The origin story of Disney’s famed villain with an intense hatred of Dalmatians, Cruella charts the life and times of the young orphan Estella (Emma Stone) as the aspiring fashion designer navigates the counterculture of London in the ’70s and converts into 101 Dalmatians’ notorious puppy-killer-to-be. Except she is a misunderstood dog lover here with a loyal four-legged sidekick, and that whole pooch-skinning thing seems to be fake news. While this puzzling narrative departure might baffle some, no one will be able to dispute the film’s consistent commitment to exquisite craftsmanship in the costuming department. In that regard, if you come to Cruella for the breathtaking fashion that has enormous fun with the era, you will be left awestruck.
Cruella is dressed by the two-time Academy Award–winning costume designer extraordinaire Jenny Beavan (Mad Max: Fury Road, A Room With a View), who puts forth one the most artistic, beautiful, and accomplished costuming works of this century so far, bursting with numerous instantly iconic dress reveals, scene-stealing frocks, and impeccable tailoring at every turn. As counterintuitive as it may seem for the mainstream giant Disney to appropriate non-conformist underground trends of the ’70s for a live-action prequel made for the masses, Beavan rises to the challenge with immense insight and epic imagination, bringing the period to life daringly with inspired visual nods to the likes of Vivienne Westwood, Alexander McQueen, David Bowie, and even Marie Antoinette.
Playing two distinct characters, Stone reportedly had 47 costume changes in the movie as her Estella/Cruella faces off against the Baroness (Emma Thompson), an established but slightly dated designer of the town with head-to-toe Christian Dior-esque power looks and an attitude that mischievously blends The Devil Wears Prada’s thorny Miranda Priestley and Phantom Thread’s arrogant (and also similarly behind-the-times) Reynolds Woodcock. Here is a collection of Cruella’s best looks while the green apprentice with red tresses grows into her future identity and embraces her naturally black-and-white hair in due course.
1. Work Clothes
As she shadows the Baroness through scenes straight out of The de Vil Wears Prada, the handsomely bespectacled Estella puts her Vivienne Westwood silhouettes front and center, favoring mostly blacks and grays, both skirts and trousers. These clothes also illustrate her fashion journey, as Estella becomes more minimalist and streamlined in time while still boasting her alternative style. One of the first ensembles she sports is a gray patterned shirt and black skirt combo, the latter of which has a high waistband, oversize buttons, and plenty of drapey, voluminous flare over combat boots and striped tights. Later, when she discovers the dark secret that connects the Baroness to her tragic childhood, she is seen in a sleeveless black shirt with a vest-effect leather-embossed front and a handkerchief skirt made up of neckties.
2. The Flame Dress
If you recall one fashion moment from the Cruella trailer, allow me to bet on this one. The eponymous madwoman inconspicuously strolls into the Baroness’s famed Black and White ball in a floor-length white cape only to set it ablaze and reveal a fiendishly sculpted red gown veiled underneath it. And who cares about the monochrome dress code, really? Introducing herself to the public for the first time, Cruella simply looks stunning in her ultrasophisticated crimson number with echoes of Alexander McQueen and a mermaid tail that resembles a cluster of flames. The best part? This is her own take on an old Baroness dress from 1965, a peplum gown with a sweetheart neckline she discovers at her fashion-loving pal Artie’s vintage shop somewhere around Portobello. “I fixed it,” she proudly says to her competitor. “I’d like to make an impact.” And make an impact she does, declaring her arrival with Deep Purple’s ever-catchy “Hush” in the background.
3. The Leather Skirt-Suit
The first time we see Estella the morning after she makes her dramatic debut at the Black and White ball, she is a vision of vengeance in a glossy two-piece leather ensemble featuring a geometrically eye-popping checkered pattern: a fitted jacket with puffy statement shoulders and a sleek A-line skirt, complete with tulle-accented gloves and high-heeled booties. It’s an outfit that unmistakably signals the merger of Estella’s former thrifty DIY punk aesthetic with Cruella’s ostentatious glam-goth extremity, and for good reason. This is when Estella truly steps over to the dark side, deciding to become one with her alter ego as she curtly gives orders to her besties and strides through town to scheme the downfall of her murderous nemesis. “I want to make art and trouble,” she says. And who could possibly dare to question her authority when she stomps around with that intimidating cane?
