When she’s not slaying, she’s serving. Android anti-heroine M3gan is already an icon, a yassified Annabelle, and a notable absentee from this award’s season Best Actress line-up.
The fashionable robotic doll is the star of the cult movie of the same name, filmed in New Zealand and directed by Kiwi Gerard Johnstone. The buzzy film has become a modern cult classic, taking in $90 million US since it was released – with M3gan’s style and dance moves going viral too.
Designed to mother, meme, and maim, M3gan arrives as a fully-formed feminist hero, something Kiwi costume designer Daniel Cruden knew was on the horizon when he created her wardrobe.
“Everyone knew it was a killer-doll film, but her look is very unexpected for the character,” Cruden explains. “It makes you look twice, and that’s why it’s had such a reaction – it’s not another Chucky, it’s far more sophisticated, as we step away from the stereotypical killer-doll. It’s something new, and that was received with open arms.”
Singularly capable of reviving the babydoll dress, the sinister sister twirls to life with nary a pussy bow out of place, as M3gan’s wardrobe functions as its own form of satire – her furiously fashion-forward costume isn’t child’s play, it’s more Gucci for kids. Not since fellow queer icon the Babadook served Rick Owens realness have we seen a horror film villain with such sartorial flair.
There’s something humorous too in the contrast between M3gan’s hyper-feminine dress and portrayal of feminine rage. “I think her dark side is played out in a sophisticated way because of the style of dress; you have to look twice,” says Cruden. “There’s something creepy about her look without being too on the nose.”
To research the style that was both contemporary and vintage, Cruden worked closely with director Johnstone, examining Old Hollywood looks, 60s glamour women, Gucci collections, and one New Zealand designer in particular.
“Karen Walker was looked at from the outset as well for M3gan’s look actually, and based on that we made everything ourselves – except for the Mary Jane shoes.”
The idea, says Cruden, was to step away from the vision of a child’s toy. “She’s a parenting aid – she has to appeal to parents too.”
M3gan wears a version of the babydoll dress, and will surely receive credit for its next revival – but Cruden found something inherently creepy in the concept.
“The babydoll dress started out in history as a piece of lingerie, and was adapted into a daywear dress - there’s something in itself about how creepy that is! There’s all those subtle cues that you may not immediately notice, but subconsciously you’re reading them and going, ‘there’s something not quite right with this girl.’”
Part of the appeal of dolls like Barbie is their world-building potential – think SeaWorld or Malibu Barbie – but Cruden sees M3gan creating a world all of her own.
“Depending on where they go with the sequel, M3gan is her own primary user now – we’re going to get more into that darker M3gan, whether that’s a more gothic or punkish M3gan.”
The doll’s look has gone viral, including the wig – with online chatter that her hair was designed in such a way that it would be easy to mimic for Halloween costumes and drag parties.
“A good Halloween costume is the best marketing tool. That simplicity is in there, so it could in a way be home replicated. I think her look can easily be replicated with minimal effort,” says Cruden.
After months spent crafting M3gan’s wardrobe, some of Cruden’s favourite looks didn’t make it to screen.
“There was an equestrian M3gan that didn’t make it into the film – there’s so much potential. In the next film we’ve got all sorts of opportunity to really expand the M3gan universe and see what happens there.”
In the cinematic sandbox of killer-dolls (like Chucky or Annabelle), it’s clear that villains dress better – but only one channels Parisian private school chic. Since the first looks at M3gan’s wardrobe splashed online, it’s obvious that our stab-happy scream queen’s wardrobe “understood the assignment.”
“When I saw the moment of her sunglasses being taken off, it felt like such an iconic moment in a way – you see M3gan with all her energy and attitude, you see this energy and this attitude,” says Cruden. “You see her dark side being played out – in the most sophisticated way possible.”