Designers are known for getting their inspiration from surprising sources, but one of the most unlikely muses in fashion has got to be Mickey Mouse. Both Mickey and his coy consort Minnie feature in several new collections this season, from costume baubles to high jewellery. In fact Walt Disney himself worked with Salvador Dalí, Charlie Chaplin and Roald Dahl, and his company has been expanding its product base for decades, redefining the idea of high/low cultural collaborations.

In recent years, D&G, Jean-Charles de Castelbajac, Iceberg, Neil Barrett, Manish Arora, Hayden-Harnett, noted for handbags and accessories, and Italian ready-to-wear line Pinko, along with furniture maestros Cappellini and Cory Grosser have all also partnered with Disney. Castelbajac has used images from 101 Dalmations for its current autumn/winter collection.

A seriously “haute” hook-up comes from high-end jeweller and red carpet favourite Chopard. In October it will launch a new Mickey Mouse-inspired collection that will include watches, necklaces, earrings, bracelets and writing instruments, all encrusted with diamonds and other gems. They will range in price from €30,000 to €150,000. And the demand is certainly out there: one Mickey medallion has already been pre­purchased.

Another (more accessible) jewellery brand with which Disney is aligning itself is London-based Mawi. Worn by pop star Rihanna and prime minister’s wife Samantha Cameron, it launches a limited edition range of Disney-inspired designs called Minnie Mawi in September. The collection comprises necklaces, bracelets, earrings, pendants and rings, priced from £32 to £150. Melding Disney motifs such as mouse ears and Minnie-like polkadot bows with chunky pearl beads, it’s witty, girly costume jewellery.

“I think brand alignment and association is becoming very important,” says Mawi Keivom, founder of Mawi. “Disney is a global household name loved by everyone regardless of race, age or gender. It is a great opportunity for us to tap into this market and cross-pollinate. Consumers that were not aware of our brand will discover us.”

Jewellery by Mawi
Jewellery by Mawi

Keivom describes the design process: “They [Disney] gave us an initial brief but we were given free rein to interpret the designs. The idea was to infuse the Mawi handwriting while staying true to the spirit of the characters.” The collection will be available worldwide in various outlets from the website to department store Harrods.

For Italian furniture specialist Guilio Cappellini there’s more to the tie-up than using an image of a cartoon mouse. “Mr Disney was really a visionary in the 1960s,” says Cappellini. “He designed a house of the future…and, with some engineers, he made the first monorail train. I tried to look at the history of Disney and the fantastic palette of colour that is typical Disney.”

Ahead of an event, Disney will approach designers or brands with an aesthetic that fits in well with a certain Disney character. Marc Low, vice-president of Disney’s European consumer products business, says “sometimes it has to do with a current fashion trend, (such as Tron, which became a fashion trend in itself at Berlin Fashion Week). Sometimes it comes from the fact that designers are absolute fans and are at a point in their career where they want to incorporate Disney.”

Jean-Charles de Castelbajac
A selection from Jean-Charles de Castelbajac's collection

Ruta Perveneckaite, retail analyst at Verdict Research, says: “Aligning with design houses will imbue Disney with some of those brands’ premium status, and helps it appear more fashionable.”

Collaborations begin with access to the Disney archives, then designers are free to interpret the characters in their own way – at least up to a point. “Ultimately we retain approval of what is done to ensure that nothing goes against Disney values or in anyway jeopardises the characters,” says Low. In general, Disney would never feature cigarettes or alcohol, or work with a designer that was too edgy or irreverent.

Toni Hacker of Hayden-Harnett was invited by Disney to design a line of handbags and accessories inspired by Fantasia for the film’s 60th anniversary. Two more limited-edition collections followed, inspired by Tron and Pirates of the Caribbean. The range retailed from $78 to $495 and only one item, the “Beautiful Dead” scarf from the Pirates collection, was produced in larger quantities after selling out almost instantly.

Was Hacker worried about cheapening her brand’s image by linking it to cartoon characters? “I was never worried that working with Disney would alter the way our brand is viewed,” she says.

Next spring, Tommy Hilfiger will introduce a limited edition “Meet the Disney Family” children’s wear capsule collection of 10 pieces featuring specially designed interpretations of Disney characters. “Disney excels in imagination and creativity, and has lifestyle and core values aligned with our brand,” says Hilfiger. “It was a true honour and joy to give a preppy spin on some of our favourite Disney characters.”

And if Disney could wave its magic wand and work with any designer? “We would love to work with Marc Jacobs; he takes so much inspiration from the character world,” says Low. “Louis Vuitton is also a brand we’d love to work with for handbags.” We will just have to wait and see who goes knocking on whose door.



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