She was conceived as a cross between Q, James Bond’s haughty gadget guy, and Edith Head, the multi-Oscar-winning Hollywood costume designer. But Edna Mode, the magnificently imperious superhero-outfit designer currently stealing scenes in Pixar’s The Incredibles, is such a bull’s-eye send-up of self-absorbed creative-genius fabulousness that audiences are reading a vast gallery of resemblances into her tiny countenance. ”I’ve heard, like, 15 different people she reminds people of,” says writer-director Brad Bird.
Tell us about it, dahling! For starters, the gallery of must-have-been-an-inspiration figures would have to include Vogue editor Anna Wintour, designer Coco Chanel, and actress Lotte Lenya (who camped it up as villainess Rosa Klebb in From Russia With Love). On the oversize-black-frame-glasses front, Edna also resembles architect Philip Johnson, producer Robert Evans, Über-agent Swifty Lazar, Hollywood mogul Lew Wasserman, and even former Old Navy spokesperson Carrie Donovan.
Bird won’t cop to any direct influences, insisting that ”flamboyance and large glasses just go together.” But Pixar artist Teddy Newton, a codesigner of the character, says that he and the Pixar folks did look a lot at 1995’s Unzipped, the fashion-biz documentary that showcased the petulant ways of Isaac Mizrahi and former Vogue editrix Polly Mellen, among others.
As for Edna’s snarky vocals, that’s Bird himself. After recording the early ”temp tracks,” he spoke with several actresses (including Lily Tomlin) about taking over, but was eventually persuaded to remain in the role. Clearly, he has a soft spot for Edna. ”I never was satisfied with [the idea of] the hulking hero sewing in the basement,” he says. ”There had to be somebody else designing all these flamboyant costumes…a kind of half designer, half scientist.” Call her a mad fashionista.