as Estella) obtains a coveted position working in the House of Baroness. There, she hones her craft, working under the woman that would eventually become her nemesis. In effect, fashion defines their characteristics as clearly as any line of dialogue in the script.
It’s truly surprising, in fact, how critical the fashion world of the 1970s is to a Disney villain prequel.
“I’m not a fashion designer, I’m a storyteller with clothes. In fact, in my real life, I have no interest in clothes,” Beavan revealed. “I just love telling stories with them. So for me, that was just brilliant. There with these beautifully written characters that you could just get your teeth into.”
If you’ve seen the trailer, then you know the iconic moment in which Cruella burns a white robe at The Baroness’s black and white ball to reveal a stark red gown, instantly setting her apart from The Baroness.
But one of the most incredible fashion-related moments of the film comes in a montage sequence in which Cruella’s presence grows through three orchestrated fashion showstoppers. One of these moments involves a garbage truck backing up into a crowded ball. There, Cruella pops from the back and unfolds an elaborate… well… trash dress.
The moment was always scripted but was brought to life by Beavan’s incredible design.
“Somebody came up with this idea of her turning up with a trash truck. That felt like a very appropriately aggressive thing for Cruella to do, and it came from a place where they were always scamming. It was something they could get their hands on,” director Gillespie explained. “I was looking for ways to make it visually impactful and also grow because it comes in a set of three. This is the finale of her impact.”
Topping Off the Looks with Hair and Makeup
As with Beavan’s fashion choices, hair and makeup designer Nadia Stacey reflect Cruella’s progression and character arc through the film. As Estella, Cruella – born with black and white hair – hides her true nature beneath a series of wigs. Yet, as she becomes the more bold Cruella, the hair and makeup changes reflect that journey.
“When she first starts arriving to these red carpet moments, there’s a kind of mask-like quality in all the makeups as well because she has to disguise herself. I needed the difference to be huge between the two looks,” Stacey shared. “So I needed to keep Estella quite simple so that we had somewhere big to go for Cruella. I feel very much like Fiona [Crombie] at the moment as well. I feel like it’s never gonna be the same again. I’m never gonna have that many looks to do again.”
Using Beavan’s fashion risk-taking as a source of inspiration, Stacey shaped two wigs into a variety of creative hair styles for the ever-evolving Cruella. That, of course, contrasted with the neat, tidy, 1950s-inspired looks for The Baroness, designed by Naomi Donne. As with the production design and costumes, the hair and makeup continued the film’s theming. Cruella is seen as constantly trying new looks and punk-like aesthetics while The Baroness remains very put together and structured.
For a grand finale (which will remain unspoiled here), Stacey needed to create over 120 Cruella-adjacent black and white wigs. That huge feat followed the creation of 18th century wigs and the application of 1950s and 60s period-specific makeup.
If the tasks seem Herculean, they often felt so during production. Yet, once Gillespie and his accomplished crafts team realized there were little limits to what they could do, sheer fun took over, resulting in the visually exquisite finished product.
“When I saw what Jenny [Beavan] was doing and how much she was changing up the costumes, it kind of all worked. But it set myself a little bit, but I don’t regret,” laughed Stacey. “It could’ve been easier with one or two styles, but once you start getting into it and know that you’ve got the creative freedom to play with these looks, it was like, ‘What can I do next?’
Cruella drops Friday, May 28, in theaters and on Disney+ with Premier Access.