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‘Cinderella,’ ‘Cruella’ and ‘Last Night in Soho’ Costume Designers on Defining the Fashion POVs for Their Protagonists


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Aneophyte undergrad in the contemporary West End traversing the swinging ’60s, a grifter turned apprentice in tumultuous ’70s London, and an aspiring entrepreneur in a timeless fairy-tale realm: Last Night in Soho‘s Eloise (Thomasin McKenzie), Cruella‘s Estella (Emma Stone) and Cinderella‘s Ella (Camila Cabello), respectively, have one thing in common, besides the potential same nickname: fashion design talent. The films’ costume designers shared the challenge of not only portraying distinct protagonists but also imparting character through the young women’s creative visions and sartorial perspectives.

Reflecting real life, to establish an origin story subliminally telegraphs a budding point of view and early influences. Awaiting her fashion school acceptance letter, Last Night in Soho‘s wide-eyed Eloise blissfully flits around her bedroom in a newspaper dress, inspired by the late-’50s-era Audrey Hepburn and Jean Shrimpton. Odile Dicks-Mireaux designed the pleated newsprint gown to convey Eloise’s affinity for the style and music of the ’60s; her tastes, shaped by her seamstress grandmother, are later mocked by her contemporary-minded London classmates. The Emmy winner looked to haute couture in vintage Vogue issues, imagining that Eloise would too. “She could have done the same as I did and gone onto the internet,” says Dicks-Mireaux, who recalls making her own self-expressive clothing during her college years.

In Cruella, Jenny Beavan divulges glimmers of a young Estella’s design inclinations and fledgling rebellious streak through deconstructed stuffy school uniforms that the child presumably customized with punked-up safety pins and colorful buttons. “I was quite anarchic when I was at school, so there were ideas from that,” says Beavan. Reinterpreting personal experiences helps costume designers inhabit the minds of their promising couturiers — even if they themselves are not self-professed fashion people.

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Emma Stone in Cruella.

Laurie Sparham/Courtesy Of Disney

“I’ve never been that interested in clothes as clothes. I tell stories with them,” says Beavan, who famously made a memorable style statement in 2016 by accepting her second Oscar, for Mad Max: Fury Road, clad in a black leather moto-jacket embellished with crystal skulls and flames.

Beavan lived through ’70s London and proudly remembers wearing rugged, knee-high lace-up boots with military trousers, which she incorporated into the antihero’s subversive personal style uniform. Transforming into her alter ego, Cruella, Estella sabotages and upstages her nemesis boss, the Baroness (Emma Thompson), through spectacular performance-art-worthy designs. These include the red skirt with an explosion of ruffles topped with an army jacket that’s adorned with heavy chains and cheeky toy figurines. “We all thought we were spectacular,” says Beavan, remembering her own thrift-store military coats. “We had to get that look in [the movie], with the long boots.”

Like her colleagues, Beavan also immersed herself in the motivations behind Estella’s design viewpoint. “Modern and creative” statement pieces, like the 40-foot-train garbage-truck gown, featuring remnants of the Baroness’ dusty-hued past-season collections and discarded newspapers (like, literally, old news), counter the staid establishment. But, ultimately, “it’s a deliberate two middle fingers up to the Baroness.”

In director Kay Cannon’s modern jukebox musical update of Cinderella, Ella longs to save herself through a career as a dress designer and shop owner — instead of finding a man. In between grueling household chores, she tirelessly designs a line of soft pastel and ethereally layered tulle and organza dresses in her basement workroom. But Ellen Mirojnick’s strategy for interpreting the independent thinker’s headspace proved more esoteric. “These were her dreams, so I had to create these pillows of clouds, more or less, for her dreams and her designs to come to light,” says the Emmy winner.

As Ella finds comfort and support from the flora and fauna around her, Mirojnick devised a nontraditional circular draping technique, mimicking flower petals, with which a curious and self-taught Ella would experiment. The celestial layers and whimsical palette culminate in the Swarovski crystal-embellished fantasy ball gown, brought to life from Ella’s sketches with the magical touch of Fab G (Billy Porter). “It would be a dress that she dreamt of because her influences were swirls in nature and organic,” says Mirojnick.

Also creating a sartorial plot throughline, Dicks-Mireaux tackled a challenge second to Eloise’s newspaper confection: hopeful singer Sandie’s (Anya Taylor-Joy) 1965-era swing dress. The pink silk chiffon frock inspires Eloise’s ultimate collection, presented at the resolution of her self-growth and time-traveling horror-mystery arc. The seminal dress needed to be glamorous enough for Sandie’s jaw-dropping entrée into the swishy Cafe de Paris but also a straightforward construction that “Eloise could do.” Dicks-Mireaux forewent the era’s standard shift for a dynamic trapeze silhouette found in the period’s sewing paper patterns, which a first-year fashion student could conceivably source and use.

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Last Night in Soho’s Anya Taylor-Joy (with Matt Smith) in Sandie’s 1965-era swing dress.

Courtesy of Parisa Taghizadeh/Focus Features

Continuing that logic, Dicks-Mireaux consulted with an actual design student for Eloise’s final presentation of three streamlined, Sandie-inspired dresses. “I was worried that we would end up being too sophisticated, that you wouldn’t believe [a new] fashion designer would [accomplish it],” she says. “There’s a kind of certain naivete.”

One could say that ghost-designing fashion collections within a movie’s costumes served as a crash design course for three award-winning costume designers. “In some ways, I was reliving my own youth,” says Beavan. “And I never wanted to be a fashion designer.”

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From Left: Ellen Mirojnick, Jenny Beavan, Odile Dicks-Mireaux

Stefanie Keenan/Getty Images; David M. Benett/Dave Benett/Getty Images; Angela Weiss/Getty Images

This story first appeared in a December stand-alone issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.

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