In praise of fashion icon Cruella de Vil
Is there a children’s villain with more style or panache than Cruella de Vil? His fabulous car, his cigarette holder, his long red gloves – as a child, I wanted to have a rotary telephone to compose with the cigarette holder, as Cruella does in the 1961 Disney animated film. One hundred and one Dalmatians. She is pure wicked glamor with speckled hair.
In honor of the new Cruella movie, I went back to the books that started it all. From disney A One hundred and one Dalmatians is based on a 1956 children’s novel by Dodie Smith, whose most famous work, the cult favorite of 1948 I capture the castle, includes extended thoughts on clothing and furs and why both are so important. Smith knew style was important – and she wrote Cruella’s style in The hundred and one dalmatians with such ugly glee, our dear Mme de Vil rightly takes up the whole book. She doesn’t have a lot of scenes, but the ones she does have are unforgettable.
By the way, Cruella de Smith is married. Her husband is a barely speaking non-entity, which may be why he doesn’t appear in any of the Disney adaptations. Such is Cruella’s commitment to its vibe that she made it take her name instead of the other way around. (Cruella Smith just wouldn’t have gotten the same ringtone.)
Mr. de Vil “did not appear to be anything other than a furrier,” Smith writes cheekily, and Cruella married him for access to the furs. Furs are essential to her lifestyle as she is always cold, and Smith strongly suggests that anything less than hell will never be hot enough for her. (The hundred and one dalmatians is a very Anglican book, and I’ll warn you now that like many other English children’s books of its day, the novel’s anti-Semitism is barely coded.)
In her quest for warmth, Cruella travels all over what Smith describes each time as “an absolutely plain white mink coat,” and at one point appears wearing a brown mink coat. under his existing cloak, complete with a fur hat, fur gloves and fur boots. Every night she sleeps between sheets of ermine. Plus, she flavors all of her food – including ice cream – with nothing but pepper, and when Dalmatians bite her, they find that she tastes like pepper too.
However, Cruella’s style doesn’t just extend to ingenious ways to combat the cold. She drives a car painted in black and white stripes to match her hair. (Her hair was black and white even when she was little, we learn, and she wore it in a black braid and a white braid.) At her home, a green marble hall leads to a red marble living room (Christmasy!) , and its dining room has black marble rooms and a white marble table.
And then, of course, there are his clothes.
Here’s how Smith describes Cruella when she first appeared: “She wore a bodycon dress in emerald satin, several ruby strings, and an absolutely plain white mink cape, which reached the high heels of her ruby red shoes. … Her hair was severely parted in the middle and one half was black and the other half white – rather unusual.
Served with that absolute gaze, our conspicuous hero, Mr. Dearly, whose dogs Cruella will soon steal, looks at her nose and says, “Isn’t she a little gaudy?” and really, I don’t see how Smith could have expected anyone to support him after that.
Anyway, at the end of The hundred and one dalmatians, the Dearlys and their dogs beat Cruella, leading her to flee disgraced England. But Cruella makes a triumphant return in the sequel, 1967 Starlight barks.
the Stellar barks It’s not really about Cruella, who only appears in one scene for a glorified cameo. (What the book is actually talking about is crazy, by the way, and I don’t think I could spoil it if I tried.) Still, she makes every moment count.
La Cruella which returns in Starlight barks is now a full-fledged entrepreneur. She runs a company called Cruella de Vil & Co .: Makers of Kloes which Klank, which Dalmatians, who are also misspellings, are able to decode as “Clothes that Clank”.
Cruella’s clothes are clicking now because, having ditched fur after losing to the Dalmatians in the previous book, Cruella has since embraced pewter. With a characteristic commitment, she now sleeps on sheets of tin. She manufactures and sells pewter raincoats, which are “brightly colored, scarlet, emerald, sapphire, flame” and have sharp edges. Perhaps relevant to Cruella’s interests after the Dalmatians tore all of her old furs to pieces, they are also unbreakable.
Cruella is a fashion visionary, and I’m willing to accept that she knew something the rest of us didn’t. If the new Cruella the film becomes a success and inspires a vision centered on Cruella Starlight barks, Will 2021 be the time when the rest of us finally start dressing in pewter?