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12/03/2015

Could Cate Blanchett's 'Cinderella' be overshadowed

When Disney recently began unveiling merchandise for its new live-action Cinderella, the usual girls' dolls and dresses were joined by princess-worthy fare tailored to a notably different market: adult women.

 

A $US599.95 ($790) "I Have Arrived" Cinderella-collection crystal necklace on the home-shopping network HSN. A $US75 pair of "Cinderella and Prince Charming" champagne flutes. Even a $US4595 pair of "glass slippers," designed by luxury fashion brand Jimmy Choo for boutiques in New York, Paris and Milan.

 

For Disney's third princess-themed mega-film in two years, the traditionally kid-centric media juggernaut and its licensees are making a big play for women's spending, hoping "modern-day princesses" will spring for fairy-tale wear not for their daughters or little sisters, but for themselves.

 

Days before the movie's Friday mass premiere, that bet is already paying off. A Cinderella-themed makeup line by Estee Lauder's M.A.C. Cosmetics, promoted on a Disney fashion blog with a style called the "Stepmother look: Madam will do," sold out within hours of its online debut last month, with some items reappearing on eBay for more than four times the retail price.

 

For Disney, the Cinderella onslaught represents a risky bet on a behind-the-times tale of a hapless servant girl saved by magic and a benevolent prince, in a country calling more than ever for strong female leads. The mega studio is turning away from the blueprint of newer films such as Frozen, its $1.2 billion-grossing blockbuster, that showcased a fearless princess and became one of its biggest successes at the box office and beyond.

 

Wicked: Cate Blanchett attends the premiere of her new film

 

Pictures: green bridesmaid dresses

 

But faced with striking a tricky balance between modern calls for gender equality and the princess nostalgia of women's youth, Disney's merchandising has aimed squarely at the latter, gambling on the professional woman who, amid doing it all, doesn't mind a detour through fantasyland.

 

"Our target consumer is female, age 35 to 55, which is what Disney was looking for," said Gigi Ganatra Duff, a spokeswoman for HSN, which plans to run a 24-hour live event and two primetime specials to promote its Cinderella collection. "Our girl is sophisticated; she's fashionable. She doesn't want it to scream 'Cinderella.' She wants it to scream the essence of 'Cinderella': Fairy tale, dreamy, beautiful."

 

The movie's producers, in line with the marketers of Disney's world-spanning merchandise operation, have promised in its new take of the 1950 animated film a more contemporary, independent heroine (though just as stunning, in crystal-studded heels and an iridescent blue-silk gown).

 

"You see a really strong woman by herself and a young man coming together," actor Richard Madden, who plays Prince Charming, said at the film's Berlin premiere, "rather than a kind of more sexist view from the older animation."

 

To underline that, Cinderella offerings cater to the not-so-young princess-at-heart in a wayFrozen never was able to capitalise on. The online Disney store features a $US199.95 fine-china tea set and a $US600 14-karat-gold charm. Kohl's is selling $US60 organza women's dresses and sequined sweaters through a collection with Lauren Conrad, the 29-year-old former Laguna Beach star.

 

There are the usual youth-aimed wares, like Cinderella-themed prom dresses selling for $350 to $800, but many products stretch far beyond teens' reach. HSN's Cinderella collection features a $US169.95 "Enchanted Castle" crystal pin, a $US350 pair of crystal-encrusted lace-up sneakers and leather jackets with "the baroque styles of a contemporary princess."

 

Perhaps the most indulgent come from Disney's partnership with nine upscale designers asked to unveil shoes paired to the "glass slippers" theme, each affixed with Swarovski crystals and selling for between $US795 and $US4595. A Saks Fifth Avenue spokesperson said its New York and Beverly Hills stores started taking special orders for the shoes last week, though they will also go on sale in emporiums in London, Moscow, Tokyo and Dubai.

