On the evening of October 31, the streets will once again fill up with princesses, superheroes, and monsters of all shapes and sizes, making their way from door to door on an epic candy quest. Many of those costumed little ones will be dressed as Disney characters, draped in fun and flashy outfits from the Disney Store. To find out more about how those costumes get designed and produced, we visited the Disney Store headquarters in Pasadena, CA to talk with head costume designer Jason Johnson and get a close-up look at this year’s Halloween selection.
Each year, Jason and his team tackle the delicate task of re-visiting the look of characters who are not just well known, but are truly loved by their fans. We had to ask, how do you design a new look for a character as iconic as a Disney Princess? “That’s probably the most challenging part of it,” admits Jason. “For Halloween we want to be authentic and true, but also ask ourselves ‘How do we refresh it to keep the costumes interesting?’ I’ll come up with an inspiration board and I have a great team that I work with. They’ll then take those ideas down to more of a detailed level with each of the characters and what their ideas are. For example, we don’t ever do a generic print for every Disney princess character; each one has a design that’s unique to her.” The solution they’ve developed is to draw from not only the legacy of Disney’s famous character designs, but also from the most current styles in the fashion world. “We always look towards the impossible” he told us. “We don’t just look at what’s going on in the market. We look at runway fashion and we try to, as much as we can, incorporate fashion elements into the designs.”
They also keep a keen eye on their customers and conduct research into what young Disney fans are really after. In this case, research has never been so fun. As Jason tells it, “I have a six year old niece, and she’s my biggest help. She’s got her ear to the ground, listening for the pulse of the six year old. I’ll generally design something, get a sample, and take it home. If she loves it, then I’m pretty sure that most girls are going to be into it. She’s glued to the Disney Channel, so she knows what’s happening. If I don’t have a detail right, she’ll tell me.”
So, what’s on the mind of a Disney Store designer as they dream up next year’s catalog? You might be surprised to know that the level of shimmer and sparkle are just part of the magic and in addition to a much more practical aspect of each costume. “Safety is the number one concern,” Jason reminds us. “We have to be sure that the lengths of the skirts aren’t too long, there’s nothing that the child can get entangled in, and flammability is obviously a big concern for us around this time of year with candles being out. So we definitely put safety first. And then the second thing is character authenticity. We make sure that we’re choosing the appropriate colors and detailing, and that even the art on the packaging is appropriate for that character. Those are the two biggest things we consider.”
Working for Disney Store means that Jason’s team has high standards to live up to, but also a lot of help from throughout the company. Their work is woven directly into the process of rolling out each new film and character that Disney produces. “We try to get the first glimpse at what’s coming out by working directly with the filmmakers. So we’ll go to the Walt Disney Animation Studios, we’ll go to Pixar, and we’ll go to Disney Channel to work directly with the people actually creating the movies while they’re creating them. They’ll comment on our costumes right then and there and will give us the exact colors they’ve used and will sketch things out for us.”
This can be seen in the designs of Disney’s Frozen costumes that are currently on sale, though that movie won’t be out until later this year on November 27. “For Elsa’s shoe, I actually got the sketch the animator did before it went into the movie, so I was able to use that to develop our shoe. So I think that’s the great thing of everyone being here in a central [Southern California] location where everything happens, in terms of the animation studio, but also being so close within the whole Disney organization to the animators and the people who are creating the films. We’ve worked directly with the filmmakers since The Princess and the Frog. And then we also work directly with our toy team and our doll team because we want the costumes to look like they fit together as close as they can with a new movie as it’s coming out.”
Now that the Halloween season is in full swing, we had to know which costumes kids are responding to. “The most popular is Sofia from Disney Junior’s hit series Sofia the First. This princess in training is doing amazing for us. We can’t even keep her in the store! For Princess, Rapunzel is always great for us, as well as Cinderella and Belle, which are the top three. And Doc McStuffins is actually a very popular costume for us as well.” As for why these costumes in particular have seen the greatest success, Jason has his own theories. “The Disney Princess characters are timeless stories. Their personalities, passion, kindness, intelligence, and confidence resonate with girls of all ages.”
You can see the full range of costumes on sale at the Disney Store by visiting their Halloween Shop. And it’s not too late to pick up a costume for dressing up this season. All sales through October 22 are guaranteed for delivery by Halloween.