4. Motorcycle Look
Always game to put on a show with the kind of entrance even Lady Gaga would envy, Cruella upstages the somewhat outmoded Baroness on the red carpet several times. And this blinding jumpsuit look — a pair of dazzling, sequin-encrusted pants topped with a square-shouldered leather jacket that shockingly looks like it was made out of tires — leaves its mark on one of those unforgettable instances, delivering Cruella’s message to the public in the loudest way possible. When the rabble-rouser villainess-to-be skids into the scene of a London gala on a motorcycle and raises some dust amid flashing cameras, she might as well be a Ziggy Stardust–adjacent extraterrestrial stepping out of her UFO. You know she is from the future even before seeing the words The Future painted on her face around her cavernous eyes.
5. Garbage Truck Dress
Everyone will have their own favorite Cruella look, and this one is easily mine. It’s hard to recall a recent costuming-defined moment in contemporary film that detonates with this level of shock and surprise. When the notorious firebrand arrives at yet another exclusive Baroness-hosted event surrounded by the press and elite attendees, she does so in a garbage truck. Before we know it, seemingly unrelated, pastel-toned pieces of fabric spill out of its rear, with Cruella emerging out of the clutter in a meticulously boned and fitted strapless bodice adorned by newspaper clippings about herself.
As the truck crawls forward, gaining speed with the showstopper dangling at the back, it reveals the 40-foot-long train of her gown, reportedly a patchwork made up of dresses that belonged to one of the Baroness’s old, outdated collections. The windswept dress flaps and flies, capping off the movie’s most sublime costume-design sequence that screams, “One woman’s trash is another’s treasure.”
6. Petal Dress
Not exactly subtly, Cruella towers over the Baroness in yet another guerilla-style red-carpet stunt. After locking her adversary in her car, she climbs on top of it in her combat boots, rocking a vintage jacket gilded with pins, chains, rosettes, and epaulets and an absolutely massive, swoon-worthy organza skirt of reds, blacks, and purples comprised of over 5,000 hand-sewn flowers. Well, 5,060 to be exact! This whole larger-than-life look is a bit like Dior Couture by John Galliano but dialed up even further with an extreme, rebellious punk sensibility. It’s truly a scene to behold when Cruella drapes her intimidating train over the car windows, presenting the nosy paparazzi their money shot with a runway-worthy pose.
7. Butterfly Dress
Okay, it is perhaps a cheat to include this ultrastructured and gold-crusted look in a list of styles dedicated solely to Cruella. But while it’s not something that she wears herself, she single-handedly designs it all the same as the signature spring collection look of the Baroness label, which her boss predictably plans to take all the credit for. But wait … what are all those glimmering beads stitched all over this glorious strapless, almost architectural gown, which is a little like Dior of yore, but blessed with Estella’s pervasive touch? The reveal arrives soon enough when the statuesque dress unleashes hundreds of its wings into the halls of the fashion house and self-destructs, just the way Cruella has planned it.
8. The Dog Coat
No Cruella could be complete without the idea of that spotty, much-dreaded yet character-defining outerwear. So, when Stone’s deranged designer takes the stage at her very own glam catwalk wearing one (the scene is accompanied by the Stooges’ “I Wanna Be Your Dog,” just to make it a little more on the nose) — a black-and-white, broad-collared fur coat with front buckles and a full, fabulously asymmetrical skirt — she leads the Baroness to believe that she slaughtered her much treasured Dalmatians in revenge. But please rest assured: No animals were harmed in or during the making of this movie. And the coat is simply magnificent.
9. Charity Gala Frock
During the film’s final-act climax, Cruella descends a grand staircase in a slick, V-neck, floor-length black gown and a chain-accented, square-shouldered cape, with her two-toned hair gathered in a neatly swept, puffy do that elevates her iniquitous look. She is at the movie’s conclusive gala, surrounded by guests all clad in a near-identical frock that they’ve been supplied by the villainess prior to the event. The purposely geometric, military-esque uniformity of this scene designed to generate chaos and confusion is frankly jaw-dropping. Beavan and her astonishing team of cutters, fitters, and tailors simply create wonders, having dressed perhaps hundreds of extras in the same look, which is in no way a small feat.
10. Estella Is Dead. Long Live Cruella!
A domineering cape with a neck appliqué, an impossibly sharp black suit, high heels, and a spiky attitude. There isn’t all that much to say about Cruella’s parting look other than “Make way for the new lady of the house!” She’s clearly meant it when she said to the Baroness, “I’ve come to evict you.”