Disney Preps to Dress Princess Brides: Is This ‘Happily Ever After’?

Unless you’ve snoozed on your wedding watch lately, you’ve probably heard that Disney is launching a new line of wedding gowns, based on 34 of their iconic princess brides.

And naturally, there’s been a singular upswell of excitement from the press, engaged couples, and those few bridal shops blessed by the magic wand that grants them distribution. The general reaction so far (to the idea — not the gowns)? Mixed.

“I would have thought that because many young women are waiting until their late 20s and early 30s to marry, that would put them long past the delusional princess stage,” says a media critic in the Vancouver Sun. “I’m guessing they’ll be kind of tacky,” says a bride on a popular Disney forum, who wistfully adds, “maybe I’ll be pleasantly surprised.”

Some wedding planners are a little more optimistic. “It’s a good way to for brides to put their theme over the top — stand out from all the other Disney weddings happening that year,” says Shayna Box of Posh Celebrations.

“Disney’s been a favorite destination wedding/honeymoon spot for years. I wouldn’t be surprised if there was huge demand for the character gowns,” says Mattie Johnson of Look No Further Events.

Couture or Costume?

Part of the resistance is the vision of thirty-something brides gliding down the aisle in bouffant Quinceañera style dresses, maybe with a Mickey logo here and there. Even the Wall Street Journal contributes briefly to this scare, describing the product line as a princess look, “complete with billowing gowns and crystal tiaras.”

Not so, not so, says the PR rep for Kirstie Kelly, the designer tipped for this giant commission, who’s said, “They will be high-fashion and very modern. We are modernizing the princess concept.” And the details leaked by the WSJ back her up, with sketches showing sultry mermaid silhouettes, dropped backs and plenty of bare shoulders.

Kirstie Kelly: From Footlights to Floodlights

Amy-Jo Tatum, fashion journalist, former fabrics buyer and longtime custom gown designer, has followed Kelly’s work for years. She, too, believes the designs that flow from the “House of Kelly” are far more likely to be couture-friendly than cringeworthy.

“Kelly’s a beautiful designer,” she says, “And I think this is a good step for her and Disney both.” When she first came on the scene, says Tatum, Kelly immediately struck her as innovative.

“I’d put her in with greats like Vera Wang.”

Vera Wang, with her punk-princess designs and torn fabrics? “Well, Kelly’s innovations were a little different,” says Tatum, recalling sumptuous fabrics and clean lines. “One of the first I remember was a debutante-type strapless A-line, but underneath was what looked like two layers of pleated organza ruffles … gorgeous.

“She also did an evening gown that had a nostalgic feel: asymmetrical torso flowing into a full skirt — a really beautiful version of a mermaid.

“I don’t think she has a princessy look in general, but I do see a very romantic designer.”

Odd Couple or Match Made in Heaven?

Which brings up the obvious question: with Disney looking to one designer or label to launch an enormous fleet of princess gowns, why Kelly? After all, up until now, Kelly — though well-known in the fashion world — hasn’t exactly been a household name. And if you were a mega-corporation appealing to princess brides, wouldn’t you pick someone who’d already carved out that niche for themselves?

“It’s true, I wouldn’t necessarily see Disney type gowns with Kelly,” says Tatum. “You’d naturally think of labels like St. Pucchi or Lazaro, which I see more as princess gowns. They’re huge — enormous ballgowns, exactly the type you think of when you hear ‘Cinderella.’

And she’d connect the dots right away, she says, if Disney had gone with almost any of the British designers. Elizabeth Emanuel, for example, who became a household name when Princess Di wore her magnificent gown down the aisle. “It’s not American designers all limit themselves to the debutante dress … but on the whole, they’re not as costumey as the British.”

The conclusion? These gowns are likely to lean more toward sleek modern lines and couture echoes than princess costumes after all — just as Kelly’s spokeswoman says.

“She’ll just keep doing what she’s doing,” says Tatum. “She’ll stick to her creative process — her own version that she takes away from the Jasmines and Ariels. If someone said to me, ‘do Cinderella,’ it would be my take on what Cinderella would do.”

With Great Opportunity Comes Strange Pitfalls

There might be only one glitch here for Kelly, says Tatum, which befell super-designer Elizabeth Emanuel not long after her House of Windsor triumph. “If this takes, her gowns might be remembered by name — the Cinderella gown, the Snow White gown.

“It’s an interesting position. Because Emanuel is working at this amazing level — she’s done many beautiful things since Di’s dress — but she’s really remembered for almost none of them, outside of fashion circles or British designer circles.”

(Of course, Emanuel lost the rights to her own name in a complicated business sale, which didn’t help at all. Helpful note to Kelly: keep control of your name.)

“I just hope she’ll keep up her ready-to-wear line,” says Tatum, adding, “this really is good both for Disney and Kelly.

“Not many designers get this opportunity. And not many conglomerates have a chance to work with someone that talented.”

Disney wedding gowns, Kirstie Kelly, Elizabeth Emanuel