There are moments in the entertainment industry when certain practices are called into question, and it seems issues over licensing of a Cruella inspired fashion range has kicked a hornet's nest when it comes to the rights of movie and TV costume designers. While some costume designs become so iconic they are instantly recognizable, the financial compensation or off-screen revenue that can be generated by the designers behind them is usually non-existent. Now a number of costumers and the Costume Designers Guild have publicly blasted the "unfair" practice and don't care if it puts their own careers in jeopardy.
Jenny Beavan, the Oscar-winning designer behind some of Cruella's stunningly crafted outfits in the new Disney movie, was recently found to be unaware that a whole range of clothing based on her original creations had been designed, licensed and released. The first time she heard of the line was when a friend forwarded her an Instagram post by the Rag & Bone brand, which advertised their "new, officially licensed Cruella inspired collection." Although the 70 year old could remember some brief discussions about the possibility of working with Disney on co-branded items, the end of the movie production and the arrival of the Covid19 pandemic meant that the designer heard nothing more from Disney.
Speaking to Variety, she said, "I just was sort of horrified. The thing about Cruella is that you've got a film about fashion, about two fashion designers. The whole story is them almost having a war using fashion. So, that's so disrespectful to then bring out fashion lines."
This is not the first time such issues have arisen recently, and it appears to have been something of an unspoken downside to working in the industry for many years. In early 2020, a range of clothing by Her Universe pulled its designs almost directly from the Erin Benach produced costumes of Harley Quinn and her fellow females in the Birds of Prey movie. A whole 25 years prior to that, the iconic costumes worn by Alicia Silverstone's Cher in Clueless were used on doll ranges without any consultation with Mona May, who defined the look of the character's wardrobe.
The extent of the problem was emphasized by Costume Designers Guild communications director Anna Wyckoff who said, "Historically, this is a huge issue for our membership, and for all costume designers. Because, as everyone knows, a costume has a long life after the project - in merchandising and toys and Halloween costumes. So there are many opportunities for the costumes to be used in an ancillary marketing fashion."
CDG president and designer Salvador Perez Jr added, "As costume designers, our work has a life beyond the screen. Our work is reproduced for toys, costumes, fashion collections and more. Not only are we not allowed to participate in the profits made off of the merchandising, we aren't even credited for our work on the original designs."
There have been some exceptions to the rule of course, such as Eric Damon working with retailer Miss Selfridge on their Gossip Girl range based on his creations from the show, and Janie Bryant collaborating with Banana Republic on a licensed Mad Men collection, but that is a long way from being standard practice in the industry. Perez Jr summed it up with one additional comment. "Producers, directors, musicians, actors and even first [assistant directors] get a percentage of profits from their work," he said. "Costume designers who help generate additional revenues from productions deserve to be compensated for the additional income earned."
Cruella is currently playing in theaters across the country, and is also available on Disney+ Premier Access for a limited time.