What would Belle wear if she weren't stuck in a provincial French town? How would Anna dress if she weren’t the center of the court of Arendelle? And what would Rafiki wear if she were, well, a human?
In celebration of Disney on Broadway’s 25th Anniversary, Disney partnered with the Fashion Institute of Technology to find out. Ten students (out of the 100 who applied) were each assigned a Disney leading lady and tasked to create two “reimagined, contemporary looks” inspired by their character.
While the costume designers of each of these Disney on Broadway productions created iconic designs, this is what it might look like if those women stepped off the stage and into the world today.
“If Princess Anna were to leave the Broadway stage to walk around New York City, she would be walking in pants,” says FIT student designer Yelayny Placencia. Hence, the stylish jumpsuit inspired by Frozen’s princess of Arendelle. “I took the traditional bishop sleeve and added the extra flare to give it drama, and the flare bottom pants to balance it out. Princess Anna is full of emotions that sometimes are bigger than her, I had that in mind while designing her looks,” she continues.
That drama takes center stage in Placencia’s second design for Anna’s color-blocked gown and its square neckline—but it also signals maturity. Placencia wanted to “break away from the sweetness and kindness [Anna]’s known for. I went for right angles and strong lines to show the Anna that’s ready to go out into the world.” The designs reflect the character Frozen creators Jennifer Lee, Robert Lopez, and Kristen Anderson-Lopez conceived, “an explosion of emotions, bold, and courageous.”
For Anna’s older sister, Ashna Moogi’s designs are a marriage in contrasts “because Elsa is the perfect blend of warmth and cold,” says the designer. The corset element in both dresses accent Elsa’s innate strength, while the transparency of the garment reveals her inner warmth. All of the beading was done by hand and adds to the icy glamour of the crowned Queen.
Designer Annette Stone wanted to explore new territory with her looks for Aladdin’s princess of Agrabah. “Jasmine is always pictured wearing either big ballooning harem pants or gorgeous full skirts/dresses, and so shorts felt like a new avenue for the character, that is modern and still fit with her personality,” says Stone. That led to the “harem cargo shorts.” Stone also nods to Jasmine’s heritage with the hood inspired by the traditional Muslim hijab.
“When reimagining modern designs for an iconic character it’s important to keep staple elements so that the audience can still recognize who the character is,” such as the blue and gold palette and the emphasis on the midriff. But the updated Broadway version of Jasmine’s character arc inspired the full skirt in the gown sketch. “The movement and fluidity of her skirt represent her freedoms at the end of her story to rule her kingdom independently, and the layers of glitter tulle simulate the stars in the night sky on her magic carpet ride,” Stone adds. Overall, she captures the confidence, resilience, and power of this Arabian monarch.
Though still topped with the classic hat, Sooyoung Yun’s designs for Mary Poppins are a far cry from the royal red overcoat and blue umbrella. But Sooyoung conceptualized what Mary might wear—less of a costume. “I thought it would be better to use colors we wear in real life. Wearing earthy and neutral tones [provide] a sophisticated look,” she explains.
As in much of Sooyoung’s design work, she employed minimalism and a “redefinition of fabric boundaries.” Here the asymmetric lines and deconstructed layers create a sense of unexpectedness, says the designer. “Mary Poppins always pops up from the sky, so I thought It would be fun to give some movements to the garments. Because Mary Poppins is involved with a wealthy family, I wanted to evoke a sense of high fashion and modernist design, so she could fit in the English high society. I wanted her to feel a sense of belonging, with a classy but modern approach to her dress. Mary’s outfit should also elicit a feeling of welcoming and warmth for the children to like her but respect her as a role model.”
ARIEL, THE LITTLE MERMAID
Baoquing Yu’s design for The Little Mermaid clearly plays on the oceanic theme of the Disney classic. The extension on the back of her gown comes from the idea of a seashell, but the cut of the fabric evokes the wake of a wave. Plus, the back of the skirt flips like a mermaid tail. The cocktail dress draws its mosaic pattern from Iris Van Heroen’s design technique. Yu employs draping and movement in the fabric to “mimic the movement of water in the ocean.”
