Cruella De Vil is arguably the most fashionable character from Disney. Her clothes transbode elegance, her accessories delineate expression, and her love for Fashion screams cruel. Disney’s new movie “Cruella” recounts the origins of the anti-hero. While the movie makes a statement about resilience and revenge, its iconic outfits play a much larger role than just costumes.
Set in 1970s London, the movie introduces the audience to Estella, a young girl who has a knack for Fashion and an appetite for rebellion and who will later become the infamous Cruella De Vil. After being orphaned, Estella moves to London, where she joins a team of two petty thieves, who will later become her henchman. In her later years, Estella, played by Emma Stone, is given the opportunity of a lifetime to work at London’s renowned clothing brand “House of Baroness,” while her job consists mostly of scrubbing floors and being repeatedly humiliated by the store manager Estella is able to get her big break after downing one bottle of whiskey and reforming the storefront design reforming a classic 1960’s dress into a punkier outfit including layers of Newspaper. Consequently, Estella gets the attention of the brand owner and fashion designer, Baroness, played by Emma Thompson She ends up working closely with her where she seeks revenge and creates a secret alter-ego: Cruella De Vil.
With explicit references to the 70s punk icons Alexander Mcqueen, John Galliano, and Vivienne Westwood, the movie’s costumes are innovative and glamorous. The role of Fashion is introduced early in the movie when a young Estella constantly changes her school uniform, from transforming her school blazer into a doodle-filled jacket to her white button shirt to a dotted black and white piece (a clear reference to the future events of the movie!) Estella’s increasing alterations of her school uniforms are closely linked to her rebellious behavior in school, ultimately leading to her expulsion. This way, from the beginning of the movie Fashion becomes a motif for both creative escapism and rebellion for Estella.
Becoming the form through which the alter-ego, Cruella, stands out as an emerging Fashion Icon in 1970s London, Fashion can be perceived as the movie’s main character. Every plot point in Cruella revolves around Fashion: Cruella’s iconic entrances in the Baronesses’ fashion shows are fuelled by her looks, such as the disproportionate red dress that arises by setting a cap on fire, the Baronesses’ slow but unforgettable downfall happens by Estella sabotaging her Fashion shows, and Fashion is both what starts and terminates the relationship between Estella and the Baroness. As the movie progresses, Fashion becomes an ally for Estella to avenge and betray the Baroness.
In an interview with Disney+ Emma Stone notes that “The costumes do a lot of the work for you as an actor… Once you put those things on, you feel like Cruella De Vil. Fashion is Cruella’s tool of revenge.” Not only a tool of revenge but also a spinster for the protagonist and antagonist’s actions in the story, Fashion serves as a motive, vehicle, and plot for the movie.