Cruella (2021): The Quintessential Costumes

Cruella (2021) tells the genesis tale of one of Disney’s most well-known characters. However, very few could have predicted that the film would be a fashion spectacle, filled with outrageous costumes. Emma Stone’s costumes are, in a way, this film’s center of attention. They precisely showcase the transformation of her character from Estella to Cruella.

Cruella in her infamous Garbage Truck Dress
Cruella in her infamous Garbage Truck Dress

The live-action Disney film drew a lot of attention because it starred Oscar winners Emma Stone and Emma Thompson. It strutted into the scene, though, with its show-stopping outfits, designed by Oscar-winning costume designer Jenny Beavan.

Let’s take a look at how the costumes, in themselves, play a major role in the film.

47 – Number of looks Emma Stone dons in Cruella

In the featurette above, Beavan notes “this film is the biggest thing I’ve ever done”. She isn’t exaggerating. Although Cruella’s animated counterpart has only a few outfits, the modernized Cruella of 2021 has over 40. A couple of them even hearken back to the 1961 Disney original. Beavan adds “Emma Stone had 47 looks. It was very important to me to have Cruella be black, white, gray, and red. Fashion comes into it because the Baroness runs a fashion house. And because Estella wants to be a fashion designer and fashion is obviously big, but actually it’s all about storytelling and the fashion is totally story-driven”.

Here’s a breakdown of some important costumes and how they reflect the major plot points.

Estella conning in the streets of London

To make ends meet on the streets of London, Estella and her crew – Jasper, Horace, Wink, and Buddy get into the con job. They pull-off several jobs in the characters and costumes designed and made by Estella.

Estella in a London bus
Estella in a London bus

For instance, Estella dressed in a checkered coat, dark gloves, sunglasses, and a silk scarf, along with her gang, makes easy targets of businessmen on a London bus.

Estella working for the Baroness

Estella in minimalistic black outfit
Estella in minimalistic black outfit

The elegantly bespectacled Estella puts her Vivienne Westwood silhouettes in the forefront when she starts working for the Baroness, favoring largely blacks and grays, both skirts and pants. These outfits also depict Estella’s fashion evolution, as she gets more simple and streamlined over time, all while maintaining her unique style.

Cruella at the Baroness’ Black and White Ball

Cruella enters the Baroness’s legendary Black and White Ball wearing a white silk hooded cape and quickly takes the stage. In a sequence evocative of Katniss Everdeen’s fiery dress turning into the Mockingjay in The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, she then burns it away.

Cruella sets her white gown on fire revealing the iconic crimson gown
Cruella sets her white gown on fire revealing the iconic crimson gown

Cruella looks magnificent in her crimson gown, which has elements of Alexander McQueen and a mermaid tail that resembles a cluster of flames, as she makes her public debut. This is her own take on an old Baroness dress from 1965. “I fixed it,” she proudly proclaims to her competitor. “I’d like to make an impact” and boy oh boy, make an impact she does. Estella wears it to represent her past as well as her goals for the future. It’s a statement to the Baroness and everyone else at the party that says, “I’m you, but much much better.”

Cruella and Vengeance

She is a figure of vengeance in a shiny two-piece leather suit, when we first see her the morning after her dramatic debut at the Black and White Ball. This is the point at which Estella completely embraces the evil side, resolving to become one with her alter ego as she sternly instructs her friends and sweeps through town plotting the doom of her rival.

Cruella in a black checkered outfit
Cruella in a black checkered outfit

Cruella employed the services of Anita and Artie while wearing this dress, which not only has a sharp, patchwork appearance but also resembles the checkerboard pattern of a chess game, which is appropriate given Cruella’s intention to outwit and outplay the Baroness.

Gatecrashing the Baroness’ Red-Carpet moment

Cruella throws down the gauntlet to the Baroness, arriving on a motorcycle to ruin her red carpet moment. She reveals her name in neon graffiti on the building to the rest of the world. Cruella’s glamorous bad girl vibe is conveyed through her gold sequined pants and leather motorcycle-styled jacket.

Gatecrashing Baroness' Red Carpet moment
Gatecrashing Baroness’ Red Carpet moment

Her dramatic face-paint simply reads, “The Future”. This is another message to the Baroness telling that Cruella is the future and she is the past.

The iconic Garbage Truck Dress

Cruella arrives in a garbage truck at yet another special Baroness-hosted event surrounded by journalists and select attendees. Amidst piles of clothes that come out from the rear-end of the truck, Cruella emerges in a beautifully boned and fitted strapless bodice covered with newspaper clippings about herself.

The iconic garbage truck entrance
The iconic garbage truck entrance

The 40-foot-long train of the gown, supposedly a patchwork fashioned from garments from one of the Baroness’s obsolete collections, is shown as the truck moves along, gaining pace with Cruella hanging at the back. The windswept dress flaps and flies, completing the film’s most magnificent costume-design sequence, which states “One woman’s trash is another woman’s treasure”.

Going above the Baroness

Cruella goes over the Baroness in yet another guerilla-style red carpet action. After locking the Baroness’ in her car, she climbs on top of that car in her combat boots. She wears an imperial jacket adorned with pins, chains, rosettes, epaulettes and an extremely huge, swoon-worthy organza skirt of reds, blacks, and purples consisting of over 5,000 hand-sewn flowers.

Cruella climbing over the Baroness' car and taking a pose
Cruella climbing over the Baroness’ car and taking a pose

Cruella declares that a new fashion queen has arrived in town. She drapes her imposing train over the car windows, giving the curious paparazzi their money picture with a ramp-worthy pose. It’s definitely a sight to behold.

The Dalmatian Coat

Cruella upstages The Baroness once more by holding a concert just outside the Baroness’ fashion show. Here she launches her own styles, which also include a ‘Dalmatian’ fur coat.

Cruella taking stage in the infamous Dalmatian Coat
Cruella taking stage in the infamous Dalmatian Coat

The coat is a psychological ruse designed to scare The Baroness, whose Dalmatians get kidnapped by Cruella. She convinces the Baroness that she slaughtered her prized Dalmatians in vengeance.

Chaos and Confusion

Cruella descends a grand staircase in a slick, floor-length black gown with a square-shouldered cape. Her two-toned hair is perfectly collected which accentuates her unconscionable image in the film’s final-act climax.

Cruella arrives at a gala
Cruella arrives at a gala

Cruella fills the room full with her look-alikes and compels the Baroness to acknowledge her by sending costumes, just like the one she wears, to all of the Baroness’s guests. This scene’s purposefully geometric, military-esque regularity, aimed to create chaos and confusion, is honestly mind-boggling.

It’s all Cruella

Estella is gone, now it's all Cruella
Estella is gone, now it’s all Cruella

A commanding cloak with a neck appliqué, a razor-sharp black suit, high heels, and a sassy demeanor – all portray that Cruella is here to rule. 

The costumes create a striking statement by illustrating the narrative flow of Estella’s transformation to Cruella. There are numerous elements for fashion enthusiasts to focus on, in order to fully appreciate the influence of different cloth fabrics, embellishments, and all of the other subtleties. Visual choices are made with the intent of increasing the audience’s enjoyment and understanding of this character’s descent into deviousness and the motivations that drive it.

Cruella is one of those films that make you sit down and take notice of the subtle elements present in each and every scene. All the credits and accolades that Jenny Beavan is getting, she richly deserves them!

Swaham Mohanty

I am just another socially awkward human-being, trying my hands on writing.

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