Ruthie Davis Snow White

Female empowerment has taken center stage with footwear designer Ruthie Davis and a series of Disney Princess collaborations.

The designer, founder of her namesake shoe brand, is working with the Disney Princess franchise to give a luxury touch to a multiyear series of footwear collaborations that will eventually involve all 11 Disney princesses. The two have so far worked through three: Snow White was the initial launch, followed by Mulan and now the launch of the “Aladdin”-themed collection timed with the movie’s live action release.

The link received a nod from the American Apparel & Footwear Association’s American Image Awards as fashion collaboration of the year, with the partnership between the two broaching new territory for both.

For Disney, it was the first time the company delved into the high-heel fashion market, said Heather Sanchez, senior licensing manager for Disney Consumer Products.

There’s also that fine balance to strike of making shoes for adults that don’t look like they’re for children, Davis pointed out. The concept driving all of the work: Making high-end shoes for adult princesses.

“That’s cool. I love saying that: ‘adult princesses,’” Davis said. “I’m not doing kids’ shoes. This is for adults. This is adult princesses so that actually really inspired me to be on the cutting edge of a new category.”

Part of that, with respect to the design, has been about not being so overt with the integration of the characters, the designer and Sanchez agreed.

With Snow White, for example, there were booties with her head in custom leather on one side and the evil queen on the other. That was a case of making something more literal. For Mulan, there is a platform jogger with “Warrior” spelled out on the mid-sole, which was more subtle in the reference. In the “Aladdin” collection, there is a stiletto with a clear strap over the toe box bearing the words “Own Your World,” which is a play on the movie’s “A Whole New World” song.

“These are not costumes,” Davis said. “This isn’t that kind of thing. We want real people and real girls to want to wear them. We think about how they can wear it with an outfit. We take it to a deeper level than just a character on a shoe.”

The fashion collaboration also comes just in time in many ways with a consumer base that may have grown up watching Disney movies and who are now adults.

“We’re experiencing the first real generation now that has absolutely grown up with Disney from the beginning,” Sanchez said. “Now, as an adult, you don’t leave that love for a Disney princess. It may just make itself in a different representation.…It’s this great combination of getting Disney fans combined with Ruthie’s diehard fans and then you’re creating new fans along the way.”

With eight more princesses to go, there’s still plenty of work to do, but Davis and Sanchez continue to innovate on the concept of collaboration. The designer recently held her first meeting with apparel design majors at the University of Delaware who are interested in helping with one of the collections set for 2020. And it appears it will have a green edge to it.

“We’re looking at doing some interesting things. They’re really big on sustainability up there,” Davis said. “That angle really interests me in doing something with the Disney princesses that has a sustainable aspect.”