"The Joker Followed Cruella" - The Designers of Cruella on How to Do Punk, but Make It Disney

Costume Designer Jenny Beavan, Production Designer Fiona Crombie, and Hair and Makeup Artist Nadia Stacey's recreation of the 1970s London punk scene is already generating awards buzz.

by | May 28, 2021 | Comments

Emma Stone in Cruella

(Photo by ©2021 Disney Enterprises Inc.)

Cruella, which opens May 28 in theaters and on Disney+ Premier Access, is Disney’s latest attempt to raid its archives and create a backstory for one of its most notorious villains.

But unlike, say, 2014’s Maleficent, which kept the medieval aesthetic as source material Sleeping Beauty, this film explores an era that makes Emma Stone’s eponymous lead narrator stand apart from versions of the black-and-white loving fashionista Cruella de Vil associated with Disney’s 1961 animated film, One Hundred and One Dalmatians, and its 1996 live-action version, 101 Dalmatians.

How did they do this? By setting Cruella amid London’s 1970s punk scene.

But since the word “Disney” doesn’t naturally conjure images of leather pants, spiked hair, and all the black eyeliner one could find at Boots, we asked the film’s production designer Fiona Crombie, costume designer Jenny Beavan, and hair and makeup designer Nadia Stacey to explain how to do a Mickey Mouse-approved version of punk rock.

[Warning: Mild spoilers below.]

Born for This Job

Tipper Seifert-Clevelan in Cruella

(Photo by Laurie Sparham/©2021 Disney Enterprises)

At the beginning of the film, a tween Cruella – originally known as Estella and played by Tipper Seifert-Cleveland – has a knack for clothing design. She even finds ways to add personality to her school uniform, be it accessorizing it with an oversized hat, bedazzling the blazer, or wearing the necktie as a bow – things that would match the personality of a girl born to get attention thanks to her half white and half black hair.

Costume designer Beavan says that these designs weren’t meant to be perfect; Estella is just learning her craft, but it’s meant to be obvious that “she’s creative with clothing.” As Estella gets older and finds a job working for Emma Thompson’s well-regarded fashion designer, Baroness von Hellman, Beavan says the character “slowly hems and refines that look.”

A Formidable Flat

Paul Walter Hauser, Emma Stone, and Joel Fry in Cruella

(Photo by ©2021 Disney Enterprises)

Estella spends most of her childhood and young adulthood in a London squat with best friends and fellow con artists Jasper (Joel Fry) and Horace (Paul Walter Hauser). They also have two very cute dogs, neither of which are white with black spots.

“There was a time when you had these enormous buildings that are quite derelict that were still the scars of the Second World War; there were big empty sections of now what’s known as completely prime real estate,” production designer Fiona Crombie says of London during the film’s period.

She says it was important to the story of three kids living without parental supervision that “there’s an ingenuity to how they operate… This was their home that they were making; they knew how to survive and operate in this city.”

Crombie says director Craig Gillespie also stressed how important it was “that the lair can’t be frightening” and that “it has to be a place that if you were a child, it has wonder.”

The group’s squatter’s flat is made from two buildings mashed together after the wall that separates them was broken down. Horace and Jasper live in a more industrial section while Estella lives near the kitchen. Since Gillespie and cinematographer Nicolas Karakatsanis would be filming in what Crombie describes as a “very fluid” motion, she made sure that every inch of the space held something of interest.

Her favorite part? “I love the fact that we have a big hole in the ground,” she laughs.

Baroness’ Beauty

Emma Thompson in Cruella

(Photo by Laurie Sparham/©2021 Disney Enterprises)

Hair and makeup artist Naomi Donne handled the designs for Thompson’s cutting, fame-obsessed Baroness von Hellman, developing the look off of hair and makeup designer Nadia Stacey’s inspiration of Elizabeth Taylor in the 1950s. There’s also some subtle white highlights in the Baroness’ hair, which Stacey says are a nod to just how similar she and Cruella are.

