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In mid-March, six Barneys New York executives traveled out West for a fun day at Disneyland. The group — including chief executive officer Mark Lee, creative director Dennis Freedman and senior vice president Charlotte Blechman, as well as executives from communications and visual — toured Walt Disney’s apartment and went on rides like It’s a Small World, Pirates of the Caribbean, Space Mountain and Captain EO.
It may be hard for some to picture high-fashion types like these posing against the backdrop of Cinderella Castle, let alone spinning teacups, but the frolics were all in the name of research.
This festive season, Barneys and The Walt Disney Co. are collaborating on the specialty store’s holiday campaign, which will be called “Electric Holiday.” When unveiled to the public on Nov. 14, Barneys’ Madison Avenue flagship will feature a three-dimensional electric light show; a moving art short film in the window displays that will turn Disney’s most favorite heroes into runway supermodels and fashion regulars into Disney types, and an original score by Oscar-winning composer Michael Giacchino.
“This is a lot of fun,” said Freedman. “[Gaga’s Workshop] was a little bit of a hard act to follow, but one of the names that came up was Disney.”
The theme is a riff on Disney’s famous electrical parade, as well as the special lighting installations so central to the New York holiday season and the flashbulbs of fashion runways.
Barneys worked closely with Disney to make sure the concept was as true to the real fashion world as possible, or, as Freedman described it, “The world of the Paris fashion shows, of fashion, of people in fashion, of the rituals, all of the idiosyncrasies. The important thing to me was always that it had to be authentic. It really had to hit the nail on the head in every detail.”
The short film centers around Minnie Mouse’s fantasy to be at the Paris shows. There she comes across key Disney characters — Mickey Mouse, Goofy, Daisy Duck, Cruella de Vil, Princess Tiana and Snow White — all decked out in unique designer clothes as they make their way down the runway.
For the occasion, Mickey is dressed by Nicolas Ghesquière for Balenciaga, Minnie by Alber Elbaz for Lanvin, Goofy by Olivier Rousteing for Balmain, Daisy by Dolce & Gabbana, Cruella by Rick Owens, Princess Tiana by Proenza Schouler and Snow White by Peter Copping for Nina Ricci.
“What is really important in the film is getting all of the details of how that world works,” Freedman said. “That was the real challenge and involved a whole education process.
“The animator and I sat next to each other and went over every detail of the clothes — how they’re made, what material, how they would move — to get them as accurate as we possibly could.”
That wasn’t where the attention to detail ended. “When we got to the moment when all Disney characters walk on the runway, there was a discussion,” Freedman recalled. “The standard Minnie Mouse will not look so good in a Lanvin dress. There was a real moment of silence, because these characters don’t change. I said, ‘If we’re going to make this work, we have to have a 5-foot-11 Minnie,’ and they agreed. When you see Goofy, Minnie and Mickey, they are runway models.”
Freedman even took a model to meetings in Glendale, Calif., “to walk the hallways of Disney, and they studied how she walked. I said, ‘You can’t make the film without understanding every detail of how she walks, what her facial expression is, and how she stares ahead.’”
In addition, Barneys assembled a databank of reference pictures that illustrate everything from how the backstage areas at fashion shows look, i.e. the chairs, the clothing racks, the mirrors, the staffing, the walls of the tents, as well as the Tuileries Gardens.
Barneys also reached out to people in the fashion world and 23, including WWD’s Bridget Foley, agreed to participate as characters in the film. (Barneys declined to disclose other names for the time being.) Drawings were made by John Quinn, Disney’s character art director.
“This project is very different from any other we have done in the past,” noted Luis Fernandez, senior vice president of creative for Disney Consumer Products. “For the most part, labels have asked to come into our archives for ideas, and then interpret what we do. This is the perfect marriage between both our companies. The fact that we are getting most of our characters dressed by the best fashion houses out there is pretty incredible.”
Robert Chapek, president of Disney Consumer Products, added that it “will delight people of all ages.”
Fashion seems to be high on Disney’s agenda these days. For a different project, the company recently tapped several London designers, including Giles Deacon, Michael van der Ham and Richard Nicoll, to celebrate Minnie Mouse’s status as a cartoon fashion plate, and Meadham Kirchhoff will unveil a Minnie Mouse collaboration during its spring 2013 show. Proceeds of sales of the project’s items will go to the British Fashion Council/Bazaar Fashion Arts Foundation.
As for Barneys, it will offer an exclusive, limited collection of holiday items at Chelsea Passage, select Barneys stores and barneys.com, including several collectible Vinylmation figures designed by Paul Smith and Diane von Furstenberg, and Mickey Mouse ears from Rag & Bone and L’Wren Scott. There will also be small gifts like ornaments, edible sweets and children’s toys for the season.
Barneys will donate 25 percent of sales from Electric Holiday products to a charity it will disclose at a later date. Barneys executives are certain Disney will bring as much joy to the holiday season as Gaga did. As Lee put it, “The legendary characters and world created by Disney live in the active mind and memory of virtually every citizen of the world.”