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BoF and Disney on The Power of Storytelling in Fashion

The BoF community descended on London’s Somerset House on Thursday to hear fashion industry leaders discuss how inspirational stories can drive business success.
L-R: Imran Amed, Sandra Choi, Sebastian Manes, Susie Lau and Geoffroy de La Bourdonnaye | Source: Courtesy
  • BoF Team

LONDON, United Kingdom — From classic tales like Sleeping Beauty and The Little Mermaid, to recent blockbusters like Frozen and Star Wars, The Walt Disney Company has transcended generations with its immersive, unique brand of storytelling. But what does Disney have to do with fashion?

This question and more were debated at The Business of Fashion's panel discussion at London's Somerset House on April 27, to coincide with Disney's showcase of its collaborations with artists and designers. This included Kenzo's spring collection, which incorporates imagery from The Jungle Book; Comme des Garçons' black leather Mickey Mouse ears; Alice in Wonderland flowers from Marc Jacobs; Bambi by Givenchy; and Cinderella slippers reinterpreted by Jimmy Choo, to name a few.

Titled "The Power of Storytelling," the intimate, invitation-only event saw speakers share their expertise in front of an audience of approximately 100. Among the participants were BoF's founder and chief executive officer Imran Amed, as well as key industry figures, including Sandra Choi, creative director of Jimmy Choo; Geoffroy de La Bourdonnaye, chief executive officer of Chloé; Susie Lau, founder of Style Bubble; and Sebastian Manes, buying and merchandising director of Selfridges.

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Disney's panel discussion, hosted by The Business of Fashion, on April 27 on "The Power of Storytelling."

“We’ve all known the power of attracting emotions through strong storytelling, and that’s what makes Disney so unique. At Disney, it’s about the power of narrative and being able to create a world with a theme and characters, to draw emotions that are common to all people around the world,” said Chloé chief executive Geoffroy de La Bourdonnaye, who previously spent a significant part of his career as a senior executive at Disney.

"Everything needs to start with a story. When I work on a collection, the story will give the framework — the beginning, the content and the end," agreed Sandra Choi of Jimmy Choo, who has become known for integrating play, humour and wit into her products.

But how do you tell, and sell, a story? When moderator Amed pressed the panellists to explain how to distinguish between something that feels authentic, in terms of a story and a creative collaboration, Choi responded: “I think a lot of it is to do with personal experience and personal engagement. The collaboration has to feel right. There’s got to be some kind of synergy.”

“There is a fine balance in the act of collaboration and whether one collaborator — in this case, Disney — is in sync with the other collaborator. You can see that in the final product,” agreed Susie Lau.

Lau noted that a big part of Disney's influence is "the instant recognisability" of its characters. "For designers like Bobby Abley, he did a design with [The Little Mermaid character] Ursula on it and that was one of my best performing pictures of that London Collections: Men season, just because [people see it and think] Ursula! Like! Love!"

“There’s an instantaneous reaction because of the recognisability and the fondness attached to the character,” Lau continued. “And it’s not just recognising it; it’s part of your culture and your personal experience.”

“I think that Disney characters are so powerful in terms of collaborations with other brands [because] there’s an element of innocence, and also fantasy. You can push your imagination outside the real world and dream,” agreed de La Bourdonnaye.

For an audience to truly engage, it really has to be a well crafted story.

But of course, storytelling is just one component of the multifaceted experience that today’s consumers expect from designers, brands and retailers. How to balance these components to create a retail narrative that can be transformed into an unforgettable experience is a challenge that resonated with all of the panellists.

“We think about how we can entertain our customers. Just putting product on the shop floor is not enough anymore,” said Sebastian Manes, buying and merchandising director at Selfridges.

“The role of the creative director has shifted so much over the past decade,” added Lau. “They’ve become not just designers, but they’re also telling stories and building universes and worlds around a product. I think that’s become incredibly important.”

The impact of digital technology was also a talking point. “What we’re trying to do [in the digital era] is to keep the same voice in store and digitally. Whatever we create in store, whether it’s a collaboration with Disney or something completely different, you just need to make sure there are some clear synergies,” explained Manes. “You can’t have one message online and a completely different one in store.”

“But at the end of the day, it’s about the strength of the story,” Manes said.

“Nostalgia is an important facet. You’ll always remember those early poignant memories of certain films and certain characters. That will never go away,” said Lau. “More than ever, whether you’re talking about products or new collections, for an audience to truly engage, it really has to be a well crafted story, with a lot of context and a lot of good narrative.”

“Authenticity is definitely the way forward. [Fashion] has been manufactured and fabricated for so long. I think it’s good to actually bring something real,” agreed Manes.

To watch the full panel discussion on “The Power of Storytelling,” click here

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