Harrods, London’s most fabulous department store, dolled up its Christmas windows with Disney princess mannequins in designer gowns. Better yet, they released designers’ sketches of the princesses and a fashion editorial shot for each gown! I called upon fellow Disney expert/blogger extraordinary Sweeney (of Sweeney Says and Snark Squad) to assist me on critiquing our favorite characters’ forays into high fashion.
gown by Versace
Democracy Diva: Perhaps the fact that Donatella Versace looks like a Muppet helped her nail the concept of high fashion for animated characters.
D: See? With credentials like that, you can’t be surprised by how well the resulting photos turned out.
Sweeney: This is a brilliant way to start this post. I feel it’s a sign of glorious things to come.
D: Lovely. She still looks like the princess of our childhood, but since she spends most of her story attending balls, it makes sense that Cinderella would be the most ripe for a high fashion makeover. But seriously, the commitment to detail in this sketch is awesome – look how her earrings sparkle in such a Disneyfied way!
S: I am in love with this drawing and I think it’s my favorite of the sketches. It’s such a cool combination of recognizable Cinderella and gorgeous dress. Is it weird that I’m gushing over wanting a drawing rather than an actual dress? Whatever. I want it.
D: Not weird. I found myself wishing I could hang some of these sketches on my wall more often than I found myself wishing I could hang some of these gowns in my closet.
D: This is my kind of Christmas window display. I like that they placed her on a sweeping staircase, but I sort of wish they positioned the mannequin in a way that made a little more sense. Like, why is the shoe in front of her, as if she kicked it off in a fit of dancing, instead of behind her, like it slipped off as she ran? (And is my nit-picky attention to detail obnoxious or merely annoying?)
S: No, I noticed the exact same thing. The posing on the mannequin ruins the display for me because this appears to have nothing to do with Cinderella. I don’t understand what is happening here or why. I recognize that it is important to position her in a way that shows off the dress (which, I also have to concede that I love less than the drawing) but the random shoe is the only thing I see here that makes me go, “Oooh, right. Cinderella.“
D: The gown looked gold in the sketch and seafoam in the window, but it turns out that shiny white fabric seems to absorb whatever light hits it. It’s a bit more bridal than I anticipated, but at least the shot actually looks realistic, like she’s been tripping over that train all the way through the palace.
S: Agreed on all counts. The posing is much improved, and it’s majorly bridal. Of course, I also think that’s appropriate for a Cinderella dress. I mean, really, the entire point of her story was getting married. And she basically woos the prince by looking like a pretty pretty princess, not by actually doing anything. So, yeah, this is totally what she should be wearing.
D: Agreed. But caution to people who don’t live in fairy tales: you might have less success attempting to woo men whilst wearing a wedding gown than Cinderella did.
PRINCESS AURORA from Sleeping Beauty
gown by Elie Saab
D: Sweeney and I have already established elsewhere in the blogosphere that Princess Aurora is boring as shit. So I don’t blame the Elie Saab team for being unable to bring her to life in their sketch, since her whole point is to be pretty lifeless. Regardless, the sketch of the gown looks princess-perfect.
D: The cascading flowers are what seal the deal for me. Elie Saab had a bit of an easy job – they basically just put one of the typically exuberant gowns they churn out every season on a blonde and called her Sleeping Beauty – but ugh, it’s so pretty I want to cry. Sadly, the details were lost in the window display:
S: I’m in love with this one too. Also, having Aurora’s gown meddled with by a team of awesome fairies is an actual plot point, so this is another one where I feel a certain protectiveness over the outcome of the gown.The floral details absolutely look like they were churned out by glitter-wanded fairies in a cottage in the middle of magical bunny infested woods.
D: Agreed. This is exactly why I needed your expertise to write this post, Sweeney, because you can remember way more about the blonde Disney princesses than I ever cared to learn.
D: I mean, I get it – she has to be sleeping, that kind of goes with the territory. But I think there were a million better ways to stay true to Sleeping Beauty and still make the princess – and more importantly, the gown – the central focus of the window display.
S: She’s under a sleeping spell. Y’all can turn the lights on. (D: A+.) I give this one some credit for the fact that it all actually ties back to the princess, but the poor lighting and excessive clutter make it hard to appreciate the gown.
D: A beautiful picture, but the excessive flowers give me a creepy vibe that I can’t quite place. Maybe it too closely resembles Spike, Drusilla, and Angel’s garden-lair from Season 2 of Buffy, and that makes me want to yell at Aurora to stop snoozing in the vamp lair and GTFO before her gown that costs as much as a car gets destroyed. Oh, and before she dies, or whatever.
