If Disney’s new Cruella is the origin story of a high-glamour villain—with Emma Stone slipping into the deliciously deranged character and her black-and-white wig—the catalytic scene arrives early in the film. The setting is a baroness’s estate, in the swing of a raucous costume ball. A woman has stopped by with her wild-child daughter Estella (two-toned hair hidden under a hat) to ask for money. Things don’t end well for the mother, who tumbles off a cliff with help from the baroness’s dog whistle and Dalmatians. That much is enough to set a grief-stricken girl on her path to becoming Cruella.
But that’s not the only inflection point. When Estella steals inside the party, wide-eyed at the sight of pastel-powdered wigs and ballooning skirts, it is something of a creative coup de foudre. Estella has found her calling—her “London Calling,” you could say, given that the rest of the movie is set against the backdrop of 1970s British punk.
However much the film is a fashion duel between established designer (the baroness, played by Emma Thompson) and iconoclast upstart (Cruella), many of its most show-stopping creations sit above the neck, courtesy of hair and makeup designer Nadia Stacey. Cruella’s black-and-white hair is, by turns, curled, shagged, and piled high in neo-Romantic fashion. The character’s makeup similarly swings from everyday glamour—matte red lipstick, smoky eye, well-powdered skin—to virtuosic flourishes. In a sequence of flash appearances designed to upstage the baroness, Cruella tumbles out of a garbage truck wearing an 18th-century wig, or turns up by motorcycle with “The Future” airbrushed across her eyes (a Sex Pistols nod) and red crystals precariously glued onto her lips.
Speaking by phone from London, Stacey unpacked the unlikely synchronicity between Cruella and her last project with Stone (Yorgos Lanthimos’s The Favourite, set in Queen Anne’s court) and talked about the iconic women who turned up on early mood boards. She also shared the pared-down products she used to create Cruella’s iconic makeup—prioritizing speed and ease, which feels as right for the free-wheeling character as it does for the summer of 2021.
Vanity Fair: I loved that you worked on The Favourite, which is the rare period piece where makeup really gets a laugh. How was it to team up with Emma Stone again for Cruella?
Nadia Stacey: It could not have been any more different in terms of makeup. When we did The Favourite, the director, Yorgos, would come and put his finger on her face and if he could see makeup he’d be like, “Take it off.” He really wanted her really stripped back with bare skin. And then you go to Cruella, and I don’t think she could have had more makeup on her face! It was just so much fun to be able to play to that degree.
I’m sure the Venn diagram of the two films is small, but was there any overlapping research—given that early scene in Cruella with the courtly splendor?
I suppose I hadn’t thought about it. I have worked with a mass room of those period 18th-century wigs, so to do that for those opening scenes was a world I was slightly more familiar with. On The Favourite, I’d sprayed some of the wigs in different colors and covered them in colored chalks, and I did something similar on this. If [the camera] came in close on the crowd, you would see that there are pinks and blues, and there are butterflies in their hair and flowers. We kind of went for it.
One of the big moments in The Favourite is the badger makeup, which is a kind of band across her eyes. And in Cruella there were a lot of mask-like makeups because she’s disguising herself from the baroness. I don’t think I was conscious of that, but maybe it’s going to be my thing!
What were the early starting points for Cruella, in terms of shared references with the creative team?
A very, very early reference was the German singer called Nina Hagen. She was on one of [director] Craig [Gillespie]’s early mood boards, and then she turned up again in some of our references. We all seemed to have this same photo of Nina Hagen: She’s got this painted face and very red hair, and there was something about the kind of spirit of her that we all kept coming back to. So when I went to the wig makers, I was like, “I want the hair to be that color”—so the red almost matches exactly to that photo.