Disney's Cruella was recently running at the box office. This is a spectacularly filmed beautiful fairytale, and that is why we want to figure out what makes it beautiful 一 find the historical sources of its inspiration and its hidden messages. And this is what we aim to do in this article.

The film is set in 1970s London — a time when Vivienne Westwood and the Sex Pistols had just created a new style, protesting against the ideals of fragile femininity and formal male costumes of the post-war decades. In the film this punk-rock revolution is embodied in Cruella's image (the provocative and confident alter-ego of the more modest Estella). Baroness Von Hellman counterposes Cruella's character: despotic and ruthless by nature, she is fighting young Cruella to maintain her dominance and keep her place at the top of fashionable Olympus. However, we are about to see that the outcome of this battle is predetermined long before the final scenes of the movie. It is possible to see it in the way the Baroness and Cruella present their looks, in the style of their clothes, and even in the interior design of places associated with these heroines.

The Baroness organizes luxurious fashion shows for her collections, arranging her entire mansion according to the theme of her parties. She subjugates the space around her and her guests as well by the strict dress code they must follow. The ball that Estella accidentally visits as a child clearly refers to the era of Marie Antoinette — the hall, the guests' outfits , and even the runway correlate with this style. For another party — the black and white ball— Baroness establishes one mandatory rule: not even a tiny spot of color is allowed.

The hostess always looks flawlessly stunning. It is possible to find some references that inspire her style: the lines and silhouettes, the materials and colors of her outfits resemble '50s-'60s fashion, especially Dior and Balenciaga.

Smooth contours, a passion for intertwined lines, a fitted silhouette — where do these features come from? Christian Dior's famous New Look, of course. The warm and muted tones were also taken from him: golden, brown, ochre.
Balenciaga's dresses have larger and more bold forms that the Baroness especially admires — they accentuate her noticeably larger figure that stands out from typical model silhouettes. The enormous open collar, the asymmetrical pleats around the shoulders are Balenciaga's signature. These forms are made by using a lot of taffeta — these, along with satin and silk, are the crucial elements of the Baroness' image.
Her style operates in the following way: costumes, which for their time appeared avant-garde, are perceived by contemporary viewers as variations of eternal fashion classics. This happens because more than half a century has passed between our time and the 50's. What is more, Balenciaga's avant-garde fashion experiments appear less radical than the ones we are used to in contemporary fashion. Although the Baroness expands on the fashions of the '50s-'60s by giving them boldness, these pieces are still the main source of her inspiration, and they are outdated by the '70s.

There are more specific corollaries to Cruella's image. Above all, it's Vivienne Westwood, the self-taught punk designer, who was refashioning retro style concepts — in the same way that Cruella alters the dresses designed by Baroness Von Hellman. Cruella and Westwood both share painted shop fronts, graffiti on windows and even on dresses. From Westwood's style Cruella borrows the love for black leather clothing and contrasting combinations of black, white, and red, accented with zippers, metal elements, and high heels.
Cruella and Estella are formally the same person, but they are completely different characters, and this creates the difference in their looks. But even in Estella's looks you can sense punk culture's influence, and of Westwood in particular: her black clothes stand out from the black clothes of other workers in the Hellman fashion house: this happens because the design of her outfits does not fit with the Baroness' collections. Apart from Westwood, another couturier is especially important for understanding Cruella's image and his name is Alexander McQueen.

She takes from him organizing fashion shows as performances, scandalous and spectacular. They are worth each other: McQueen's paint splattered dresses and the trash heap on the runway and Cruella's burned cloak and the ride on the garbage truck. Also, they share some methods and ideas: long skirts and trains with many layers of fabric, the integration of military style into fashion. Butterflies are also an important symbol for McQueen: the scene where moths who hatch out of «beads» sewn onto a dress fly out from Baroness' safe is reminiscent of the 2001 spring-summer Voss show, where butterflies flew out of a glass cube.
Originally, the moth dress from the movie looks similar to McQueen's Spring-summer Plato's Atlantis collection of 2010, however that collection was exploring the idea of the human race returning to the seas, and large beading was imitating scales. On the other hand, a more direct reference for the moth dress can be found in the world of contemporary art: it's women's dresses fashioned from beetle wings made by Jan Farbe in 1997.
Some of the male characters in the film resemble real celebrities: the Baroness' assistant looks like a young Yves Saint Laurent, Cruella's accomplice Artie takes after David Bowie's Ziggy Stardust.
Artie can also be compared to Malcolm McLaren, and his Vintage store reminds us of Vivienne Westwood's punk shop SEX.
Arty's shop mirrors his personality in the same way that the Baroness' mansion and Cruella's hideaway reflect their interior worlds. These spaces become essential parts of their images. The interiors of the Liberty store declare its high status by expensive materials (wooden panels on the walls and windows, gold, green velvet) and minimalism of everything: shopping halls can be described as a «light» version of grand art-deco interiors.
The Baroness' designer studio does not openly show its luxury, but it's obvious that the mannequins used there are the most expensive ones: it's Stockmann mannequins that were also used by Christian Dior. A totally white studio with designers dressed in black. On her first day there Estella perfectly fits into the monochrome that serves as a background for the Baroness' glorious outfits. She observes her employees from the balcony, asserting her absolute control and power.

