Hubert Burda Media

Quick on the Draw

With more designers and cult fashion boutiques demonstrating their love for the cutesy, don’t be afraid to embrace your inner child. 

It’s hip to be square, well, Squarepants. One of Fall/Winter 2014’s most talked about shows is designer Jeremy Scott’s debut runway collection for Moschino, where the controversial creative director sent a cartoony collection — inspired by pop culture and American cartoon character Spongebob Squarepants — down the runway.
Soon after his attention-grabbing collection set Instagram and the Twitter-verse on fire, British singer-songwriter Rita Ora added more fuel to the fire when she wore the label’s Spongebob jumper to a photo op. If glamour is more your beat, Italian designer Valentino Garavani’s REDValentino has launched its Snow White-inspired Fall/Winter 2014 collection featuring apparel in whimsical designs and adorned with motifs such as hearts and florals.
Even footwear has taken this unconventionally stylish route: British shoe designer Charlotte Olympia has teamed up with Archie Comics to create a Spring/Summer 2014 capsule collection of shoes and accessories featuring Archie, Betty, Veronica and the rest of the Riverdale crew.
The collection of classic shoe silhouettes — platform wedges, pumps and peep-toe heels — gave the designer plenty of space to feature the nostalgic comic strip print with embroidered character heads and speech bubbles. The opportunity for nostalgic escapism is exactly what appeals to fans of cartoon fashion, which is seeing a strong resurgence this season.
“It reminds people of their childhood,” says Lionel Roudaut, programme leader of the Fashion Design & Textiles Degree programme at the Lasalle College of the Arts. “It brings us back in contact with our inner child and evokes a sense of purity in a careless and carefree world.”
This is why at the ripe old age of 40 this year, Hello Kitty still isn’t showing any signs of a mid-life crisis. Instead, the world’s most famous feline — who was created by Japanese product design and licensing company Sanrio in 1974 — has never been more fabulously fashionable in the four decades of her existence. To commemorate this landmark year, the cool cat has embarked on a series of fashion collaborations that prove she has more than grown into her role as an international style icon.
In March this year, uber-edgy French fashion boutique Colette launched a limited edition collection featuring Hello Kitty and another recognisable — albeit of the saucier variety — cartoon animal, the Playboy Bunny. The fashion and lifestyle items, which included bow ties, socks, shirts and even Leica cameras, showed the two cartoons sporting each other’s key accessories: Hello Kitty put on a pair of bunny ears while Playboy Bunny wore Kitty’s bow on one ear. This collection has since sold out at Colette, but Kitty lovers need not fret.
For a comprehensive history of the popular cat’s past fashion collaborations, check out Hello Kitty  Collaborations, a coffee-table tome of its sartorial history that includes collections with Liberty, Diesel and A Bathing Ape to name a few. Or else, Los Angeles-based jewellery designer Chan Luu, known for her earthy bijoux designs, will be launching a range of bracelets featuring sparkling Swarovski crystals and sterling silver Hello Kitty charms on her signature handmade wrap bracelets in a muted pastel palette.
The collection is set to launch in Summer 2014. One fashion label that has been in a long-term relationship with Hello Kitty is Anteprima. Since 2009, the brand has been creating annual limited edition Sanrio Wirebags, with some of the more memorable designs shaped in the silhouette of the famous cat. My Melody and Kuromi bags were also launched in 2010. Anteprima’s Chief Designer and Founder Izumi Ogino says: “Hello Kitty is a global celebrity and has established her own spot in the modern art scene as a subject matter for many artists and trend-setters, such as Lady Gaga. So for me, collaborating with Sanrio characters is like creating a modern art piece as well!” The brand has sold more than 8,000 Sanrio Wirebags globally since its launch, snapped up, no doubt, by stylish Hello Kitty fans with an eye for design.
“The partnership was also perfect because Sanrio wanted to explore a more fashionable way of presenting their characters, so it was a win-win in terms of matching each other’s needs,” she adds. While the Japanese feline has undeniable style chops, she isn’t the only cartoon character to be given a high fashion makeover.
