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They were dressed to the nines. Little ruffled wristlets, a feather jacket, and patent saddle shoes, all in primary red. Sporting stunning velveteen day dresses and berets tipped so aslant it had to have been the work of stylish intent, they stole the show, even with royalty among them.
At one of the ritziest addresses in Manhattan, hours before its storied doors would open, they met their princess. At nearly two feet tall, Snow White’s best-dressed fans would ring in the holiday season glamorously at Saks Fifth Avenue.
This was no typical Disney character breakfast, filled with vacation families fumbling with forkfuls of sausage links when their turn comes to snap photographs with anthropomorphic life-size animals. Amid the forestry decor, Frette napkins, and filtered water, families dined on bite-sized bakery favorites between paper candelabras and elegant plates for $100 per person.
It was the very first character breakfast in the history of The Walt Disney Company outside its four cruise ships, 10 theme parks, and 17 hotels that host character dining worldwide. Mickey Mouse was nowhere to be seen — just Snow White, The Prince, and her affable friend Dopey, making her truly the fairest one of all.
The seasonal meals are but one part of Once Upon A Holiday, the wintertime promotional pairing of Disney’s 1937 film Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs and luxury retailer Saks Fifth Avenue. The wide-scale partnership in honor of the movie’s 80th anniversary, however, is not where the octogenarian’s year-end party ends. With designer collaborations that extend beyond the Manhattan department store with some of the world’s biggest fashion brands and unsuspecting housewares lines, it’s a massive undertaking — and one that has dubiously thrust the fair royal into fashion relevance among a style-savvy audience that may or may not be on board.
If the survival of an unconscious princess resting on a powerful man’s kiss feels far from the movie we need today, then take a look at the film’s roots. When Snow White debuted in the ’30s, it was the world’s first full-length animated film, a project so precarious that Walt Disney had to mortgage his own house to fund its creation. The gamble paid off, and its earnings sustained the studio for years. Snow White was a trailblazer through and through; even the Oscar it took home was an honorary one, with seven teensy statues set alongside the trophy, each dedicated to a dwarf.
Despite its heteronormative plotline, Snow White tells a behind-the-scenes tale of burgeoning equality. Nearly one hundred women in Walt Disney Studios’ ink and paint department breathed color into male animators’ drawings, exhaustingly bringing the doe-eyed princess to life. The film, thanks to their assistance, not only took a revolutionary turn as to how we’d see cinema today, but also to what constitutes a powerful woman on screen.
We didn’t have female warriors or fearless explorers to latch on to before Snow White because there was nothing before her. No princesses living life on their own terms, heroines taking risks to honor their heritage, or business women working three jobs to achieve an entrepreneurial goal — she would pave all their ways.
An upstanding woman with a heart of gold and unabashed kindness toward all, the historic film’s alabaster hero left us sleeping on her legacy like she did within that glass coffin, awaiting true love’s kiss to break her poison apple-helmed spell. Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs is, quite literally, a historical masterpiece, making her an icon above all.
But will it make you buy a $375 apple-print polyester flare skirt? That’s the question.
The extent of the collaborations sold at Saks Fifth Avenue stores throughout the country, and through other vendors both online and across the globe, is vast. There are Snow White candies and umbrellas, sneakers and sweatshirts, headbands and handbags; pajamas for kids, hoodies for women, and sweaters for dogs. Apple-shaped Le Creuset cast iron cocottes ($230) and Judith Leiber Couture crystal-encrusted purses ($4,695) provide a nod to that malicious Red Delicious, while whimsically patterned Stance socks ($18) and Ruthie Davis sky-high stilettos ($498) honor the princess’s fairy-tale friends.
It’s tricky to discern if the array of Snow White merchandise is a response to consumer demand or if its availability in turn drives sales. Some stuff sells like hotcakes — collector’s items, like a limited-edition doll exclusive to Saks, went instantly; Invicta watches and half of Kipling’s collection are long gone — but plenty others, like Alice and Olivia’s $485 Snow White sweater, still sit on digitized store racks.
There are deliberate reasons for such variety. “By focusing on creating collaborations that go beyond the traditional, we are able to reach a broader audience and connect with our fans in more meaningful ways,” writes Josh Silverman, executive vice president of global licensing at Disney Consumer Products and Interactive Media, in an email interview.
That’s how Snow White pops up everywhere from a plastic Tervis tumbler to Gucci’s spring/summer 2018 runway — there’s something for everyone. It also implies a fashion democracy wherein all buyers can get a piece of that Disney magic, regardless of its price point. By blanketing the marketplace, there’s an understanding that the woman paying reverence to the fairest of them all with a Loungefly handbag, a Danielle Nicole purse, or a Judith Leiber minaudiere are three deeply distinct shoppers.
