- The Washington Times - Saturday, May 5, 2007

Many brides say they want to look like a princess on their wedding day — and now we’re about to find out if they mean really mean it.

The Walt Disney Co. has teamed with bridal designer Kirstie Kelly to create a collection of gowns inspired by the favorite Disney princess characters Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, Snow White, Ariel from “The Little Mermaid,” Belle from “Beauty and the Beast” and Jasmine from “Aladdin.”

Mrs. Kelly is quick to point out that “inspired by” doesn’t mean gowns that look as if they came from the animated movies, which have been translated many times over into dress-up costumes for little girls. Instead, the designs attempt to channel the personality of each princess in terms suitable for a real-life, modern woman.

“We wanted women to feel like they had something in common with these princesses. We had to identify who the princesses are now and who does the everyday girl relate to,” Mrs. Kelly says.

A mood and fashion sensibility was assigned to each princess-themed gown: Cinderella is for the classic glamour bride, Sleeping Beauty is about pretty romance, Snow White is sweet elegance, Ariel is sultry allure, Belle is stylish sophistication, and Jasmine is bohemian chic.

“It actually touches on every type of wedding,” explains Mrs. Kelly, who also has her own bridal couture label. “For the destination wedding, there’s Ariel or Jasmine, but if you’re having 500 people in a ballroom, you’re definitely the Cinderella gown.”

When she got married several years ago, she would have gone for the Cinderella look, Mrs. Kelly says, although now she would lean toward a slimmer shape, such as the Jasmine gown.

Andy Mooney, chairman of Disney Consumer Products Worldwide, says when the company began developing the marketing concept of the princesses six or seven years ago, it discovered that the demographic wasn’t limited to the 2- to 8-year-olds Disney was expecting.

“We’ve been blown away how strong the demand is for princess thematic things in almost every stage of a woman’s life,” he says.

Adult women buy into a sort of lifestyle role play, he explains. As a brand, Disney has a built-in reputation for quality and trust, Mr. Mooney adds, so it doesn’t start from scratch when it enters categories such as cruise travel, better furniture or wedding gowns.

The decision to go into the bridal market was largely made because of that princess dream so many brides talk about, Mr. Mooney says.

“Every bride wants to be Cinderella, but she also wants to be classic, feminine and beautiful,” he says. “Kirstie has allowed a woman to enter the princess fantasy, but in a way that’s absolutely appropriate for the event.”

Plus, 1,500 couples say “I do” at Walt Disney World Resort in Florida each year.

The gowns will be sold at bridal salons. Mrs. Kelly says Disney identified a void in the midtier level of gowns for brides who want to spend between $1,100 and $3,400.

Women often start their gown shopping with the idea that they want to be different from everyone else, but they change their tune once they start trying on dresses.

“Looking like Cinderella is probably something they never considered before they got engaged, but then the traditional side almost always comes out. It’s hard to resist romance and sparkle,” Mrs. Kelly says.

That said, bridal retailers are always looking for the new thing that can help their store stand out — and that’s what gives Disney a good chance at the market, says Carley Roney, editor in chief of TheKnot.com.

“As to consumers, the success of this line all depends on the dress design,” she says in an e-mail. “The Disney brand has a strong, positive, emotional meaning for a surprising number of people — consider the couples who choose to get married at Disney. But I see these ‘Disneyphiles’ as being a relatively small group. As to the women who have no real Disney brand loyalty, if the dress designs are strong enough, they will probably overlook the brand association.”

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