Even the symmetrical composition of camera shots emphasizes her position of dominance — she is always right in the center (scenes of Cruella's fashion triumphs are composed in a similar manner, the scene of the burning cloak, for example). At the same time, the designer studio exposes the Baroness being somewhat old-fashioned: it is built in the modernist aesthetic (the glass roof and its light metal framework). This style was extremely popular in the 1900s, but in the movie it is another sign of outdated grandeur.
Baroness Von Hellman gives great attention to interiors. For every show and party the main hall of her mansion is redecorated, the main staircase that she uses to descend to her guests always looks especially fabulous. The high ceilings, bright walls, draped curtains, archways — all of these features create an impression of nobility and luxury. The Baroness is clearly passionate about the XVIII century: in the beginning of the movie she puts on an entire show in Marie Antoinette's style, and later we observe some elements from this era in her office. These are the wavelike curves of fabrics, of table legs and other pieces of furniture, the narrow decorative panels on the walls, the Robert Adam-style fireplace, the lounge chair, vases imitating Chinese porcelain (maybe the authentic ones). Personal cabinets always demonstrate their owner's tastes and their passions, and they are highly significant to XVIII century culture.

Estella's space, which becomes Cruella's studio over time, suggests a completely different atmosphere: breathing with freedom, it feels just right for informality, it's chaotically cozy — not hierarchical — it feels like home. It is picturesque in a similar way to the apartment from the Dreamers. This is why Cruella's first sudden strikes, her «grand» gestures, seem to be completely out of place (like throwing her breakfast off of the table, her commands, her rudeness.) Over the course of the film she becomes more and more like the Baroness, and even at home she looks down, just like her rival, on her assistants, watching everything through a hole in the floor.
Cruella and Baroness have a lot in common, but still (or because of that) they are in open and ruthless conflict, and their fighting is royally cruel. Victory will belong to the one with a unique, experimental, provocative style — Cruella, of course. And even without looking deeper for various allusions to the history of fashion while watching Cruella, many visual details drop a hint about the finale.

Ekaterina Meshalkina
Translated by Evgenia Maksimenko

New Look
New Look - новый стиль женской одежды, предложенный Кристианом Диором в 1947 году взамен сурового и аскетичного стиля военных лет. Женщина, для которой создан этот стиль - тонкая, хрупкая, изящная.
All the world's a stage,
And all the men and women merely players

These are the lines that the new «Cruella» calls to mind. It reads even in its set-up, in the Baroness's ball that obviously has a costuming theme: people wear historic costumes that clash with the modern cars from which they emerge. And here's our heroine, too, breaking into this strictly controlled space in her cleverly modified school uniform, wearing the hat that, as she learned, makes her innocuous in a crowd.
All The World's a Stage
Even though this world appears to be strange to her, Estella takes to it instantly. She has no idea why, but this world, the Baroness's world, calls to her.

And then Estella grows up, and her life changes dramatically. Here, on the backdrop of glorious London, begins the battle between two genius women: a current tastemaker and a young revolutionary, between strict conservative geometry and new and exciting cuts… or something like that. The older, conservative Baroness who, it seems, has never done an hour of sewing in her life, is set off against Estella/Cruella, a young trailblazer who knows her way around a sewing machine and designs everything herself. That's what catches the Baroness's eye in the first place: Estellas's unbridled creative potential, and that is the very thing that allowed Estella to become a part of the fashion world, to change it.

Except — neither Estella, nor Cruella want to change the world of fashion. Cruella's (as well as Estella's) punk-ish outfits are not a call to arms to fight against the system — rather, they are a disgruntled cry against her own place in it. Estella constantly feels she deserves better, and that the world of fashion is where she belongs. When she deconstructs Baroness's looks, it happens out of necessity, not to «break» the flawed system. And while the start of the film has her doing everything on her own, by the end of it, she employs a faceless crowd of other workers — just like the Baroness. And the Baroness herself never revolts against her ideas, quite the opposite: after appropriating them as her own, she integrates them into her own clothes' line. In Baroness's eyes, Cruella is neither a disrupter, nor her opposite — she's her descendant. A dangerous descendant who threatens her livelihood, maybe, but definitely not her counterpart.

