Film’s greatest fashion character debuted in theaters in the fall of 2004. She was smart, she was chic, she was a cartoon. She was The Incredibles’ Edna Mode, a diminutive costume designer who dressed the world’s bravest superheroes. Now she’s reemerged in the long-awaited sequel Incredibles 2 which arrived June 13, solidifying herself as the best fictional fashion personality ever to exist, animated or not.
When Edna first exploded onto screens, she quickly became a fan favorite for her biting wit and excellent style. Her avant-garde outfit (a scaled leather shrug worn over a structured tier dress), black bob with blunt bangs, and German-Japanese accent drew comparisons to Comme des Garçons designer Rei Kawakubo, but Edna’s fashion origin story has been a source of consistent speculation since the film came out.
Her pristine haircut and big glasses have been likened to those of Vogue’s Anna Wintour; her exacting nature is certainly Wintourian too. British Mod designer Mary Quant has also been mentioned as possible inspiration. The oft-circulated rumor that Edna was modeled after famed Hollywood costumer Edith Head would remain the most legitimate — the two share those signature bangs, circular glasses, similar job descriptions, and a knack for extreme quotability — if only the film’s creator Brad Bird (who also voices the character) hadn’t publicly denied it. Even so, Head still feels on the money for Edna’s provenance, a connection that deepens upon realizing both have in fact graced the Oscars stage.
While the gilded title of best-ever fashion character is frequently given to Miranda Priestly, a Wintour-inspired ice queen brought to life in excess by Meryl Streep in The Devil Wears Prada, it’s misdelivered. With her tortured assistants and trickle-down blue sweater monologues, Miranda remains more of a Fendi-clad caricature, when Edna, an actual drawing, feels more grounded and true. After all, Streep was nominated for the Academy Award, but Edna won.
In real life, for example, so many fashion people stick to a specific and generally simple aesthetic. The cape-averse cartoon designer wears no nail polish, hefty baubles, or accessories, instead conveying so much with so little. The new film may have deep roots in midcentury-modern design (Incredibles 2 sees the Parr family move into a water feature-enabled Palm Springsian dream home, a veritable cornucopia of references to California architects), but Edna remains true to her forward-looking style, wearing a red silk kimono as well as an asymmetrical sheath that feels like yet another nod to Kawakubo’s work.
Everything from the elegant way she carries her cigarette holder to how she folds her arm and extends her other hand just so positions her as style incarnate, even if you can barely see her tiny shoes. Edna is effortless and memorable, and at a time when a label like Gucci is exploding its brand with misspellings and magpie tendencies to draw attention, she remains classic. Edna is never anything but fully herself — all hair, accent, and attitude.
Her role in the new film is similarly perfect in its restraint. Incredibles 2 focuses on Bob “Mr. Incredible” Parr tirelessly parenting his three children when his wife Helen returns to work as Elastigirl. The pint-size fashion professional’s cameo, centered on an impromptu babysitting session with Jack-Jack, leads to a creative burst harnessing the newborn’s unexpected range of superpowers. Edna is also a savvy businesswoman; in the sequel, Mr. Incredible clutches a Mode Design shopping bag emblazoned with a logo that ingeniously uses Edna’s eyeglasses to form the circular letters.
Perhaps more significantly, Edna embodies the overlooked truth that fashion is a marriage of science, art, and technology. She uses her brilliant mind to find solutions to everyday problems. Her models not only look superb but are also capable of saving the world while doing so; she elevates heroes as aspirational fashion idols in lieu of actresses and celebrity offspring.
There’s also the fact that unlike her cinematic designer brethren, Edna transcends as an icon without the unhinged egoism of Zoolander’s Mugatu or Phantom Thread’s Reynolds Woodcock. Where they are intimidating and paranoid, she is hyper-competent and focused. Her dry wit disarms even the most famous of superheroes; just wait until you see her reaction to Elastigirl wearing another designer’s looks.
Edna is deservedly the focal point of every room she’s in, and her high-profile clients respect that. Details like her stark residence (the better for her to stand out in) and her studio’s personalized security system reinforce her star status. Speaking of that studio, it also has an automated runway tucked behind an impenetrable wall. It’s fitting that Pixar, the animation giant responsible for making grown humans dream of a rat’s culinary confections and sob over a cartoon romance, could invent a fashion atelier fit for a creative and technical genius without whom superheroes wouldn’t be able to reach their full potential.
And with this film, Edna has truly arrived. Offscreen, she’s both permeated fashion’s upper echelon — supermodel Heidi Klum, designer Zac Posen, and former Vogue editor André Leon Talley are among those who have sung her praises — and reached the masses. The designer will appear in the new Incredicoaster attraction at the Disney California Adventure theme park, where she will also meet guests visiting its new Pixar Pier land, and (apparently) happily heckle Walt Disney World vacationers from atop a customized scooter this summer.
Neither Mickey Mouse nor Miranda Priestly would ever tease you while riding a tricked-out golf cart, that’s for sure — yet another reason Edna’s completely in a league of her own.
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