“We are very deliberate when it comes to these kinds of collaborations and are also incredibly selective with whom we work,” explains Heather Laing Obstbaum, vice president of product development at Disney Consumer Products and Interactive Media, via email. “First and foremost, there needs to be an organic connection between the brand and our properties. It’s the natural synergies between the designers and our stories that make for the strongest collections.”
There’s no better example of this than Bésame Cosmetics, the vintage-inspired beauty brand whose Snow White collection is so precise that founder Gabrielle Hernandez dove into the Walt Disney Archives for inspiration, spending months matching eye, cheek, and lip shades to original ink and paint colors from the 1937 film. With glosses flavored like the pies Snow White bakes, a collection of seven miniature lipsticks named after each dwarf, and the pièce de résistance — a Storybook Eyeshadow Palette housed in a gold-embossed cover citing each animation celluloid color — the products are a true extension of the film and its characters. (The palette unsurprisingly sold out promptly both online and when pre-released to fans at Disney’s D23 Expo 2017.)
Movie tie-ins are a flourishing revenue stream for many companies, but no one does it better than Disney. From Edie Parker “Queen” iPhone cases to a couture gown collection by Paolo Sebastian worthy of true royalty, it’s nothing but the best for the world’s top licenser. According to the New York Times, Disney brought in nearly $57 billion in retail sales in 2016; its consumer products division, which includes merchandise, games, publishing, and digital media, took in $1.2 billion between July and September of this year alone.
It’s the same company selling droid-inspired men’s razors and Rag & Bone tees in Aurebesh to celebrate Star Wars: The Last Jedi’s theatrical release and slowly but surely spinning Minnie Mouse into an NYFW street style star. From high to low and mass to luxury, it’s not just fashion that’s being sold. It’s a semi-nostalgic idea — and as Disney’s unavoidability proves to be its best accessory, willingly or not, we’re all consumers.
On the chilly November night that Saks Fifth Avenue’s princess-themed holiday windows debuted, taxis idled and traffic halted as Snow White herself — along with her prince, royal guards, and a gaggle of dancers — occupied the thoroughfare in a grand display. The entire facade of the store lit up like a castle, filled with choreographed lights and icicles dripping down from above. As fireworks popped on the department store’s rooftop, nostalgia took the wheel, with women joking nearby about booking a same-day flight to Disneyland Resort.
“We use fashion as an avenue to further connect with our audiences. The people who grew up watching Snow White are adults now who still love the story and want to be able to connect with the characters in a more elevated, adult way,” explains Silverman.
Mark Briggs, chief creative officer of Saks Fifth Avenue, agrees. “Each year, we aim to create one-of-a-kind experiences that reach our customers in a deeper, more meaningful way,” he said. Briggs and his team transposed Snow White’s story across 15 animated Fifth Avenue windows, incorporating a full-scale magic mirror and the evil queen’s transformation into the movement-packed displays. Deeming it “retail theatre,” staging of the holiday spectacle takes nearly a year — construction occurs off-site for up to five months — before the three week-long installation begins.
The whirling and twirling dioramas lining Fifth Avenue are similar to those on Disneyland’s and Magic Kingdom’s Main Street, USA, only flanked with chestnuts and can't-be-bothered speedwalkers amid the similarly wide-eyed vacationing families. And with a glimmering nightly show transforming the store’s exterior into that two-dimensional emblem centerpieced within the theme parks and so many classic films, one can’t help but picture it moving merchandise. “Two iconic brands like Saks and Disney coming together to create such an innovative, magical experience and custom designer pieces that our clients won't find elsewhere is the epitome of today's new luxury,” explains Briggs.
It’s not just the Snow White-inspired gowns created by Alberta Ferretti and Naeem Khan along the store’s side windows. The princess’s quintessential primary color combination, the uncontrollable emotional response her appearance at an 8:30 a.m. meal commands, her likeness being sold across the country’s most hallowed department store — at a certain point, overwhelming collaboration or not, it’s fashion.
I’ve been on the Snow White beat for a month, sitting with Freeform actresses at influencer dinners and receiving email blasts for the princess’s impromptu appearance in Central Park, trying to discern the purpose behind these collaborations. My entire career consists of living in Walt Disney’s version of leisure land utopia, and even I, a professional theme park reporter, entered this assignment wondering who cares deeply enough about Snow White to buy these things. Then, $1,000 later, I found that person: me.
A limited-time Mary Katrantzou collaboration with Colette Paris featuring sequined dwarf sweaters á la Ashish broke me, causing me to sweat through my turtleneck throughout the checkout process, damp with the stress of spending the most money I ever have on anything in my closet. When it arrived from the French concept store, more oversized than I prefer, I logged on to exchange it for a different size, but couldn’t.
They were already sold out.