In the end, the ways in which Estella refashioned her clothes in childhood are the most compelling. They embody of the idea of high-end upcycling with severely limited resources. For little Estella, clothes were her self-expression. As soon as she arrives in London, Estella creates costumes, those that would help her to fool, to pickpocket, in other words, to survive. And that's how adult Estella sees clothes: as a costume; this also determines how she uses costumes to achieve her goals.
© Cruella, Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures
Estella is also sort of a costume, one that hides the cruel and ambitious Cruella. Those who pay attention could even spot this detail: after Estella «turned into» Cruella, the latter went to their costume rack to choose the new one.
© Cruella, Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures
The character development, however, seems to suggest otherwise. It's Cruella, not Estella, who is the real costume. Yet when you wear a mask for too long, don't you become it? Cruella claims that she's been hiding in Estella for too long and now it's her turn to play; and yet, there are rare moments of sincerity that expose Estella — the girl who we met in the beginning, the one who ran away to London with her only friend to find a new family.
© Cruella, Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures
If at first Estella added a few experimental, unusual touches here and there, now that Cruella started «playing» her, they all but disappeared. Gone are the bold elements like her segmented metal necktie; the deep gala black became an everyday black. Estella became a chrysalis that would soon open to let Cruella into the world, so she could create something, change the fossilized world of fashion. She does not see yet that she and the Baroness are reflections of each other. This realization doesn't come until the denouement.
© Cruella, Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures
The Black and White Ball is a stark example of how meticulous the Baroness is when it comes to her surroundings. The world around her is just a backdrop that allows her to shine. That's why even a tiny spot of ink makes her livid. AlthoughCruella broke her rules, too, trying to throw her out was only making Cruella the center of attention — which is why the Baroness had to sit down with her. And, of course, the Baroness's rules do not apply to the Baroness herself: not a spot of color, did you say?
© Cruella, Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures
That's why all the spaces the Baroness appears in (her home, her work, her castle) are so rigidly controlled. Even when she leaves those spaces, she must always have an entourage of black-cladden security, which works as a backdrop for anything. It accents gold oh so well.
© Cruella, Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures
Consequently, the Baroness had never needed any practical shoes. She moves from one curated space to the other in the backseat of her car; her world is the world of luxurious social functions and impeccable hardwood floors. Cruella, who had to survive her whole life, has very different footwear, one that aligns with it — Converse, boots, Doc Martens. Where the Baroness only sees a status symbol, Cruella sees a chance for self-expression. This becomes especially obvious in what shoes she pairs with the «Liberty» uniform.
© Cruella, Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures
Back in the 70s, before contacts became widely available, wearing spectacles was often a necessity. Both the Baroness and Cruella wear them. In his interview with L'Officiel, Tom Davies, who designed all the frames in the film, says that he wanted to make every character wear them. He also notes that the frames work as a reflection of the characters and of their character development. The Baroness and Cruella wear similar, cat-eye frames; the Baroness's look more luxurious and expensive, while Cruella's are simpler, more modest. Despite the perceived differences in their viewpoints, they both see the world in a same light — the Baroness might mentor Estella, but Estella has already learned that, maybe since Cruella dominated the scene, or maybe even earlier.
© Cruella, Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures
With all the similarities that the characters share, we can not ignore one difference they have. They both play their roles, but where the Baroness poses as a victim, Cruella always chooses to play the villain. This is most evident in two particular scenes, at the beginning and at the end, but it also appears in other instances, especially in costume. The most glaring example would be the red carpet scene, where the Baroness is dressed as a snow-white swan, and Cruella appears in a shining suit-of-armor-ish outfit.
© Cruella, Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures
The only time Cruella plays the victim (we disregard her earlier scams, «This is my dog!») is at the very end, on the terrace. The plot suggests that this is where Estella dies, and only Cruella is left — yet the way she acts, how she plays the victim, it's all so reminiscent of the Baroness, and that's how it reads: Estella turns into the new Baroness. The end is nigh, and it's obvious what has to happen next. The Queen is dead — Long live the Queen. Cruella never wanted to disrupt the industry — she just wanted to get to the top.

by Marina Bazarnaya
© Cruella, Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures
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