Cruella: How we reimagined Disney's most stylish villain for the 1970s

·Contributor
·8 min read
Emma Stone as Cruella in Disney’s live-action CRUELLA. Photo by Laurie Sparham. © 2021 Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
Emma Stone as Cruella in Disney's live-action CRUELLA. (Laurie Sparham/Disney)

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Think black and white hair and only one name springs to mind: Cruella de Vil. The queen of monochrome malevolence made her animated debut sixty years ago and then returned in 1996, portrayed by Glenn Close, in Disney’s re-worked 101 Dalmatians

But for Nadia Stacey, hair and makeup designer on Cruella (in cinemas and on Disney+ with Premier Access this Friday), those films were about the character she became. The new origins story, which follows Emma Stone’s Estella as she turns the London fashion world upside down and adopts the persona we’ve all come to know and fear, was a completely different proposition. 

Talking exclusively to Yahoo Movies UK, the BAFTA winning designer revealed she watched all the previous films and then started with 'a clean slate'. 

"I don’t need to be shackled to a perfected version of Cruella, because she’s a fashion icon then," Stacey explains. "Our girl is a young punk girl who’s just starting to embrace that black and white hair and is starting to find who she is.”  

Read more: 'Cruella': First reactions praise 'wickedly fun' Disney movie with Emma Stone

That blank canvas was soon populated by style icons who all influenced Cruella’s unique hair and makeup: From Debbie Harry and her heavy fringe, through German singer Nina Hagen and her distinctive red hair to Siouxsie Sioux, the inspiration for the young Cruella’s “punk, square eyebrows.”

(L-R): Paul Walter Hauser as Horace, Emma Stone as Estella and Joel Fry as Jasper in Disney’s live-action CRUELLA. Photo by Laurie Sparham. © 2021 Disney Enterprises Inc. All Rights Reserved.
(L-R): Paul Walter Hauser as Horace, Emma Stone as Estella and Joel Fry as Jasper in Cruell (Laurie Sparham/Disney)

Stacey had previously worked with Emma Stone on the Oscar-winning period drama The Favourite, and was the actor’s personal choice to spearhead the film’s hair and makeup designs. She recalls receiving a phone call one Saturday night while she was cooking dinner and feeling how “incredible” it all was. 

Once work started on the concepts, Stone put herself completely in the designer’s hands. “It was such a compliment. She let me go wild and was really excited about where we were going with it.”

Watch the latest trailer for Cruella

Stacey’s work is back in cinemas next month as she was also behind the hair and makeup designs for the Oscar winning The Father, a smaller, more intimate piece of storytelling which demanded a different approach. “You need to make the characters believable,” she says. “And you shouldn’t notice the hair and makeup in a film like that.” 

Emma Stone as Cruella in Disney’s live-action CRUELLA. Photo by Laurie Sparham. © 2021 Disney Enterprises Inc. All Rights Reserved.
Emma Stone as Cruella (Laurie Sparham/Disney)

Yahoo Movies UK: Congratulations on the film! It has such a striking and memorable look. Your hair and makeup designs are so integral to that look with its punk overtones. Were there any style icons that inspired your designs?

Nadia Stacey: For Estella, it was definitely Debbie Harry. I liked the heavy fringe and I think what Debbie Harry did so amazingly was that combination of punk and beauty. And the lipstick for Estella was definitely referenced by Debbie Harry. I kept seeing these pictures where she was wearing this pink lipstick and I didn’t realise that it would be so soft, that there would be such a beauty element to it. 

Blondie:   (Photo by Lynn Goldsmith/Corbis/VCG via Getty Images)
Cruella took influence from Debbie Harry of Blondie in the late 1970s (Lynn Goldsmith/Corbis/VCG via Getty Images)

Nina Hagen, the German singer, was a big influence. We all had a picture of her on the wall and she has this incredible red hair. And that’s where the tone of Estella’s red hair came from. And then Siouxsie Sioux was a huge reference for the shape of the Cruella eyebrows – a real punk, square eyebrow. A picture of her was on my wall next to my mirror the whole time I was working on the film. 

CANADA - NOVEMBER 01:  Photo of SIOUXSIE AND THE BANSHEES and Siouxsie SIOUX and SIOUXSIE & The Banshees; Siouxsie Sioux  (Photo by Peter Noble/Redferns)
Siouxsie Sioux in 1980 (Peter Noble/Redferns)

There were lots of other pictures, but Siouxsie Sioux was there the whole time. And funnily enough I met somebody the other day who know her and who said she would be absolutely over the moon to hear that. 

When you started work on the designs, did you watch all the previous films with all their various incarnations of Cruella, or did you avoid them so that you could create something fresh?

