Words by Kaylee-Rose Payne
Whether you’re a fashion lover, Disney lover or you enjoy films that have a boss-bitch attitude throughout then take some advice…go and watch Cruella. Full stop. As a fashion student, I have been so excited for the release of Craig Gillespie’s take on the villainess’ origin story played by Emma Stone, as I expected the costume design by Jenny Beavan to be impeccable. And it is. In the 1996 live-action 101 Dalmatians, we saw Glenn Close portray the supervillain Cruella as a cold, puppy-skinner fashion designer who loved fur and we all questioned how did she get like this? Who could hate puppies?!
So, a brief rundown without too many spoilers of young Cruella. Set in the 1970’s, Cruella, originally named Estella, is bullied by a bunch of idiot boys and angered by the teachers who lack empathy, begins to pave the way for her rebellious and wicked demeanour that we all know her by. She’s then soon expelled from school and her mother is unfortunately killed by vicious dalmatians… (her cruelty towards spotted pups begins to make sense). Orphaned Estella then makes her way to London where she befriends homeless pick-pocketers, Jasper and Horace, who let her stay with them in their abandoned flat where they all grow up together. Already at a young age, she’s ambitious about becoming a fashion designer and therefore becomes very well talented by designing and creating her own pieces as well as establishing her original style as she practises in the derelict.
After landing a cleaning job at one of the leading department stores ever Liberty, she hijacks a window display where she showcases her creativity and talent which catches the eye of icy fashion designer diva ‘The Baroness’ played by Emma Thompson who then hires her as an apprentice. Sorry, but how narcissistic do you have to be to name yourself ‘The Baroness’?! Or is it really just boss-bitch energy…I’m not too sure. Anyways, as Estella begins to work for The Baroness, she realises how her talents are being taken advantage of as she’s given no credit for her creations whilst discovering some hard-hitting truths (no spoilers here) which leads to her deciding to make her own name and label for herself. Cruella.
Cruella isn’t just a name, it’s also a new identity. It allows Estella to create a new attitude and lifestyle as she leaves her past behind her. Estella attempted being good and followed the rules, however when it got her nowhere, she had to adapt a new wicked persona who doesn’t follow the rules. “It’s Cruella…dahl-ing.”
Cruella then befriends eccentric vintage store owner Artie (John McCrea, known for his work in Everybody’s talking about Jamie), who pays homage to David Bowie. They help create Cruella’s own haute couture label which is very punk rock. Much of the costume design throughout the film has a fierce Vivienne Westwood 70’s punk vibe, such as plaid, pleats and ruffles that are juxtaposed with chains and extravagant embellishments, as well as shoulder pads. All the pieces for Cruella are vintage and according to Beavan, costume designer, much of the wardrobe were sought out from vintage stores, from fashionable Portobello Market to LA vintage fairs. So not only was Cruella’s wardrobe seriously stylish, but it was also mainly sustainable which is so ethically responsible. Cruella stands out compared to The Baroness whose outfits are a lot ‘safer’ with references to 50’s Dior. Although it is very much stylish, The Baroness’ designs are outdated which is why the crowds were a lot more excited to Cruella’s exciting and fun pieces to The Baroness’ dismay.
Aswell as the help from Artie and her dynamic duo Jasper and Horace, Cruella also gets publicity help from childhood friend Anita Darling (Kirby Howell-Baptiste) who works as a gossip columnist. Yes, the Anita Darling who we all know from the original Disney classics. So, not only are we getting a back story of Cruella, but the film also provides us with an insight into Anita’s story.
Overall, the film is refreshing compared to Disney’s most recent live-action films, which can be somewhat boring when it is just a copy of the classic animations. The film also has a lot darker, rebellious edge which is somewhat unusual for Disney which I love. Even as a twenty-year-old I was glued to it- and even was my white cis-boyfriend which shows how adaptable it is to different audiences. Cruella is also incredibly inclusive, for instance the androgynous character, Artie, is Disney’s first ever openly gay character which is so important for younger audiences to see. It is also important for audiences to remember that the film is based in 70’s, a time when being gay or androgynous was very much judged so we must appreciate the inner strength that Artie has. However, we don’t see too much of Artie’s story and although it is good for Disney to be inclusive of the LGBTQ+ community, we do have to question ‘queerbaiting’ which means to draw in audiences with the promise of inclusivity, yet the outcome is less than promised. It is a marketing tool to just gain profit really, similarly, to companies greenwashing. Nevertheless, the film is absolutely worth watching and was far better than my expectations. In comparison to the 1996 film, Emma Stone is far more vulnerable than Glenn Close who was not even relatable and purely wicked. For instance, this Cruella did not even mention skinning puppies (thank god). However, the fashion in Cruella favours in my opinion. So, either make your way to the cinema or treat yourself to a night in by purchasing it on Disney+ Premium. I’m sure you won’t regret it…dahl-ing… “Perfectly wretched.”