LOS ANGELES — Vintage cartoon characters on premium T-shirts are as common as low-rise jeans on Hollywood starlets. The trend seems here to stay, but what's next?
Walt Disney Co., in search of a fresh way to capitalize on its iconic menagerie and push its merchandise into retail's upper echelons, went in search of inspiration. Enter Kidada Jones, 31, style-maker, design consultant, and woman-about-town (dad is Quincy Jones and mom is Peggy Lipton).
"When people think of Disney merchandise, they think young, cheesy and mass, but there are other elements of Disney that aren't that at all," said Jones, who joined the company last year as a creative consultant with the mission of turning Tinkerbell into a modern-day girl-power icon.
Jones' latest muse is another famous blonde, Alice in Wonderland. And on Sunday, Jones was the host at a "Mad Tea Party" at her father's Bel-Air home, which was transformed into a magic garden, to launch the collection. Naomi Campbell and Teri Hatcher were among the guests.
In addition to pairing Disney with hip licensees, Jones is designing her first jewelry and home accessories collections around Alice. The Kidada for Disney collections are the Magic Kingdom's first foray into the fine jewelry and high-end home accessories category.
The Alice collection, which includes Kidada for Disney, features furniture, tabletop items, bags, makeup and apparel. Kidada for Disney is expected to net $1 million in the first year. Total sales for all of the Alice in Wonderland licenses are estimated at $10 million to $15 million, figures projected to double the following year.
"The first year we plant the seed, then we watch it grow, then we harvest," said Dennis Green, Disney's senior vice president, global creative consumer products.
Clearly, Alice was already flying high on the pop-culture radar; John Galliano and Karl Lagerfeld cited her as inspiration, and Gwen Stefani played Alice in her first solo video.
"It was already out there, and Alice is one of the largest unused archives of artwork at Disney," Green said. "It was a simple decision."
So, too, was hiring Jones, who has had a Tinkerbell tattoo on one of her calves for nine years. She went to work one week after meeting Green."She has a great sense of style, a killer personality and she's a big Disney fan," he said. "With her taste and connections, she brings together the right companies with the right art to make the right products."
Those hip collaborations include an Hysteric Glamour-designed Tinkerbell T-shirt, Tsubi-designed Alice jeans and T-shirts, Alice totes by Loop NYC and a Goldie (the cosmetics company owned by Hard Candy founder Dineh Mohajer) set of Alice makeup.
Jones certainly has the résumé for such a task. For seven years, she worked for Tommy Hilfiger, developing his jeans line and casting his ad campaigns as well as dressing celebrities. She also modeled in seven campaigns. In addition, Jones has consulted for John Frieda, Warner Bros. and Vibe magazine.
Jones and Green said the move to channel licensed products into the boutique level of retail is bold.
"It's very unusual for Disney because so much of their business is done at the mass level, aimed at zero- to six-year-olds," Green said. "If we do one or two of these high-end efforts a year, that's plenty. It gets the ball rolling starting at the top, and it falls down to the next level. It's gravity merchandising."
Jones added, "It's cool they are willing to go this edgy, high-end route because there is a customer out there who loves Disney just as much who has more expensive tastes."
Just how expensive, Jones realized when she made her first jewelry samples. Holding up a chunky cuff bracelet, she said, "This cost about $6,000 to make in solid gold. So we had to do it in sterling silver plated with 18-karat gold. It will retail for about $1,500."
Other items in the six-piece jewelry collection, manufactured by Lucas Design International, include $100 gold-plated charm necklaces, $430 gold-plated bamboo hoop earrings with diamonds (also available in rose gold with black diamonds), and a gold-plated rosary necklace with diamonds for $1,350.
None of the pieces is character-driven; in fact, Alice, the Cheshire Cat, the Caterpillar and friends are nowhere to be seen. "I think luxury items are more subtle and inspirational," Jones said. "It's not like a T-shirt you wear eight times and throw out."The same goes for her home accessories collection, which consists of three groups: Tea Party, Cheshire Cat and Queen of Hearts, each containing a cashmere blanket edged in vintage cotton, and two sizes of down-filled cashmere and cotton pillows (priced from $150 to $500 retail). Most are solid colors with contrasting borders, some printed with tiny lanterns or hearts. There are pinstripes and polkadots inspired by the Cheshire Cat, but no cats. One pillow has a white trim like the Rabbit's collar, but no rabbit.
"I wanted to extend people's luxury needs from their wardrobe to their home with the same quality," Jones said. "Other than that, I don't have any rules." Both of her collections will be available exclusively at shopintuition.com beginning in November.
For 2006, Jones is considering a line of infant and organic cosmetics. She said her inspiration could be the Disney classic "Fantasia."
"To me, that movie is back to basics with nature, animals and simplicity," Jones said. "I want to let customers nourish their skin and nourish the earth. There is a bit of consciousness in that endeavor."
As with everything at Disney, there is always a bit of whimsy as well. "It's time to be light because stuff is heavy in the world right now," she said. "This is an outlet for lightness."
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