Deliciously wicked and with a wardrobe to die for (quite literally), Cruella was the ultimate baddie. But how did she get to be so dastardly? This is the question that underpins director Craig Gillespie’s origin story, Cruella. Starring Emma Stone in the title role, and set in the vibrant punk era of 1970s London, the film follows Estella, a rebellious young grifter who—with her natural black-and-white hair, which she disguises with red hair dye—has always felt like an outsider. With dreams of making it as a fashion designer, she soon catches the attention of industry titan, Baroness Von Hellman, played by Emma Thompson, who takes her under her wing, until one day Estella notices the Baroness wearing a necklace that had once belonged to her mother, who died in mysterious circumstances many years ago.
Enraged by this, and sick of trying to repress her nonconformist nature, Estella sets about trying to upstage the Baroness, letting her two-toned hair flourish and experimenting wildly with makeup—in one scene, she teams a crystal-encrusted red lip with the word ‘future’ stencilled over her eyes like a mask—and a wardrobe of her own creations. And with that, Cruella is born.
It’s a humanising story (which might not quite make up for massacring dozens of puppies years later) with a strong beauty message—one that is all about embracing your true self and using makeup as a means of expression—something which resonates with the film’s hair and makeup designer Nadia Stacey who worked with Stone on 2018’s The Favourite. Ahead of the film’s premier access release on Disney+ in Singapore on 28 May, we talked to Stacey about how the beauty looks became central to the film’s story and why Cruella might just be someone we can all relate to.
When approaching a film such as Cruella, where do you start?
“There was such a wide scope of places to look at. I have a huge room with all these mood boards going all the way around it and, honestly, it looked like we’d gone mad because there were 18th-century makeup and wig references, stuff from the 1950s and 1960s, and pieces by John Galliano and Vivienne Westwood. I looked at avant-garde hair competitions and sculptures. Then, obviously, 1970s punk. There were no barriers to it to begin with, which is amazing, but also quite difficult.”
How much did Emma Stone inform your vision of Cruella?
“Because I have a relationship with Emma from The Favourite, I know what works on her. She is very dainty so you can’t go too big with the hair and makeup because it just drowns her. With a lot of the punk references, I was looking at there was a sort of harshness to it, but also there’s a real beauty to it as well. I was looking at people such as Debbie Harry—she actually wore a lot of soft-pink lipsticks, which I wouldn’t have imagined. So, if I did something like the look where we wrote ‘The Future’ across Emma’s face in the same font used on the Sex Pistols’ 1977 album cover Never Mind The Bollocks, which was really harsh and graphic and black, we would balance that out with a red-crystal lip to get a softer beauty element.”
I love that there’s an inside joke in the beauty looks. What was the intention behind that?
“Only one person might notice that, but we know and Emma knows. So, to do a scene where she gets off a motorbike and storms up to the Baroness with this on her face, it gives you a sense of empowerment.”
Cruella is a transformation story. How is that reflected in the hair and makeup?
“When we first meet Estella, I wanted to keep the look quite simple with her red hair. She feels like a girl who’s grown up in 1970s London. Then, as the story progresses, she transforms. I feel like since she was a child, she’s been gathering all these bits of information and putting her twist on it. I was doing exactly the same with my own designs—borrowing references from all these different places and then putting my twists on them. There’s a point where she goes to the Baroness’s ball with a French plait in her hair. And when we first see the Baroness in the 1950s, there’s a scene where the Baroness has a style that’s similar. Young Cruella sees that hair and uses it later in her life but messes it up and does a punk thing to it, trying out things that work and that don’t until she perfects it, which is that Glenn Close look that we all know.”
How much of Glenn Close’s Cruella in 101 Dalmatians informed the hair and makeup for Emma’s interpretation?
“I definitely thought about the Glenn Close look. I wanted to be respectful to it. The very first time we see Emma as Cruella, her hair is in roughly the same kind of shape and length as the Cruella that we know. She also wears nails similar to those that Glenn Close wore. But actually, it became very clear that, because we were an origin story and we were finding our feet for Cruella, we could take it as wild as we wanted.”
The hair and makeup are central to the film’s plot. Estella was born with Cruella’s signature two-toned hair but feels alienated so dyes it red to conform with the status quo. But as her power grows, she returns to her roots. What do you think the film says about beauty?
“It’s about becoming who you want to be and having strength and confidence in who you are; stop hiding and embrace everything about you. And it’s funny because there’s a point in the film where her sidekicks want back the Estella with the red hair, but she’s like, ‘No, this is who I am now.’ So there’s real empowerment in her. Beauty is about being comfortable in your own skin and being empowered to go out however you want to look. M.A.C is bringing out a Cruella collection and my thought behind that was, ‘Who do you want to be today?’ Don’t be pigeonholed—embrace your beauty.”
Disney’s Cruella hits cinemas with sneaks on 26 May. To catch it home, order it on Disney+ with Premier Access 28 May.