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The World's Foremost Disney Cosplay Expert Weighs in on Fashion's Princess Moment

The creator of Disneybounding — channeling your favorite character without wearing a blatant costume — shares her thoughts.
Alicia Vikander in Louis Vuitton as Belle, and a look from Dolce & Gabbana's fall 2016 runway. Photos: Jason Merritt/Getty Images, Imaxtree

Alicia Vikander in Louis Vuitton as Belle, and a look from Dolce & Gabbana's fall 2016 runway. Photos: Jason Merritt/Getty Images, Imaxtree

Disney princesses are definitely having a moment in fashion and beyond. This weekend alone, Dolce & Gabbana showed a blatant Disney princess collection and at the Oscars, Alicia Vikander was quite literally Belle from "Beauty and the Beast" — from her yellow Louis Vuitton gown right down to her hairstyle. And if you click on Buzzfeed or Cosmopolitan on any given day, you'll find stories like "If Disney Princesses #WokeUpLike This" and "This Is What Disney Princesses Look Like Without Makeup." Clearly we want Disney princesses to be #justlikeus — and we want to be more like them. 

To delve more into this concept I called Leslie Kay, 27, who founded the Disneybound Tumblr five years ago. To the uninitiated, Disneybounding (yes, it's  a verb) means dressing subtly as a Disney character without wearing an outright costume. It started because Disney does not allow adult fans to wear full-on costumes to any of its theme parks because the company doesn't want guests to confuse the "real" Disney characters with the fans. Kay, a marketing major and lifelong Disney and fashion fan, started the blog originally to document her first adult trip to Disney World. But people quickly followed it because she often dressed to channel Disney characters, and thus Disneybounding as a sub-genre of cosplay was born. Here's what Kay had to say about our fascination with Disney characters, all those princesses on runways and red carpets and which character is the most difficult to channel.

How and why did you start Disneybound?

Disneybound started a few years ago. I've always had a love for fashion and I wanted to go into it when I was in high school. But I was always told, "Do you know how many girls go into fashion? You're not going to make a career out of it. You're going to end up being a seamstress somewhere and you're not going to like what you're doing." Then I went the marketing route and ignored my drive for wanting to work in and with fashion. I found myself working as a legal assistant at an entertainment company, which then gave me nothing to channel my creativity into. So I started the blog because I was literally going to Disney World for the first time since I was a kid. Finally I had money and my parents couldn't tell me what to do with it! So I decided the first big thing I was going to do is go to Disney World. Then I was just bored one weekend and I was playing around with something I had always played around with – which is using clothes you can find in the mall or in your closet and channeling the Disney character you think would wear it, without being a costume.

Is Disneybounding your job now?

I had gone to school for marketing and because everything's so social media-based right now, my background has actually allowed me to work in social media. I mainly work for myself. Disneybound is my main priority, but I do have other clients.  I manage their social media accounts. On all my social channels I have over 300,000  followers worldwide. It’s become a fun way for people to get involved in fashion. People might look at runway models and might not be able to relate to them, but they can relate to Disney characters. It teaches them how to dress for their bodies and how to pick up on trends. [They think,] Oh, Rapunzel would wear that instead of, Oh runway models who I can't relate to.

What does Disney think about what you do?

They love it. I've worked with Disney multiple times. I've been on two of their DVD re-releases, one for "Sleeping Beauty" and the "Snow White" re-release last month. And I've worked with Run Disney, their half marathon company, for a year. I had a contract with them and created content for their different blogs. I can't really profit off the word "Disneybound," but I do work with Disney every so often. I have a clothing line called Cakeworthy, which is fantasy and pop culture-inspired fashion that Disneybounders eat up. They love it, so that's kind of where I end up profiting off Disneybound in a roundabout way.

How often do you post these looks? They're very thorough. Do companies send you clothes now hoping you'll feature them?

