The enduring appeal of Mickey Mouse: Why the fashion industry is still interested

Mickey Mouse Fashion
Mickey Mouse Fashion

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Walt Disney couldn’t have predicted that his adorable anthropomorphic mouse would earn a fashion icon status well into his 80s. Mickey Mouse, born in 1928, is fashion’s perennial It boy, having made appearances on runways including like Marc Jacobs and Jean Charles de Castelbajac, and famous bodies of Miley Cyrus, Beyonce and Liu Wen all in the last few years.

Last month, Opening Ceremony launched a capsule collection in celebration of Mickey’s first animated film, Steamboat Willie. The film graphics are rendered on delightful button-down shirts, tees, sweatshirts, and plush-soft knit sweaters. The retailer-come-brand enlisted New Era for hats, Vans for sneakers, and Tabio for socks, making sure all of our Mickey needs are covered. Meanwhile, the French answer to Urban Outfitters, Eleven Paris, is also splattering the mouse’s image on their sweats and tees, and over on the fast fashion end, Forever 21 gives us an affordable alternative.

Men can also grab a more abstracted version of Mickey with Comme des Garçons SHIRT collection, which is certainly not a first Disney collab for the brand. Who can forget the flamboyant Mickey Mouse hat Anna Dello Russo sported last year at Milan Fashion Week? Of course, sporting mouse ears is a real thing now, perhaps thanks to Rihanna, who wore a Mickey Mouse-inspired helmet designed by Jeremy Scott in her music video for “Hard.” The unapologetic cartoon fan Jeremy Scott has used the image of our beloved rodent in his Fall 2009 collection, also famously worn by Lady Gaga in “Paparazzi.”

Minnie Mouse has also retained the appeal, starring in the 2012 Barney’s New York holiday window display, and a cover girl for Love Magazine’s 10th anniversary issue in 2013. With her beau, she shares the spotlight in Uniqlo’s Disney T-Shirt Project.

At 86, Mickey Mouse shows no signs of stopping. Even in an (almost) oversaturated market, we still covet the little guy. So, what’s the secret to his longevity? In February this year, artist Damien Hirst’s rendition of Mickey sold for £902,500 at Christie’s. That certainly wasn’t the first time the happy little guy mingled with high art: he also played muse to Salvador Dalí and Andy Warhol. When high-end jewellery line Mawi launched their Mickey-inspired, Disney-approved, collection back in 2011, designer Mawi Keivom explained the benefits of collaborating with such an iconic brand.

“I think brand alignment and association is becoming very important. Disney is a global household name loved by everyone regardless of race, age or gender. It is a great opportunity for us to tap into this market and cross-pollinate. Consumers that were not aware of our brand will discover us,” Keivom told Financial Times.

Mickey’s power rests in three things: brand recognition, sales, and nostalgia. For young brands like Mawi, Opening Ceremony, and Jeremy Scott, he brings consumer awareness. For high-end institutions such as Barney’s, he helps communicate a lighter message to their audience, rather than the usual hoity-toity. Successful sales can’t be overlooked: just a few days after the launch, many items are listed as “low in stock” on the Opening Ceremony website, and Comme des Garçons’s Mickey dress shirts as so low on supply on the web, the collection may as well be a thing of the past. Lastly, there is the nostalgia effect. In a recent interview with Reuters, Stephen Teglas, vice president of licensing, Disney Consumer Products was quoted stating, “Mickey Mouse is a global icon with a fun and optimistic energy that inspires us all, and translates perfectly into fashion.” As long as there’s Mickey, there will be cash—if one can afford the reproduction license, that is.