In this year’s Muppets Most Wanted movie, American brand Brooks Brothers produced more than 200 items of clothing for the male cast members, including Kermit the Frog and his doppelganger Constantine. Tongue firmly in cheek, Kermit was quoted in the label’s press release as saying: “Like most amphibians, I usually work naked. But when I wear clothes, like I do in Muppets Most Wanted, I love these suits. It’s very difficult to buy frog sizes off the rack, so Brooks Brothers really came to my rescue.”
The label first dressed Kermit for Disney’s The Muppets in 2011 and the spiffy puppet frog even wore a custom-made Brooks Brothers tuxedo when he made an appearance at the 2013 Academy Awards. Other American cartoon icons seem to prefer some French flair.
Minnie Mouse was presumably ready for a change from her usual polka-dotted dress with white bloomers when Alber Elbaz designed a bespoke bejewelled Lanvin dress for her during the 20th anniversary celebrations of Disneyland Paris last year.
In exchange for creating novel cartoon-sized garments, fashion designers get to bask in some public attention, as evidenced by the amount of press coverage these partnerships garnered. Roudaut says: “Fashion likes to venture into new places. It’s fun, it’s new and it hasn’t been done before — it’s great publicity.” Of course, dressing up cartoon characters in designer wear goes some way back, although previous incarnations were mostly limited to two-dimensional drawings.
In August 2007, Harper’s Bazaar ran an illustrated spread “The Simpsons go to Paris with Linda Evangelista”, featuring Homer, Marge, Bart and Lisa decked out in the haute-est designs of the season. From Marge lounging in Versace with Donatella to the family seated in the front row for the Louis Vuitton runway show, the imaginative spread was a tour de force in the kitsch yet evocative world of cartoon fashion.
In other Mickey Mouse news, American multi-label boutique Opening Ceremony has released a collection to celebrate the 85th anniversary of Mickey Mouse’s animation debut as Steamboat Willie. As of press time, selected pieces of the covetable collection, featuring Mickey’s mugshot emblazoned onto hoodies, shirts, caps and socks, were still available on the website.
Cartoon style is so common these days that it is perfectly normal to see grown women wear hair accessories shaped like the ears of a cat, mouse or bunny as a fashion statement, without drawing snide comments about Halloween or Cosplay. That said, do note that it takes a certain amount of youthful insouciance to pull this off with panache.
Simply take a style cue from Lucky magazine Editor-in-Chief and Instagram star Eva Chen, who has worn the same Spring/Summer 2013 Marc Jacobs x Mickey Mouse sweatshirt in more than one OOTD (that’s “outfit of the day” for the uninitiated) post. A cropped version of the sweatshirt was shown on the designer’s runway as well, for those whose tastes run towards bodycon rather than body-concealing.
Givenchy’s Riccardo Tisci has also shown a knack for capturing this cartoon zeitgeist. His Fall/Winter 2013 Bambi and Female Form print was an instant hit with the style set — with all the cool girls from Carine Roitfeld to actresses Elle Fanning and Lily Collins photographed in the neoprene sweater. The print was so popular that the brand released an entire accessories collection including bags, small leather goods and scarves to meet consumer demand.
Naysayers may still consider cartoons as too childish for fashion, but that is exactly the point for some designers. For instance, Jeremy Scott has always drawn inspiration from cartoons, with designs for his eponymous label inspired by a whole host of cartoon characters including the Flintstones, Mickey Mouse, the Simpsons and the DC Comics superheroes. In a 2013 interview with British fashion and art biannual Husk, Scott says: “I [love] mainline pop culture and I love to create collections that show an attitude people can relate to. Elements from pop-cultural iconography (like the Flintstones) help give context to people when they see something new. They can relate to it in a personal way, which means they let it into their heart….I love stories and the moods they can bring to us — and when I’m creating a collection, I approach it similar to that of a costume designer working on a film.”
Ogino of Anteprima agrees: “Fashion is more than creating something that is stylish — season after season, just being stylish can be boring. The fashion industry is always about being stylish and chic, and can be too cool sometimes.”
“For me,” she opines. “Placing cartoon characters in the context of fashion expresses a notion of contrast. Bringing in a ‘cute’ factor can spice things up and break the mould, leading to refreshingly different designs.”