Disney, Fashion, and the Power of Storytelling

Disney created some of my favorite television shows and movies growing up. My mom used to record episodes of DuckTales and play them over once the episodes had finished airing. I would also watch The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, and Aladdin on loop until the VHS tapes started to wear out. In recent years, Disney still managed to capture my imagination and heart with movies like Lilo and Stitch and Tangled. The live-action movies, such as Cinderella and The Jungle Book, have also won over audiences. The Beauty and the Beast teaser trailer, for example, shattered records with 91.8m views in the first 24 hours of its release. Without a doubt, Disney is a master at storytelling, creating hundreds of stories that have entertained both children and adults over the years. But, what does any of this have to do with fashion? To answer that question, a handful of professionals within the fashion industry convened at London’s Somerset House in April to discuss Disney, the power of storytelling, and its role in fashion.

Imran Amed, founder & CEO of The Business of Fashion, led the panel discussion, first asking Chloé chief executive Geoffroy de La Bourdonnaye to talk about the power of Disney as a business and storyteller. Given that he previously worked as a senior executive at Disney, de La Bourdonnaye effectively captured why Disney is so good at what they do: “We’ve all been kids and we’ve all known the power of attracting the emotions through strong storytelling, and that’s what makes Disney so unique. What I learned at Disney is the power of narrative and the power of basically creating a world, a theme, and a bunch of characters to draw the emotions which are common to all people around the world.”

Think about it! When you watch a Disney movie, you go through a series of emotions (joy, sadness, anticipation, surprise--love), and through this journey, you begin to understand the character(s) and identify with them because these are emotions we have all experienced. That’s the power of narrative.

Both de La Bourdonnaye and Sandra Choi, creative director of Jimmy Choo, agreed that everything starts with the story, “The story will give me the framework as well as the beginning, the content, and the end result,” said Choi. “As a designer, I need to switch off from everything that’s asked of me, so that I can go and dream and to bring that dream alive . . . To tell that story is the key.”

Designers, like Choi, don’t just design without direction. A story plays out in their minds and that story influences collections and makes it more relatable to the consumer. Another area in which the story plays a role is in the retail space. Retailers have the responsibility to translate the story into a physical space and bring those characters to life in order to catch the attention of the audience. Last year, I had the opportunity to visit the “Force 4 Fashion” display at Bloomingdale’s Third Avenue windows, where the fashion industry’s top designers created ten looks inspired by characters from Star Wars: The Force Awakens. The displays were decorated like the sets from the sequel film, while the garments spoke the stories of the characters or translated them for the everyday consumer.

Sebastian Manes, buying and merchandising director of Selfridges, provided his perspective as a retailer: “It starts in the office and just trying to have that fun, thinking how we can entertain our customers because just putting product on the show floor is not good enough anymore . . . At the end of the day, it’s about having fun, and if you have fun, then obviously you can very easily communicate that to the customer.”

Fun collaborations is what makes the experience and story more real and more magical. When talking about the difference between authentic stories and crass collaborations, Susanna Lau, the founder of Style Bubble, stressed the importance of letting the designers play with iconic stories and recognizable characters as well as nostalgia in order to get something more evolved and unexpected. She’s correct, since one thing I’ve noticed about certain geek collaborations is that some of them are predictable. Slapping a logo on a product often doesn’t inspire, whereas well-thought-out products show time and effort in capturing the finer details.

Other topics of discussion throughout the panel include why Disney characters resonate so well with the audience, the business side of these Disney fashion collaborations, storytelling in social media, and much more.

 Click here to watch the entire panel discussion.



Johnamarie Macias is a geek fashion enthusiast from New York City with a passion for all things Star Wars. She is the owner of TheWookieeGunner.com and co-host on the Jedi News Network podcast dedicated to Star Wars and geek fashion, Galactic Fashion. Follow @BlueJaigEyes on Twitter and Instagram for her personal thoughts and other highlights. Also, follow @GalacticFashion on Twitter and @galacticfashiontwg on Instagram, where Johnamarie keeps fans and listeners informed with Star Wars fashion updates.