 

The most successful so far has been M.A.C.'s limited-run lineup of lipsticks, eye shadows and glitters, launched to breathless followings by style magazines and fashion bloggers, some of whom were crushed when they quickly sold out. Teary posts on social media and heated bidding wars followed: On eBay, bidders brought one auction of a four-pack of $US16 lipglasses and lipsticks up to $US132.50.

 

Before the make-up's in-store debut last week, lines formed at the doors of M.A.C.'s standalone shops in Portland, Ore.; Jacksonville, Fla.; and a suburb outside Los Angeles, where the line stretched more than 120 people long. In Jacksonville, the head of the line took a selfie while wearing a tiara in front of a window sign that said "Viva glam."

 

Karen Monterichard, 39, a beauty blogger in California, said the makeup had "driven people super, super crazy," even though, as she noted on her blog, "it's not going to be something most people will be able to wear to the Monday morning meeting at work." The appeal for elements like its "Stroke of Midnight" eye shadow, she added, came not just from its promises of fantasy glam but its hints of a dark side, marketed to "women who can appreciate the nuance, the edge."

 

Locally, Oroton have designed two limited edition crystal purses in collaboration with the film, which stars, "Our Cate Blanchett". The Cinderella Crystal clutch and and the Fairy Godmother Crystal clutch are hand crafted with over 2600 hand set Swarovski crystals and lined in 100 per cent silk. Only 40 pieces of each style have been produced and will go on sale in selected boutiques on Friday before the local premiere on Sunday.

 

To reach women, Disney has expanded its cross-promotional efforts far beyond their typically youthful clientele. In an episode last month of "The Bachelor," the reality show in which women compete over a husband, one Cinderella-themed date included a royal ball, fairy godmothers and a promotional clip of the new film. There was a special Cinderella-themed "afternoon tea" at London Fashion Week, and the film was also plugged recently by the closest thing to American reality-TV royalty, the "Real Housewives of Beverly Hills."

 

Disney's princess-as-woman push, analysts said, has been fueled by lingering concerns thatFrozen, which thoroughly conquered toy-store shelves, perhaps didn't go far enough.

 

The highest-grossing animated movie in history, it became Disney's 11th franchise to drive more than $1 billion in retail sales a year, but analysts said sold-out storefronts and conservative merchandising lines ended up costing Disney and its licensees an untold gold mine in potential sales.

 

That was without accounting for the dollars from adult women wanting to shop for themselves. The grown-up items for Frozen, as Disney's online store show, are far from adventurous: The most expensive are an iPhone case and an Olaf tote bag, which sell for less than $US40.

 

"Frozen was important not only because of its enormous box office success, but also because it opened new consumer categories that we expect Disney to take advantage of," said Laura Martin, a senior analyst at Needham & Co. That includes apparel, accessories and makeup targeting not just "a 13-year-old aspiring to be a 17-year-old," but young and not-so-young adults alike.

 

Disney's appeals to women could pay dividends at the box office. Women have made up a bigger share of filmgoers than men every year since 2009, industry data show, though movies that tell stories centered around women remain exceedingly rare. (Rarer still: Movies that pass the Bechdel test, which measures whether the story features at least two women who talk with each other about things that don't involve men. The classic Cinderella passes.)

 

But a successful Cinderella merchandising gambit won't just help Disney with one movie. Women who go out to buy Cinderella stuff for themselves could end up grabbing Frozen gifts, as well.

 

And Big Mouse, with its Broadway musicals, theme parks and cruise line, boasts plenty of ways on which it can expand its empire. Robin Diedrich, a senior consumer analyst at Edward Jones, said, "Focusing Cinderella on these glamour and makeup ideas, maybe that's something they eventually can do with other brands as well."

 

But perhaps the longest-lasting benefit to Disney's hyper-profitable princess machine is much subtler than that, said Rebecca Hains, an associate professor at Salem State University and author of "The Princess Problem."

 

"The more closely intertwined women's adult identities become with Disney princesses," Hains said, "the harder it's going to be when they're parents to have a critical distance, to maybe think they shouldn't just deck their daughter's whole room with princess stuff, but other stuff, too."

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