Pop culture philosophers have posited many theories on what’s behind the contemporary appeal of magic and fantasy, which account for some of the most popular books, TV shows, movies, and music in the last several years. Perhaps we’ve all been reading Harry Potter and watching The Lord of the Rings in a desperate attempt to escape from the harsh realities of global warming, or maybe it’s Bush, or the hurricanes, Avian Flu, or terrorism!
Or maybe it’s because the clothes are so good.
Fred Flare, master of a giddy, bubble-gum aesthetic that doesn’t need the justification of being called “kitsch,” has always understood the value of dress-up. Why should it be just for kids? The company has just become the only retailer to carry a line of jewelry called Disney Couture. The first five pieces — a big, sparkly Captain Hook skull ring, a gold-plaited Tinkerbell necklace, a bejeweled lavender bangle with a Tinkerbell charm and a skull dangling from it, a blue and gold necklace with a heart-shaped Tinkerbell pendant, and a Bambi necklace with gold and pink beads and two sparkling flowers — are selling like magic mushrooms, and not to children. The prices range from $40, for the ring, to $125 for the bracelet and the Bambi necklace.
Chris Bick, co-owner of Fred Flare, has been swept away by the nostalgia of the Disney line. “As retailers and designers, we often find ourselves going back to [childhood] for inspiration. It really is the most magical! You’d cook up crazy dramas with your Barbies and sleep with teddy bears and pretend all day long… Anything seemed possible. We definitely get that same vibe from these pieces.”
But, of course, you don’t need Disney to feel you have been lifted into another realm. Joanna Newsom, who sings and dresses like some sort of mystical elf from the past/future, mentions Cair Paravel, the capital of Narnia, in her song “Bridges and Balloons.” Perhaps she gets her puff-sleeved velvet frocks at the vintage store, Narnia, on the Lower East Side? The store’s owner, Molly Spaulding, was almost apologetic when asked about the name. Although there are some elfin boots and embroidered jumpers to be found in the narrow boutique, she doesn’t purchase clothing with Cair Paravel in mind.
“It’s more about the general feeling of the book, and the idea of going through the closet, or beyond it,” she explained. As a child, Spaulding read The Lion, the Witch, and The Wardrobe, and, like many children, it captured her imagination. In her family’s summer house in Martha’s Vineyard, “a pretty magical place in and of itself”, Spaulding’s bedroom had a small door that opened into an “igloo-like” room. Grown-ups could fit through the door if they stooped, but they couldn’t stand up inside. Her store, she says, is a kind of tribute to her own personal fantasyland.