S: IT ABSOLUTELY LOOKS LIKE THEIR CREEPY GARDEN LAIR. Also, much like all the crap in the above display, there is just too much to look at. These pictures are depressing because that sketch is so lovely and I was so hopeful…
PRINCESS ARIEL from The Little Mermaid
gown by Marchesa
D: I’m not a big Marchesa fan, but I do rave about the label’s head designer Georgina Chapman on a weekly basis in my Project Runway All Stars posts. So I’m highly disappointed in Georgina for sketching a Princess Ariel THAT ISN’T A GINGER.
S: I DON’T EVEN UNDERSTAND. Hair color was kind of a defining way that little girls identified with Disney princesses (and one of many reasons why the long line of white-only princesses was so problematic). (D: This is a fact. I identified with Belle because solely because she was a bookish brunette.) S: I am not a ginger, so maybe I don’t know what I’m talking about, but I feel like taking that away is an insult to gingers everywhere. I am offended on their behalf.
D: Nothing, not her shell bra or her fish tail, is as iconic a part of Ariel’s look as her perfect red hair. (But I do love the use of watercolor for sketching a mermaid – it’s almost too appropriate.)
S: My complaint about Cinderella’s window times infinity. Absolutely nothing about this says to me that this is Ariel.
D: At least the mannequin is a ginger! I still miss the shell bra, but I suppose this is an elegant alternative for mermaid cotillions and such. Kudos on the gorgeous color of the dress and the fun Under the Sea decor.
S: This is definitely the best display of the three, in terms of clearly demonstrating the princess and actually showing off and displaying the dress. Which, you know, is what I assume these window displays are meant to do.
D: Does anyone else find this picture hilarious? From her hybrid clam shell/bathtub to her fish tail to the flooded floor (presumably from her fish tail flopping around in said clam shell/bathtub), I think this is a laugh riot. And I love her hair.
S: I love that she seems bored out of her mind. It reminds me of Hipster Mermaid. I’m a fan. I mean, this photo doesn’t really do much for the dress (this situation is not helped by the placement of the info text) but I am a fan of this photo if only because yes, it is hilarious.
PRINCESS JASMINE from Aladdin
gown by Escada
D: Step aside, princesses of the West: Jasmine is here in a flowy fuchsia jumpsuit and matching cape to save the day. Props to Escada for making something that feels both fashion-forward in 2012 and appropriate for the character, because Jasmine is nothing without her MC Hammer pants.
S: +1 to everything. This is another really awesome sketch, too.
D: I get that she’s kind of contractually obligated to be on a magic carpet ride, but I’d prefer it if she were sitting up on it, exploring and playing with her pet tiger and generally being awesome. Instead, this just looks like an Arabian version of Sleeping Beauty. And Jasmine is way too cool to be even casually associated with Princess Aurora.
S: I’m finding these displays all a bit underwhelming. Maybe there’s something more in person that’s just not translating well as photographs?
D: That’s almost definitely true, though any Londoners who have seen the windows in person should please feel free to agree/disagree in the comments. But I have spent many, many winters admiring the windows at the department stores in New York City, and learned in the process that photographing them is almost useless.
S: Good to know. I agree entirely that she ought to be sitting. I’d even accept standing; it would be a trickier way to ride a magic carpet, but would do a lot more for the ensemble.
D: Unless you travel around with a twelve-foot high brick wall, how is that ginormous train ever supposed to function? And what happened to the tapering at the ankles that we saw in the sketch, which was the only thing that identified this as pants instead of a gown? The sketch felt like a true representation of Jasmine as fashionista, but this photo doesn’t really bring to mind the princess at all.
S: Needs a tiger.
gown by Missoni
D: Let’s take a moment to remember that unlike her Disney princess brethren, Mulan is a fucking warrior, not a princess.
D: So although she looks every bit the stunning empress of the Orient here, I’m finding it difficult to bridge this fabulous woman with the fierce bitch I know Mulan to be. And things only get worse when we hit the Harrods windows:
D: Seriously? She’s got a PARASOL? You can dress her up in designer duds – I get that the femininity is part of the transformation. But Mulan is a gender-bending, authority-challenging, bad-ass mother-fucking WARRIOR, not a freaking geisha (and yes, I’m aware that geishas are from an entirely different country, I’m just not sure the window-dressers are). Mulan should be casually slinging a goddamn machete over her shoulder, not a delicate little parasol.