BELLE, BEAUTY AND THE BEAST
The provincial bookworm gets a major update in these designs by Paige Walker. The biker jumpsuit was inspired by street fashion in New York. Biker shorts in Lycra fabric are popular with the rising demand for athleisure wear,” says the designer. She hand-painted the snakeskin pattern on the knee-high boots so the “entire look together is showing Belle as the Beauty and as the Beast. I gave her an edgier, fierce look to show her true spirit.”
Belle’s gown echoes the encased enchanted rose at the center of the story. “It was dying beauty; a symbol of tragedy in romance,” Walker says of the iconic floral. “It was both light and dark and as a child this opened up a lot of imagination.” In Walker’s version, the red rose shimmers gold, “a rich, crystallized champagne … to communicate the feeling I get from the rose.” Altogether, Walker’s vision marries fearlessness in a bold yellow and femininity in the delicate metallics.
KATHERINE PLUMMER, NEWSIES
Georgianna Wells found her inspiration in the working woman ethos of Newsies’ Katherine. Both looks show the aspiring reporter in blazers. “I was inspired by strong shoulders that became a representation of female power in the workplace during the '80s,” says Wells. Other elements of the design were inspired by Jess Goldstein’s costume designs for the show—with a twist. “It is a corset that is actually attached to the pants that zip up and then is closed by the buttons on the corset,” she says of her sketch. “The silhouette is reflective of the hourglass shape of Katherine’s original costume, however the asymmetry of it is reflective of her sharp, unique character and powerful, dynamic personality.”
The pant is also a twist on the long skirt shape Katherine wears onstage. Plus the bold mix of patterns and textiles showcases Katherine’s daring personality. “These outfits are an outward expression of the complexity, ingenuity, and intellect of the modern woman.”
Jane maintains her earthy, safari color palette (and pith helmet), but finds modernity in Marianna Gonzalez’s design. “When I thought about what I wanted to design for Jane, I kept thinking about pants. So I took that concept and made it very feminine by adding the belted peplum with oversized pockets and top-stitching,” she says. During her research, she noticed cuffs on Victorian sleeves of the 1800s sported long rows of buttons, so she applied the concept to the pants on a larger scale.
That Victorian inspiration carried over to Jane’s dress. “Women typically wore big full hoop skirts with crinoline, I took that concept and modernized it by adding tiers and slimming down the shape of those skirts,” Gonzalez explains. Jane maintains her sophistication and feminism—but steps into the 21st century.
NALA, THE LION KING
The animal prints featured in these designs for The Lion King’s female lead not only represent Nala, but “represent the animal kingdom she reigns over as well,” according to designer Ruby Seohee Shin. Shin emphasized Nala’s royalty with an elongated sleave since “most princess dresses have a puff/bell sleeve.”
The design evokes Nala’s finesse and beauty. “I only had one word in mind when I came up with my design, which was ‘mystique’—a quality of being special in a mysterious and attractive way,” says Shin. “Nala might not have been the main character, but she has a strong impact throughout Simba’s life. What Nala represents to me is strength and honor.”
RAFIKI, THE LION KING
Designer Eunhye Jo was excited to play with gender expression through style since Rafiki is portrayed as male in the animated Lion King but played by a female-identifying actor in the Broadway version. “When I first saw Rafiki’s original costume, it looked like sporty streetwear style to me. So, I decided to design contemporary look influenced by streetwear style and hip-hop,” says Jo. The jacket is a short length jacket and vest combined, inspired by bomber jackets of military origin. “I want to mix menswear and womenswear.”
Jo also emphasized Rafiki’s role as a shaman in the design. “She has to carry many tools and supplies for charm … so I made bag style pockets with transparent materials in order to put her supplies,” Jo says. The street style combines with the nod to Rafiki’s work in the buckles and plastics. Not to mention the one-of-a-kind zipper pulls Jo made using a 3D printer, designed using the symbol of Hakuna Matata. The fabrics mix textures reminiscent of African culture and sporty woven fabrics like denim, mesh, and nylon.
See how the sketches came to life below: