How a pinch of punk, a bit of Bowie and a ration of RuPaul get you Cruella de Vil
Although Cruella de Vil is an iconic character, hair and makeup designer Nadia Stacey didn’t feel beholden to previous on-screen versions when coming onboard Craig Gillespie’s “Cruella.”
“I quickly realized that because it’s an origin story, I’d got a bit of blank canvas,” Stacey says of designing the vibrant aesthetic for the film, which stars Emma Stone in the title role. “I thought there would be strict rules from Disney, like ‘We need this, and it’s got to be that.’ The fact that they hired Craig Gillespie made me go, ‘Oh, this guy comes from the offbeat indie world. He’s not going to do something that’s what everyone thinks he’s going to do.’ So it changed for me from this huge Disney film in my mind to ‘Oh, we’re making a cool indie set in the ’70s with this punk girl.’”
To prepare, Stacey filled her workshop with mood boards with references to 1970s punk, 18th century fashion, Vivienne Westwood, the 1920s and ’30s, Tallulah Bankhead and more. She’d recently finished working on the film adaptation of “Everybody’s Talking About Jamie” and was also inspired by drag queens as she imagined Estella’s transformation into Cruella.
“I definitely think those months of immersing myself in drag and talking to drag queens and watching drag queens do their makeup and watching every episode ever of ‘Ru-Paul’s Drag Race’ came with me,” Stacey says. “I don’t think it was a design choice at the time, but now it makes complete sense that she’s painting on top of her face to create someone else. In the most basic sense, she’s using wigs and makeup to create someone else, and that’s drag.”
She adds, “I listened to punk music or music of that era all the time while we were prepping and shooting. I read books that were set in that era. I really immersed myself in it so I could try and think like Estella. What would she be doing? What would she be seeing? What would her references be?”
Cruella’s notorious black and white hair proved to be the trickiest element. The team had only a few wigs for the character because the hair was so difficult to source, so Stacey would build on the existing wigs for the more flamboyant looks by adding bangs or structure on top. Because the hair was dyed — a very dark brown and an off-white to keep it from looking cartoon-ish — styling Cruella’s wig was a massive challenge.
“I don’t really know how to explain it, but there’s something about the black and white when you’re dressing it that really throws out your eye,” Stacey says. “You can’t see it the same on both sides, and because the white hair is processed so much — it’s so bleached to get to that white — it reacts differently in a roller than the dark side. So the two sides of Cruella, even in hair, reacted differently.”
While Cruella’s style and silhouette shifted throughout the film as she explored different looks, Emma Thompson’s Baroness remained purposefully consistent. Stacey collaborated with Thompson’s longtime makeup artist, Naomi Donne, to create the character’s severe, 1950s-inspired hair and makeup. The look became more and more exaggerated as the story went on, adding an element of comedy to the Baroness’ appearance.
“I always imagined if you saw a shadow behind a screen you’d know who it was,” Stacey recalls, laughing. “She started with one of the smaller, sleek hairstyles, and then another bit went on top. And then it grew and grew and grew until it was about two feet on top of her head by the time we got to the Viking ball. But no one ever stopped us. We just kept going. I don’t think there was a line with anything.”
It was equally important that each character in the film have a distinct look, from Anita’s fashion-forward vibe to vintage shop owner Artie’s flamboyant look. Stacey took her cues from David Bowie and Marc Bolan for Artie, a gender fluid character who feels very of the era. Stacey and her team felt the freedom to try anything. In one scene, Cruella disrupts a fashion show on a motorcycle and Stacey had the idea to make an obviously loud statement with the character’s makeup by airbrushing “The Future” over Stone’s eyes.
“I kept wanting to spell that out, but I didn’t know quite how,” Stacey says. “I broached it with Emma, saying I wanted to spray paint it across her face like it was a tire mark in the font of the Sex Pistols. That was the craziest idea. I suppose that’s pretty brave, looking back. But when you’re in the moment, you just try things.”
For Stacey, who recently began work on Disney’s upcoming live-action reimagining of “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs,” “Cruella” was a dream job. Any awards attention that comes along with it is simply icing on the cake.
“Most jobs you get you think, ‘Oh, I don’t need to get that out’ or ‘I’m not going to use that palette,’” she says. “Not the case with ‘Cruella.’ We used everything. Every toy — get it out of the box because we might be able to use it. I can’t even begin to tell you as a hair and makeup designer what a joy it is to get a job like that.”
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