Source: Vanity Fair
Has there ever been a more stylish Disney villain than Cruella de Vil? She was high camp personified in the original 1961 101 Dalmatians, with her two-tone shock of hair and overwhelming fur coats. But it wasn’t until Glenn Close played her in the 1996 live-action film that she morphed into a true fashion killer. Cruella’s looks, designed by Oscar winner Anthony Powell and made by Barbara Matera, ranged from Chanel-inspired tweed to beaded organza gowns to polka-dotted capes, often accompanied by jaw-dropping amounts of fur. “It’s my only true love, darling,” she snarls in the film. “I live for fur! I worship fur!”
Like Cruella, Close herself has a deep reverence for those particular costumes. “Those clothes are incredible examples of the art of costuming,” she tells Vanity Fair.
Costume design has long been a passion point for the six-time Oscar-nominated actress, who’s been holding on to certain pieces since her very first film, The World According to Garp. For the last three decades, Close has had a clause in her contract that allows her to keep her costumes, and she’s since built an enviable collection. Though she originally saved those costumes in a storage unit in Bedford Hills, New York, she has since donated her collection to Indiana University, where they’ll be kept in a state-of-the-art facility—“apocalypse-proof,” she jokes—where students can study them for various majors, like theater and merchandising. “I feel quite emotional when I talk about it,” Close says with a laugh. “To know that it’s going out and wont be under my roof anymore.”
The Cruella costumes are among Close’s most iconic looks, and serve as beautiful mementos of her collaborations with Powell and the late Matera, whom Close refers to as a brilliant aesthetic executor. The costumes often took weeks upon weeks to design, including hours of fittings with the actress, who often had to slip on corsets for the elaborate looks.
“For Cruella, I had a 21-inch waist,” Close recalls. “I was in good shape.” But those corsets took a toll. If they were too tight by even a few millimeters, the actress would feel faint. “You get in this panic,” she said, adding that the crew built a dresser on wheels they could roll out, so she could quickly get untied. Close also couldn’t sit down in her Cruella costumes; instead she used an old-fashioned leaning board with armrests. It was a “rigorous” process to turn into the classic villain, but “part of the job,” Close adds cheerily.
Some of her favorite looks are the most elaborate ones. She adores the red gown lined with ostrich feathers, designed to look as though Cruella was engulfed in ornate flames (a gorgeous optical illusion thanks to beads, sequins, and painted glass). She also loves some of the more avant-garde pieces, like an organza coatdress adorned with silk roses. She and Powell would thoughtfully examine it in fittings, deciding exactly where each rose should go. There was also a puffy, chic coatdress made entirely of bubble wrap for 102 Dalmatians, when Cruella is supposedly cured of her fur addiction and has to opt for other clothing materials.
Though Close has now given away most of her Cruella memorabilia, she still has one of the character’s red cigarette holders—though she unfortunately doesn’t bring it out for parties, or keep it framed in her kitchen, like her Fatal Attraction knife. She also keeps an eye on Cruella’s status in the pop-culture realm, particularly when people dress up as her for Halloween. “It’s fabulous!” she exclaims. Though Close has never considered channeling Cruella herself for the holiday, she does remember going to the 102 Dalmatians premiere in 2000 in full Cruella drag, just for a laugh.
“The idea of what one is gonna wear on the red carpet is incredibly stressful to me, so I actually said, ‘You know, fuck it—I’m just gonna come as Cruella,’” she said. “I’d actually gotten some comedy writers to write answers to questions I thought the press would ask.”
However, the red carpet reporters were so “surprised and kind of gobsmacked” that they hardly asked her anything, Close remembers. “You realize how people aren’t kind of wired to deal with someone like Cruella when she walks down the carpet.”
So, does all this make Cruella one of the greatest Disney villains of all time? “Of course,” Close says. “The more horrible she was, the more kids responded to her. That's a classic witch.”