“I like to think ‘What Would Asda Do?’ then avoid doing just that,” Gemma Shiel tells Clash. Founder and designer of the Lazy Oaf label, it’s fair to say Shiel knows a thing or two about cartoons, given her brand’s identity is immersed in the brightly coloured world. “I love adding humour and playfulness in design,” she continues, “and cartoons are a natural go to for this.”
Most recently the label has produced a special Garfield collection – “his colour palette is awesome. He has such a great attitude and I love that his humour transcends all ages,” she swoons – following previous one-offs with Looney Tunes and Batman.
But Lazy Oaf is not alone in this obsession with all things cartoon network; in the last month ASOS has announced a new line of Minnie Mouse ears – a dead cert to replace those floral headbands 70% of females deem a ‘must have’ during festival season – while Marge Simpson has been confirmed for a M.A.C collaboration launching this autumn.
Elsewhere An Honourable Shirt pays homage to Dr. Seuss’s ‘The Cat in The Hat’ series via loud graphics on cotton shirts, and Opening Ceremony is currently playing home to Mickey Mouse through a unisex collection of hats, socks, tops and jackets, focused on Mickey’s debut, ‘Steamboat Willie’; Vans completes the OC collection, marking their second Disney turn (July 2013 saw a takeover of Vault by Vans with Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck and Winnie The Pooh).
It would seem then, that the fashion world is collectively in awe of these childhood favourites, as menswear designer Bobby Abley suggests: “I like to make people feel a bit nostalgic about what they liked as a child, because that’s when we all thought that anything is possible and our imaginations weren’t afraid of believing in things like mermaids and pirates and spaceships.”
This interpretation is shared by other London designers like Ashley Williams – whose SS14 collection saw Gary the Snail (of Spongebob Squarepants fame) make a cameo – and Katie Eary, whose AW14 collection saluted the Mickey Mouse of the 1930s. That Spongebob only made it onto screens in 1999, isn’t necessarily relevant.
Continues Bobby, “I think there’s something really appealing and magic about the blend of high fashion and cartoons, seeing things like Mickey Mouse on a catwalk keeps the ‘fun’ in fashion.”
Presenting with MAN for the final time this June, Abley’s previous collections have each drawn inspiration from the world of Disney, borrowing the famous font for AW14 and tattooing his models with chirping birds for SS14. The Little Mermaid – currently undergoing a Sofia Coppola makeover – is his ultimate cartoon fantasy however.
“I remember as a child making my sister watch it with me on repeat. I also remember begging my mom to buy me the Ariel doll from the Disney store. I think she was my favourite because it’s all underwater and I like to think that Atlantica is out there in the real world, but it hasn’t been discovered yet by us humans,” he says, adding that “Ariel is also a bit rebellious, she goes against her father’s wishes to get what she wants.”
Perhaps the most notable designer exploring cartoons right now is Jeremy Scott for Moschino. Amongst faux McDonalds branding, classic leather and gold, and food packaging ball gowns, seven AW14 looks were exclusively yellow and black (with large eyes and two front teeth) in tribute to Spongebob Squarepants.
In the case of Moschino and across the board, the strong use of cartoons is subject to several connotations, and easily dismissed as just another form of branding, filling the space where otherwise a logo might sit, such is the level of recognition involved.
“There is a certain degree of it being instantly commercial,” offers Gemma on the subject, “as quite often you are working with characters that have a huge fan base, however there lies the challenge of doing something a bit different and still quite niche with it. “
Abley too, differentiates between the commercial and personal elements: “Most people have a cartoon or a character that they are familiar with or were really into growing up, and when these old classic fairytales are given a new lease of life – whether it be through clothes or something else – people remember and it triggers some sort of (good) emotion.”
Sales tool or not, it seems we’re all in on the nostalgia trip.
Words: Zoe Whitfield
Bobby Abley, Ashley Williams and Moschino images via Style.com.