Life is Cruella: The Dalmation thief is a perfect fit for the world of high fashion


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Most people's perception is that fashion is peopled by archetypal female Disney villains - think of Queen Grimhilde, who banished Snow White for outdoing her in the youth and beauty stakes. Not too different to many a fashion editor, you could assume.

However, if we're thinking fashion and Disney the only anti-heroine who really chimes true is Cruella De Vil. Eternally slender and ferociously stylish at the expense of everyone (including any number of animals), Cruella's entire focus is fashion – fur, yes, but contrary to popular belief, not exclusively. In Dodie Smith's 1956 novel, De Vil was a jewelled and satin-trussedsocialite married to a furrier to sate a burning passion for pelts – the pivot of her wardrobe, but certainly not its extent. It was also the mood of the time, when a mink coat was the coveted status symbol of everyone from suburban housewife to Hollywood starlet.

Fast-forward through Cruella's 1961 cartoon incarnation, and by the live-action film of 1996 – the height of PETA power, shortly after supermodels declared they'd rather go naked than wear fur, and when every fashion fur was actually a fake – Cruella had been reinvented. She was no longer merely a consumer of clothing, but a creator, a glamourpuss fashion magnate at the helm of the "House of DeVil".

Anita, the dithering, dowdy dalmation-owner, proposed faux-furs splattered with dalmation dots. Cruella demanded the real thing. Oddly, that chimed with fashion's real-life reclamation of real-life fur, designers like Alexander McQueen and John Galliano suddenly deciding fur was fine and smothering models in every shade of skin. Think pink? Think pink mink, more like.

With a few notable exceptions – Stella McCartney the highest-profile – ever since then, real fur has never really left high fashion. This season, especially, fur is everywhere, running the gambit from prawn-pink astrakhan and pastel Persian lamb trims at Miu Miu, through fluoro pink and electric blue at Fendi, to natural brown mink at Prada in the kind of unapologetic, ostentatiously full-length number we haven't seen since, well, about 1956 when The Hundred and One Dalmatians was first published. Cruella would approve.

But that also highlights the issues many have with fur – too closely aligning it with cute little puppies and rich bitches with the stench of blood hot in their nostrils. Rich is the word too – that Prada full-length fur rings in at a cool £83,000.

Cruella, of course, is supposed to be a hate figure: her surname is "de Vil," so obvious an allusion it barely qualifies as a pun.There's only one problem: they made her so inferably chic, even when on a murderous rampage, that you simply can't hate her. And god knows, today fashion loves fur almost as much as she did. Can a Cruella American Vogue cover be that far away?

Alexander Fury is Fashion Editor of 'The Independent'