S: I don’t even have words for how much this pisses me off. Everything is lovely and pretty but has absolutely nothing to do with the HBIC that is Mulan, so fuck everyone involved in making this happen.
D: I’ve become convinced that the people involved in the making of this window have simply never seen Mulan. They received the buzz words “Asian Disney princess” and nothing else, and ran with it. What other explanation is there for this wispy, delicate waif of a woman sitting prettily in her elegant robes and parasol, when that’s not even remotely similar to the Mulan we all know and love?
S: It’s an insult to Mulan that basically just defers to a kitschy presentation of Asianness and the disconnect between what this should have been and what it is gives the whole thing an ick factor for me.
BELLE from Beauty and the Beast
gown by Valentino
D: The designers from Valentino, on the other hand, are clearly fans of Belle and her fantastical world. They drew in lots of fabulous little details for my favorite Disney princess (though Belle without her library is like a day without sunshine). But I love the way they recall the gold gown Belle wears during the Greatest Scene in Cinematic History.
S: This sketch is GORGEOUS. I just want a collection of most of these (Mulan is definitely not invited and Ariel can probably be left out too) hanging in my apartment.
D: No idea what kind of pose they were attempting with that mannequin, but kudos on the set decor looking about as true to the source material as possible. The books, the roses, the sweeping staircase, and of course, our heroine in gold combine to form a Christmas window that I would have wept at the sight of.
S: This pose, though somewhat nonsensical, doesn’t bother me because it looks like they’re trying to show off the gown and that cape. What’s more, the rest of the set screams Beauty & the Beast and I could identify it even if they took the mannequin and her gown away. (But please don’t because it’s lovely.)
D: Is she supposed to be, like, conversing with that broken chandelier? IS THAT BROKEN CHANDELIER SUPPOSED TO BE LUMIÉRE? Actually, that’s kind of the funniest fucking idea in the history of fashion editorials. “Hey, we need a prop to play that gay French candelabra!” “Oh, shit, I forgot – can we just cut down an old chandelier and use that?”
S: I hope this is how it happened.
gown by Roberto Cavalli
D: Roberto Cavalli’s aesthetic is usually too wild and over-the-top for me, but probably for the very same reasons, he did an excellent job interpreting Pocahontas. Her gown is sexy, but not slutty (well, assuming the thigh slit doesn’t go quite as far up as this drawing depicts), and I like that there’s a trueness to the character without a total bastardization of Native American culture. (I mean, the film is a bastardization of Native American culture to begin with, so I suppose I’m saying that there doesn’t seem to be additional bastardizations happening in the translation to high fashion.)
S: Agreed; this just had such a bastardized starting point that there wasn’t too much awful they could do with it. This drawing can also go in my fictional art collection in the apartment I do not yet have.
D: It has a quiet power and beauty not unlike Pocahontas herself, and the mystical forest surrounding her looks like a super-fun place to party in.
S: This is lovely. I really appreciate the way it’s lit, too. It’s got the whole dark mystical forest thing going on while still properly illuminating the dress — a note they could have heeded in Aurora’s window.
D: See, makers of the Mulan look? When the princess you’re dressing is a badass who can hunt and use every part of the animal and cool shit like that, maybe show her looking proud and strong and like she could pull the giant tree behind her up by its roots, like Team Pocahontas did. It’s a much more believable representation of the character than if they’d thrown her in stereotypical garb to preen like a princess, the way they did with Mulan.
S: Agreed, this is just cool. She looks like she’s going to hunt shit for Everdeen family dinner with Katniss.
D: I had basically the same thought, about how epically Katniss this shot turned out to be.
PRINCESS RAPUNZEL from Tangled
gown by Jenny Packham
D: I can’t get too jazzed about this, because unlike the rest of the princesses, I have no strong memory in my mind of what Rapunzel would wear. In my head, she’s fully and completely defined by her hair, so there’s not really a right or wrong look to put her in.
S: I partially share this sentiment: I don’t have strong opinions about what she should be wearing, though I’d say that the Tangled version of Rapunzel ends up being very little defined by the hair. My only expectation would be that she could conceivably run around the forest in it (because that’s what she spends most of the movie doing) while still maintaining some sort pretty pretty princess aesthetic (because in spite of being a million times cooler than the others in that category, that’s still where she resides.)