I post daily. The only day I give myself off is Sunday. The fashion's always changing. People will ask me if I run out of characters, but because fashion and trends are always changing it  gives me something new to do. People do send me clothes and I do promotions for them, so that's kind of fun. They encourage me to find a Disney character based on their clothes.

Are there certain brands or stores that you find yourself using a lot that always work for the looks?

My target demographic is teenagers and young adults, so I encourage them to go to places like H&M and Forever 21, which provide a wide array of clothes and colors — as well as the colors that are important in the Disneybounding game — that also fit into their budget. Me, personally though, I [love] Moschino and Jeremy Scott's collections. I love the bright colors and pop culture aspect. Recently there have been so many things I've been finding that work perfectly for Disneybounding. I don't know if it's on purpose or not, but [Scott is] the designer that stands out the most to me.

What did you think about Dolce & Gabbana's collection over the weekend? It was literally based on Disney princesses.

It was a like a dream come true to see that. I wish I could have been in the front row. It's just so much fun to see high fashion tapping into their former childhood selves and having fun with things that people might otherwise say, "Oh, isn't that childish?" — which is something I get all the time doing what I do. So it's fun to see high fashion recognizing that you can be an adult but still live a fairy tale life if you choose.

Have there been other collections you've seen in recent seasons that maybe weren't so blatantly Disney that you made you think "Oh, that's so Ariel" or whatever?

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I’m a big fan of Disney villains and black, and oftentimes on runways there are a lot of bold looks that translate into Ursula or Maleficent. I think Dolce & Gabbana is the one that stood out to me as the first one [I've seen] that's like, holy crap, that's super Disney and fairy tale, and I love it!

Is it hard to keep coming up with ideas?

One Cinderella [look] I make might be perfect for a formal event, but the next one might be perfect for a 14-year-old to wear to school. I have recycled characters, but I never feel like,  "Oh I'm doing this again?” Because there's always something new I can use and play around with. I do some really obscure characters, but those are more as requests, like the doorknob from "Alice in Wonderland."

Who are the most popular characters for Disneybounders?

Peter Pan for sure is everyone's favorite. I think the entire community of Disneybounders like the never-growing-up aspect of his story. Ariel is another popular one. Not with me personally, though, because I don't think the purple and the green and the red go together all that well. And Alice from "Alice in Wonderland." My favorite character changes often but usually it's Winnie the Pooh, but not for fashion. For fashion I usually like the Mad Hatter or something that allows you to play with a lot of accessories and be a little more high fashion if you choose to be.

Who's the most challenging character to channel?

The ones that are very obvious fashion challenges are the tigers like Tigger or Rajah. They're orange and tiger striped. It just doesn't necessarily look great.

Are you ready for [the new Disney animated feature] Zootopia?

I've already created a couple outfits based on characters I can tell from the trailers. I'm going to go see it on Thursday and really take notes and get ready for the weekend.

Charli XCX channels Marie from the "Aristocats" and Lupita Nyong'o is Cinderella in 2014. Photos: Jason Merritt, Christopher Polk/Getty Images

Charli XCX channels Marie from the "Aristocats" and Lupita Nyong'o is Cinderella in 2014. Photos: Jason Merritt, Christopher Polk/Getty Images

Everyone immediately picked up that Alicia Vikander pretty much was Belle last night, right down to the hair. Do you notice Disney looks on the red carpet frequently?

Not since Lupita Nyong'o's blue Prada dress in 2014 [at the Oscars],where she had the headband too — it just looked so Cinderella. It was cool to see Alicia's full Belle look put together, not only the yellow dress. At the Grammys in 2014, Charli XCX was wearing white and pink and she looked just like Marie from "The Aristocats." I don't think she was meaning to look like a cat walking out on the red carpet wearing a pink bow tie,  but with the fur shawl it just brought it all together.

Why do you think there's such a huge Disney cultural moment now?

It's something that everyone who has grown up watching Disney has in their hearts. And I think when you love fashion, it goes hand in hand. It's cool to see people on the red carpet embracing their inner child and their inner Disney love. 

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