Vintage Vantages

John McCrae in Cruella

(Photo by Laurie Sparham/©2021 Disney Enterprises)

Estella also makes friend with Artie (John McCrea), the owner of an extremely well curated vintage clothing shop. This set was actually a gift shop on Portobello Road in London’s Notting Hill neighborhood, which Crombie and her crew emptied out and repurposed with new wallpaper and painting. They didn’t have to look far to fill the shelves though; they bought a lot of clothes from the real shops that are in the neighborhood.

“With Artie’s shop, it was always going to be visually chaotic,” Crombie says, “because you have racks of clothes. And that’s the intention: that you feel kind of all these possibility that in that space. It feels very authentic to what’s on that street.”

The Scoop on the Ace Reporter

Kirby Howell-Baptiste in Cruella

(Photo by ©2021 Disney Enterprises)

Estella’s former school chum Anita (Kirby Howell-Baptiste) grows up to be a society reporter with exclusive access to a certain up-and-coming designer. Beavan and her team found modern fabric that still gave Anita a ‘70s look and reminds that, back then, more people made their own clothes with patterns and that “we were all much cleverer at making things then.”

Production designer Crombie says Anita’s drab, colorless newsroom is one of the few sets where she says “we are nailing this ‘70s vibe” with evenly spaced desks and little artwork on the walls “so that you’ve got this run of uniformity.”

Making the Panther De Ville Purr

Panther De Ville

(Photo by Walt Disney Studios)

Cruella gets her hands on a Panther De Ville luxury car that’s similar to the one the character drives in the Disney’s live-action 101 Dalmatians. The one in the new movie looks slightly different, as Crombie says they made tweaks to make it better suit her film’s aesthetic. They even altered the plot of the movie to have Cruella and her friends change the color of the car to black because it originally arrived in such a unique tone that they had to make use of it.

Although she wasn’t a car person before she worked on Cruella, Crombie says she grew to love this and other vehicles in the movie because “I think they have real wit … [T]hey have real personal personality and presence in the film.”

Eye See You

Emma Stone in Cruella

(Photo by ©2021 Disney Enterprises)

Hair and makeup designer Stacey posted pictures of Siouxsie Sioux around her workspace as inspiration for Stone’s lead, saying now that she liked that the The Banshees lead singer’s “eye makeup had this very distinct, very square eyebrow shape.” However, her goal was to “bring in those punk elements and then blend it out, to soften it to give a beauty edge to it.”

Stacey says she also “looked at any of those fashion shows that I feel do something different,” such as the ones by fashion houses Alexander McQueen, Vivienne Westwood, or John Galliano. Her goal, she says, was to “look at all these references from the past — because we are a period film — but then change it and to mix it up, to add something a bit more fresh and modern to it.”

Pucker Up

Emma Stone in Cruella

(Photo by Laurie Sparham/©2021 Disney Enterprises)

Red is used a lot in Cruella, particularly in the clothing and makeup. However, it’s also a color that is notoriously hard to accurately capture on screen. Stacey says it was a lot of trial and error with MAC products, coupled with the fact that star Emma Stone’s skin can take heavy coloring. (Incidentally, MAC also launched a capsule makeup collection inspired by the looks in Cruella). Stacey says she knew it was essential to get it right because “we did want a kind of killer red.”

Seeing Red

Emma Stone in Cruella

(Photo by ©2021 Disney Enterprises Inc.)

Although Beavan researched this period in fashion to gain inspiration, all of the gowns were bespoke and were not all direct replicas of vintage designs. An example of one that was the red gown Cruella wears to crash the Baroness’ ball, which is rooted in the Charles James Tree dress from the 1950s, famous for its corseted silhouette that’s encircled with winding tulle.

Designing a costume for Cruella

(Photo by ©2021 Disney Enterprises)

For the film’s take on the Tree dress, dress designer Ian Wallace had the dual task of making one version of the gown that the Baroness would have designed years ago but that, Beavan notes, “would have to have enough fabric to do something Cruella-ish,” because the younger designer reimagines the gown when she crashes the ball.