D: I was a little underwhelmed by the sketch, because I didn’t know how this would look any different than any cartoon princess I’d ever seen. But the result was surprisingly fabulous.
S: As with some of the other images, nothing about this says Rapunzel or Tangled. It’s lovely, I guess, but that’s all I can say for it.
D: The mauve-lilac colored dress with the embellished bodice is spot-on. I wouldn’t have known what to consider “Rapunzel chic,” but this is it, dear readers.
S: This is gorgeous. It’s a little long for forest-running, but I’ll forgive that because it’s lovely here. Plus, the rest of it has this light, airy feel that is almost exactly what I said I expected.
D: The dress photographs beautifully, I love the way she’s connected to her surroundings by the gold trim on her dress that matches the gold trim on the furniture and the walls – it’s a styling choice adds to the feeling that she’s trapped in her tower.
S: This shot and the dress are both gorgeous. However, my complaint is that while this looks very Rapunzel, in a pre-Tangled sense, I don’t feel like it has much to do with the Disney princess, and that kind of bugs me. Whereas the window display was a good combination of up in her tower and out in the world, this is just her all dejected and resigned over the trapped in the tower business. I don’t like that. But, you know, gorgeous dress, gorgeous shot, so it’s whatever.
D: That’s fair. I think Jenny Packham may have just said, fuck it, I’m doing the Rapunzel I know, not this newfangled Tangled version, and hence all the castle-brooding instead of forest-exploring.
gown by Oscar de la Renta
D: Another princess that’s kind of easy to get right. Dark hair, porcelain skin, a dress in primary colors, around a half-dozen short men if you’ve got them at your disposal – Snow White’s a pretty easy inspiration.
S: Also a princess who exists solely to be in the pretty pretty princess category, so, yeah, easy stuff.
D: And much like our other favorite sketches, it’s got a great blend of gorgeous fashion and true-to-Disney princess. We might need to make a wall calendar of these.
S: Right? This one also gets to go in my fictional apartment exhibit, as that is the metric I use to judge them.
D: I think this is one of the better displays, if only because positioning a mannequin to realistically look like she’s laying on a grassy knoll probably is not that easy. And though I’d love to see more of the gown, the parts you can see look like you lifted Snow White’s costume right out of the film and covered it with couture fairy dust.
S: I like the display on the whole, but I am a little put off by how little of the dress we can see.
D: I’ll go ahead and call this the best editorial shot of them all. The light streaming in from the trees is gorgeous, and the gown and cape look phenomenal. And there’s a deer who probably helped dress her and a basket of apples at her side, so it feels realistic, too.
S: I will simply +1 that. It’s a beautiful shot and I love that it combines her pretty pretty princessness with a darker aesthetic that is fitting with how fully warped her story actually is.
D: Precisely. They didn’t shy away from the creep factor, but they didn’t hit us over the head with it, either.
PRINCESS TIANA from The Princess and the Frog
gown by Ralph & Russo
D: Seriously? This anime character is supposed to be Princess Tiana? SHE’S THE ONLY BLACK DISNEY PRINCESS, FOR FUCK’S SAKE. It took until 2009, for the love of God, for us to have a black Disney princess. YOU DON’T GET TO CHANGE HER RACE.
D: Seriously, ALL OF THE FAILS for that sketch. And I’m not sure the window display is really a vast improvement.
S: +INFINITY ON THE ENDLESS FAILS. This will not be included in my fictional gallery.
D: It’s not as bad as the sketch, but I still think this is a kind of offensively light-skinned interpretation of Tiana. I’m trying to blame it on the lighting, but really, I just can’t see Tiana anywhere in here, or anything distinctive about her story.
S: Agreed. I can’t understand why they chose such a light-skinned mannequin and once again we have a setting which, were it not for the fact that we know the context of the display, conveys nothing about the character in question.
D: Thank God – if they had cast a white model, I would have lost my shit completely. I actually love the way she’s sitting in a boat full of her gown (overflowing with gown, in fact), with the water lilies scattered around her. Unlike the sketch and the window display, you actually get a sense of the princess’s story instead of just a pretty gown.
S: It’s getting redundant at this point, but +1 to all of that. The lilies are my favorite part (because I can’t applaud them for not whitewashing this shot). I like that this is a nod to the character in a way that is both clear and subtle.
D: Thank you all for joining Sweeney and myself on this adventure through Disney princess style! If you enjoyed this madness, you’ll love our Top 10 Most Stylish Disney Villains post, located at Snark Squad. Check it!