The stars aligned to make Disney’s Cruella happen in 2021, almost literally, and the fortune of that timing brought one of the world’s most legendary costume designers on board for this costume-driven story. When Emma Stone’s schedule suddenly freed up, Jenny Beavan was brought in with very short prep time to create what is one of her most epic design efforts to date. In the words of Beavan, “This is the biggest thing I’ve ever done. The amount of looks for Emma Stone is more than I’ve ever done. She had a total of 47 costume changes and Emma Thompson had a total of 33. Even Joel Fry and Paul Walter Hauser each had 30 costumes.” This enormous undertaking was possible with the help of Beavan’s expertise, and the tremendously talented team that worked day and night to make the spectacular gowns and costumes of the film a reality. In an interview with Jenny Beavan, the Oscar-winning costume designer discussed the way some of the most outre looks came together, how the transitions between the costumes underscored the narrative of the film, and her best recommendations for how to follow in her footsteps to become a costume designer.
On: How She Got Involved in the Film
The Baroness, played by Emma Thompson, is a designer who defined the fashion of the 60s, but as the film explores the rebellious 70s in London (where punk was born), she’s heading past her prime. Enter: Estella (Emma Stone), an ambitious young designer with a challenging past, who dabbles in thievery, and keeps the company of criminals. She is Cruella in the making. Beavan was challenged to tell the story of Estella’s evolution into Cruella through costuming, which paved the way for more than a few jaw-dropping on-screen fashion moments. Beavan detailed the transition, saying:
“The arc of her storyline and the script was a wonderful one to follow because you can see from a toddler, it was her dressing up from her mother’s laundry basket. So there was a lovely moment where you could see how a young child could do something inventive, and then you see her right to the end, through her passage of literally becoming a designer. At the beginning [we see her] putting vintage stuff together – as we all did in the 70s – and the influence of military stuff, which you will inappropriately wear with jeans or for the scarfs or whatever. It was something I could really enjoy and remember, and then taking her into the much more tailored, sharp, silhouettes was fascinating.”
On What it Took to Create THAT Red Dress
One of the film’s standout moments come at the Black-and-White Ball, where The Baroness (Emma Thompson) is confronted with a transformed Estella for the first time. Estella makes her entrance, draped in a white cape, before revealing an astonishing red gown below. Beavan enthusiastically spilled the details of the gown’s design, saying:
In this story, Cruella sees a red dress at an artist’s vintage store and thinks it will be perfect to remake it into something for this ball she’s going to basically photo bomb or crash. And as it’s a black and white ball, red was the obvious color to be very strong in there. Ian Wallis [the designer] fancied doing the Charles James ‘Tree’ dress, which has twisted strips of fabric. We had to design the original dress for the window that she cuts up [and make sure] she has enough fabric in it that [she] could logically make another dress out of it.
On: Tackling Design Challenges
Another fantastic fashion moment yielded some challenges. In one scene, Cruella climbs on top of The Baroness’s car in a gown with an absolutely massive skirt, which Beavan and her team had to engineer to be lightweight enough for Emma Stone to wear without toppling over.
“Again, it’s a photobomb opportunity and it’s scripted that she, the hapless Baroness has turned up for one of her red carpet moments in a car and Cruella sort of out of nowhere climbs onto the car, and basically covers up the whole car with a skirt. You’ve got to make a skirt that you’ve can A) climb onto a car in and, and B) you can swish around to cover up [the car]. So we tapped Kirsten Fletcher for this; she’s an amazing Australian maker and has done really sort of constructionist costumes.
People tell me how much fabric is in it and I was shocked. Each petal was hand cut and each petal was stitched on by hand, but it gave a lot of students and trainees a lot of work. It also took up a ridiculous amount of space in the workroom. I felt half sick and half proud, whenever I looked at it because of the amount of work that went into it. We did an original version with a more frilly, which looked fabulous, but it was too heavy. The great thing about something like this is you can have a go at it and try it out on either a stunt actor or somebody, who can have a go to make sure it works. We had a lot of trial runs, so it basically, the petal idea kept it light, but still visually impressive.”
On: Working With the Two Emmas
When it came to working with two major film icons, Beavan jumped at the chance. Having worked with Emma Thompson on multiple films before, the two had a fantastic existing relationship, but Cruella would be the first time the costume designer would work with Emma Stone. She reported nothing but pleasure at the opportunity to work with both Emmas.
“I’ve worked with Emma Thompson since about 1980, so, you know, she is an old friend and still has the most wonderful figure. You can see what her character should be, and so I worked with Jane Law, another extraordinary costume maker, and we made some toiles, and took [them] up to do a fitting with her in Scotland. From that [we] found the shapes that wouldn’t really work and then decided to stick to a theme. She’s got a great figure, so why not just make the most of it? The Baroness would have. It starts with sort of finding the story and then finding her colors, golds and browns, something bright…because Cruella is obviously going to be black and white.
“The other Emma I’d never actually met before, but I’d heard wonderful things from a lot of people who worked on Favorite and you know, what a great person she was and such a sport, which she certainly was, for some of the things she wore.”
On How to Become a Successful Costume Designer
Of course, as a legendary Oscar-winning costume designer who has been working in the industry for more than 40 years, we would be remiss not to speak to Beavan about her advice for those seeking to follow a similar path. In keeping with her warm personality, she was instantly prepared to divulge a mini master class on how to become a costume designer:
“I would suggest anyone these days goes to one of the schools out there, be it in England, America, you know, or wherever; there’s a very good one in Prague. I would suggest training in costume design through an art school. You’ll get a real range of skills where you learn all those arts like dyeing and fabric painting, and 3D printing, which is now a very useful thing, [as well as] how you cut, how you pattern cut, how you drape, the history of costume. All these things are incredibly good to know. I mean, I can cut and I can sew. I’m not the world’s greatest, but I can certainly reback a waistcoat if needed.
“And then you mustn’t be grand. You must absolutely know you’re part of a team. If you want to do your own thing, and put your mark on things, be a fashion designer, don’t be a costume designer. [You will have to work] in collaboration with the director’s vision you will have to fulfill. And if you don’t agree with it, then there’s no point in doing it. Then you’ve got the production designer and the makeup and hair – because that completes the look – and you create that character.
“I also think it’s really good to work your way up from the bottom, learning what it feels like on set. You’ve got some kind of concept of what it feels like. I would also highly suggest you get dressed up, feel what it feels like to be fitted and then have to go out in front of the camera. I had to do it twice and I hate it, but it’s really good to know that. En route up to being, hopefully a costume designer, you may find other things you prefer doing. You may prefer cutting. You may prefer being a textile artist and head of that department. You may prefer just being a brilliant fitter. That’s what I would suggest.”