Stacey says she also knew she had to make a statement with this scene because it signals the end of the era of Estella, the orphan and petty thief, to welcome in the not-to-be-deterred (and frequently criminal) mastermind, Cruella. She says she created Cruella’s mask of feathers and jewels to have a beauty element and serve the purpose of hiding her alter ego.

Leather Rip

Emma Stone in Cruella

(Photo by Laurie Sparham/©2021 Disney Enterprises)

As Cruella continues to taunt the Baroness with more elaborate stunts and designs, she also brings in more of the street fashion and counter-culture of the 1970s. In one scene, she crashes a red carpet in leather pants with gold sequins, a fitted motorcycle jacket with pointed shoulder pads and the words “The Future” spray painted over her eyes.

“It’s the first red-carpet moment and it needed to be a real punch,” Stacey says. “I had the Sex Pistols album cover [Nevermind the Bollocks] on the wall near me, and the font of the writing for the Sex Pistols is the same font that I use on the on “The Future,” and I just thought maybe I’ll just run it across the face but to airbrush it as well, almost like it’s been spray painted across their face so it’s harsh and graphic.”


(Photo by Laurie Sparham/©2021 Disney Enterprises)

Beavan says the exaggerated shoulders on the motorcycle jacket were because Cruella “wasn’t about doing anything normal” and “by this time, she’s really learned to make [designs] well.”

It’s here, Beavan says, that there begins to be a push toward the way costume designer Anthony Powell made the character look when Close played her in 1996’s 101 Dalmatians.

Spotted on the Catwalk


(Photo by ©2021 Disney Enterprises Inc.)

No actual Dalmatians were harmed in the making of Cruella’s dresses – in fact, Beavan didn’t use fur of any kind. But the script did call for the nefarious lead to make her mentor-turned-enemy, the Baroness, worry that she’d murdered her dogs. So Wallace designed a black and white-patterned gown that Beavan’s textile team printed on a velvet-like fabric.

“A lot of these things come out of the story; what you need and how it’s got to work,” says Beavan. “She’s obviously going to dance in it and it needed movement. And it’s really got to be spectacular and obviously, very clearly Dalmatian, because the Baroness thinks she’s killed her Dalmatians to make it.”

Since the Baroness now knows that Cruella and Estella are the same person, Stacey says there was no need to hide her antiheroine behind another mask or face paint. Instead, she says she wanted to return to the “very strong punk elements” of Estella’s original eye makeup look while adding “these silver hues inside that just punch up the light in certain moments.”

Not As Simple As Black and White

Emma Stone in Cruella

(Photo by ©2021 Disney Enterprises)

Using so much black and white can be overbearing from a design perspective because the colors contrast each other. Crombie says the trick is balancing “how dense the color is.”

She says filming at the Baroness’ home, Hellman Hall, meant creating a palette that was “quite muted” and where “the level of contrast is softened out … it’s cold, but it’s not stark. So then everything can sit on top of that.”

Whereas, she says designing the film’s crucial set piece of a black and white ball required “the use of gold [to] sort of diffuse it and stop it from being too stark and hard.”

No Joke(r)

Emma Stone in Cruella

Ryan Fujitani

The designers know there are Internet pundits comparing Cruella’s designs to that of Batman villains The Joker and Harley Quinn. All enjoy making an entrance, sometimes while wearing white face makeup, dark eye makeup, and a menacing smirk.

Stacey understands why there are the comparisons, but says those characters never came up in her research.

“The whole thing about punk is that it’s just such a mismatch of things,” says the hair and makeup designer. “There’s no kind of fluidity to it. It’s kind of crazy. The references are borrowed from so many different places that I didn’t really think that I was ever going to cross into anything too much.”

Beavan reminds that Cruella, in one iteration or another, has “always had half and half. You know, I would say The Joker followed Cruella.”

Cruella is in theaters and available on Disney+ with Premium Access on May 28, 2021.

On an Apple device? Follow Rotten Tomatoes on Apple News.

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