From a white turtle-necked dress, which closely mirrors a look made famous by the late Carrie Fisher in her role as Princess Leia to the asymmetric leather belts that could be found nipping the waists of other flowingly-draped frocks in Proenza Schouler’s Pre-Fall 2020 collection, one thing, in particular, was clear: “Star Wars chic is coming.” That is what the New York Times’ Fashion Director Vanessa Friedman garnered from the offerings of one of New York’s most esteemed design duos.
Proenza Schouler creatives Jack McCollough and Lazaro Hernandez’s nod to the Lucasfilm franchise, which coincided perfectly with the release of the latest film, The Rise of Skywalker, the third installment of the Star Wars sequel trilogy, is hardly the first time that influences from George Lucas’ expansive body of work have found a home in high fashion. In much more literal examples: red carpet favorites Kate and Laura Mulleavy worked classic Star Wars imagery into their couture-like creations in 2014; London-based label Preen did the same. A year later, Disney aficionado Bobby Abley outfitted models in sweatshirts with Storm Trooper and C-3PO graphics.
Meanwhile, brands like Etro are currently offering up $280 tees with an image of Princess Leia and $70 socks emblazoned with the words “Star Wars,” sustainable footwear brand Po-Zu is selling R2-D2 high top sneakers, and Levi’s was selling furry Chewbacca-embroidered trucker jackets for nearly $500 … until they sold out. Still yet, Kay Jewelers immortalized C-P30, Darth Vader, the Death Star, the Imperial Crest, and a Storm Trooper into golden pendants, earrings, and rings, while the usual mass-market suspects like Hot Topic, Forever 21, Target, and Amazon – the latter of which is happily “upending” the $250 billion-plus licensed merch market – are stocking an array of branded wares.
Taken together, these uses of Star Wars characters and insignia make up part of the $57 billion licensing machine that is Walt Disney Company, the largest player in the almost $270 billion-plus global licensing market, one that sees companies trade off the right to use their intellectual property (generally) in exchange for a lump sum and royalty payments based on sales of the licensed goods.
For Star Wars (or better yet, Disney, which acquired Lucasfilm’s intellectual property in 2012 for $4.05 billion), the license-able assets at play are vast. They include the wildly valuable “Star Wars” trademarks, for example. They also encompass trademark rights that extend to the characters’ names (from “Darth Vader” and “Luke Skywalker” to “Droid”), and the trademark and copyright protections for the appearance of the films’ characters, whether it be a “three-dimensional configuration in the form of a masked, armored helmet,” i.e., Darth Vader or a “three-dimensional configuration in the form of a three legged standing figure with a cylindrical body” – aka RD-D2. The list goes on … and on … and on.
From this large pool of Star Wars-specific intellectual property and the sweeping number of licensing deals that Lucasfilm maintains, the production company (and thus, Disney) has managed to “transform the market for movie merchandise since its launch in 1977,” as Vox’s Terry Nguyan put it recently, echoing Fortune’s Matt Vella, who wrote several years ago that in beginning in the 1980s, “George Lucas and his long-time licensing chief Howard Roffman more or less invented the playbook that major media companies, Disney chief among them, now depend on.”
More than 30 years later, “Disney employs an extensive network of marketing magicians to dream up new tactics to keep the brand culturally relevant,” Faran Krentcil wrote in 2018. “Among the most effective: connecting content and commerce through emotional threads,” nostalgia-seeking millennials, anyone? But also: “open-sourcing characters, inclusivity, gamifying the brand experience, and using social media as a magic mirror.”
The result is a truly wide array of collaborations aimed at connecting with consumers of all ages and in nearly all spending brackets, and no shortage of those collabs have come in the form of garments and accessories – branded with either Star Wars-specific intellectual property or IP from Disney’s larger portfolio. The Bambi that appeared on Givenchy wares during Riccardo Tisci’s tenure comes to mind for the latter, as does the Spring/Summer 2017 Gucci x Disney capsule, and a more recent tie-up by the two.
While Disney does not break out its licensing revenue by property, meaning that the nearly $60 billion per year figure includes not only Star Wars but traditional Disney character IP, as well as the IP associated with the Pixar and Marvel franchises, and so on, Star Wars has, nonetheless, been situated towards the top, according to analysts. Back in 2015, Star Wars licensing deals brought in an estimated $3 billion for Disney, with that number reportedly going up to $5 billion for 2016.
As for how much of that can be tied to apparel and other fashion-specific merch, Variety has reported in the past that “while toys are still Disney’s top seller” when it comes to licensed goods, “apparel is also strong,” which is in line with trade group Licensing International’s finding that fashion-centric deals are among some of the most lucrative in the licensing space.
While sales for Star Wars products were not specifically name-checked in Disney’s report for the fiscal year ending September 28, 2019 (it noted “higher operating income at our merchandise licensing business due to an increase in revenue from sales of merchandise based on Frozen and Toy Story, partially offset by lower sales of merchandise based on Mickey and Minnie”), a potential ramping up of fashion industry-specific uses appears to be underway, nonetheless.