The colorful collaboration between Disney and Vans that hits retail Friday will bring some of the entertainment giant’s most beloved cartoon characters – Mickey Mouse, Minnie Mouse, Donald Duck and Winnie the Pooh among them – to the action sports brand’s lineup of footwear, apparel and accessories. It also brings two storied brands with deep Southern California roots – some of them intertwined for decades – back together during Disneyland’s 60th anniversary year and the eve of Vans’ 50th.
“My dad built his first factory one mile from here,” said Steve Van Doren, son of Vans’ co-founder Paul Van Doren, “at 704 East Broadway. It was like three lights up.”
“Here” is the Anaheim theme park where Steve Van Doren has come on a sunny spring day to celebrate the launch of the collaborative collection. Although he’s long served as a roving ambassador at large for the company (which has been a subsidiary of VF Corp. since 2004 -- his official title is vice president of events and promotions), this partnership has a personal connection. That’s why he’d started this particular day by piloting a giant Mickey-emblazoned Vans Sk8-Hi sneaker through the park (it was a prop to be used later in the day) and would end it by holding a VIP photo op with some of the very same characters featured in the new collection.
Sitting at a table outside Rancho Del Zocalo Restaurante in Frontierland, wearing a Mickey & Friends trucker cap, Mickey Mouse Vans slip-ons and an ear-to-ear grin, Van Doren explained how the first thing his father did the first morning after moving the family west from Boston in the ‘60s was take them to Disneyland, how Vans provided customized footwear for park employees (including the monorail and submarine attractions) in the ‘70s and made private-label kicks for Disney stores in the ‘80s.
“So this is a big deal,” Van Doren said of the new partnership. “[In 2013] we brought back some of those really early [private-label] shoes we did for the Disney stores as a very limited-edition [Vault by Vans] collection, but this is going to be the first time everybody will be able to get something -- apparel, footwear, accessories.”
(Vans did partner with the Disney-owned Lucasfilm for a 2014 "Star Wars" themed collection.)
Launching for fall 2015, the co-branded Young at Heart men’s and women’s collection is anchored by six styles of footwear from the Vans Classics collection: two slip-ons (one showcasing Mickey Mouse, another featuring Minnie, $60), two takes on the Authentic lace-up shoe (one with a Donald Duck design, the other with a Winnie the Pooh print, $60) and a riotous, colorful graphic featuring Goofy, Pluto, Donald and Mickey splashed across two different styles – an Era ($60) and a Sk8-Hi Reissue ($75). (In addition, all but the Sk8-Hi and the Donald Duck shoe are being offered in kids’ and toddler sizes, which retail for $42 and $37, respectively.) Variations on the graphics also appear on an extensive range of accessories and apparel including keychains ($12), socks ($15), T-shirts ($34.50 to $59.50), button-fronts ($60), bucket hats ($42) and backpacks ($50).
Two things should be noted about the above designs. First, they represent just the beginning of the collaborative character parade, with future collections planned to focus on other inhabitants of the Magic Kingdom (such as a Disney princess collection that will center around Belle, Jasmine and Ariel). In addition, retailer Journeys is getting a couple of exclusive shoes including Disney villains and a checkerboard Mickey design).
Second, as a testament to the long-running relationship between the two brands, the shoe designers (two of whom were on hand for the collection’s unveiling at the park) were given a surprising amount of leeway in subtly tweaking the classic characters. For example, in the allover print Mickey Mouse and Minnie Mouse patterns some versions of each character are kitted out in colorful sneakers instead of their traditional footwear. The Donald Duck graphics – which depict the patience-challenged bird in mid-tirade – include speech balloons full of punctuation invective.
But it’s the Winnie the Pooh shoe that perhaps best symbolizes the shared history of the two SoCal companies. It features various manifestations of the beloved bear seemingly meandering across a canvas upper. One Pooh reaches for a butterfly. Another carries a wooden skateboard under his left arm (hewn from a tree in the Hundred Acre Wood, naturally). And one sits on his bear behind, skateboard under his arm with a busted front wheel visible in front of him. Atop his head is a safety helmet – made from a beehive.
“They weren’t sure they wanted Winnie the Pooh to be on a skateboard,” said Vans Classics footwear designer Calvin Garcia. “But once we put the helmet on him they said ‘Yes,’ so we were pretty excited about it. It was kind of surprising.” Although Vans head of footwear design Rian Pozzebon singled out that design as his favorite, he pointed out that each pair of shoes in the collection is worth studying up close. “We’ve hidden a Mickey somewhere on every single shoe,” Pozzebon said. “It’s in there somewhere.”
The Disney X Vans Young at Heart collection launches at Vans retail stores and online Monday as well as at select retail locations globally.
For the latest in fashion and style news, follow me @ARTschorn