I watched them all before I started preparing for the film and then I started with a clean slate because I feel like that’s who she becomes and I don’t need to be shackled to that. 

A poster for the Walt Disney movie '101 Dalmatians' ('One Hundred and One Dalmatians'), 1961.  (Photo by Movie Poster Image Art/Getty Images)
A poster for the Walt Disney movie '101 Dalmatians' ('One Hundred and One Dalmatians'), 1961. (Photo by Movie Poster Image Art/Getty Images)

That’s a perfected version of Cruella – she’s found herself then, she’s a fashion icon then and our girl is a young punk girl who’s just starting to embrace this black and white hair and just starting to find out who she is. So I felt that the canvas was blank and I could go where I wanted to right from the beginning. 

Emma Stone asked for you to do the hair and makeup designs after working with you on The Favourite - What a compliment!

The Favourite
Rachel Weisz and Emma Stone in The Favourite (Searchlight)

Yes, we’ve been friends since The Favourite. I’d actually agreed to do another job and was going to have to tell them on the Monday. And it was Saturday night, I was cooking in my kitchen and the phone rang and she asked if I’m come and do it. It was set in the 70s and it was Craig Gillespie directing – I’d loved his films, especially Lars And The Real Girl – and it was incredible! She’s such fun and the whole team was just a dream.

Did she have her own ideas as to what Cruella would look like or did she totally put herself in your hands?

Hair and makeup designer Nadia Stacey pose with the award for Production Design for her work on the film 'The Favourite' at the BAFTA British Academy Film Awards at the Royal Albert Hall in London on February 10, 2019. (Photo by Ben STANSALL / AFP)        (Photo credit should read BEN STANSALL/AFP via Getty Images)
Hair and makeup designer Nadia Stacey pose with the award for Production Design for her work on the film 'The Favourite' 2019 (BEN STANSALL/AFP via Getty Images)

She absolutely put herself in my hands. Again, what a compliment! Such trust. She just let me go running, let me go wild. I would check in every once in a while with things that I’d seen or that I loved and I don’t remember a time when her reaction was “No way!” She was just really excited about where we were going to go with it.

In The Favourite, you created “The Badger” for Olivia Colman's Queen Anne. Is Cruella’s extraordinary eye makeup an extension of that and is this is starting to become something of a signature for you in your films?

Maybe. I hadn’t really thought about it but someone mentioned “The Badger” the other day and I thought, “Oh, yes, this is my thing. This is what I do.” I think in this film there’s a real mask-like quality to the makeup – she has to disguise herself so many times – so there’s always some kind of mask, whether that’s made from feathers and jewels or whether it’s a stencil across her face. But, yes, there is definitely a similarity.

The look you created for The Baroness was also very distinctive. You’ve given Emma Thompson that very strong, winged eyeliner and it made me think of Gloria Swanson in Sunset Boulevard.

Emma Thompson as the Baroness in Disney’s live-action CRUELLA. Photo by Laurie Sparham. © 2021 Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
Emma Thompson as the Baroness Cruella. (Laurie Sparham/Disney Enterprises)

We had pictures of lots of formidable women on the walls and lots of pictures of women in those beautiful turbans – it’s all about the face. Emma Thompson was working with her hair and makeup artist, Naomi Donne, and they’d worked together before. So, in the same way as me and Emma, there’s a real trust and Emma Thompson just let Naomi go crazy with it so we looked at all these references and Elizabeth Taylor came up a lot as well. 

Elizabeth Taylor in Cleopatra
Elizabeth Taylor in Cleopatra

Eyeliner is so perfect, though. There’s a moment when The Baroness is eating an olive and looks down and the whole look is just incredible. She’s really sculpted against the more messy Cruella. 

You’ve done the makeup and hair designs for The Father – much lower key, a much smaller cast …. How do you approach a project like that, compared to something like Cruella?

I’ve always been a very unlikely hair and makeup designer. I never thought that was something that I’d go into. I was always very artistic and a huge film fan. I watched lots and lots and lots of films and loved films and loved to find out who the new directors were and who was making what and I realised that I’m part of the story telling process. 

The Father (Credit: Lionsgate)
The Father (Credit: Lionsgate)

We create characters and I use hair and makeup to create story and so we’re part of that process and when you get something like The Father, you approach it slightly differently in that the story is there and I need to make those characters absolutely believable and you shouldn’t be noticing the hair and makeup in something like that. You need to believe in who those characters are and then let the rest of it do the talking. 

When I was phoned and asked about that one, my agent said they’d find out more about what the deal was, and I said “I don’t know what it is, I don’t care what it is, it’s 100% yes! 100% I’m doing that movie!” We had some of the most amazing times on set. It was incredible. 

Cruella is released in UK cinemas and on Disney+ with Premier Access on 28 May.

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