Walt Disney Co. is looking to grab a bigger piece of the wedding cake, and feed its burgeoning Princess business, with a new line of character-inspired bridal gowns aimed at women who want to look and feel like Cinderella at the ball on their big day.
The 34 gowns by designer Kirstie Kelly were inspired by princesses from Disney films like "Sleeping Beauty" and "Beauty and the Beast" and mark the latest effort by Disney to steer its weddings business toward higher-end nuptials.
Disney instructed Kelly to base her gown designs on those characters in a bet that the popularity of the Disney Princess line of products for girls, which racked up $3.4 billion in worldwide sales last year, would carry over to brides who grew up with Disney.
"We do 'being a princess' better than anyone," Korri McFann, marketing manager for Disney Fairy Tale Weddings and Honeymoons, said in an interview.
Kelly's gowns, which debuted on a New York catwalk on Sunday, range in price from $1,500 to $3,000, below couture prices but above the average wedding dress price of $1,000. The price point is aimed at a generation of couples who are getting married older and paying for their own celebrations, Disney said.
"We are enticing them to step up without breaking the bank," said Jim Calhoun, executive vice president for global apparel at Disney Consumer Products.
If successful, the wedding gown line could soon expand to include other Disney Princess-branded fashions and home furnishings for adults.
"If it really is the lifestyle opportunity that we think it is, then it really opens up possibilities ... beyond the day of the wedding," Calhoun said.
The company was encouraged to delve into the high-end wedding business by the 2,000 weddings it hosts each year at its U.S. resorts — Walt Disney World and Disneyland — and its cruise line, according to McFann.
Disney hopes to capitalize on soaring demand for destination weddings, in which couples and their guests turn their nuptials into wedding-vacations that often take place at resorts in tropical locations.
The Parks and Resorts division glitzed up the 16-year-old Fairy Tale Weddings program this year by hiring celebrity party planner David Tutera to design a "couture" line of decorations, floral arrangements and furniture for wedding packages that will start at $75,000.
"We have had ... couples that have been looking for an over-the-top wedding, and now we are going to offer that product to them," McFann said.
Standard Fairy Tale Weddings packages — which include ceremony and reception costs and sometimes extras like rides in a Cinderella carriage, trumpeting heralds and appearances by Mickey and Minnie Mouse in formal attire — start at $4,000 but average $27,000, about the same as the average wedding budget in the United States.
The number of destination weddings has grown 400 percent in the last decade and those events now comprise 16 percent of all U.S. weddings, according to Conde Nast Bridal Media's 2006 American Wedding Survey.
The survey also showed that 55 percent of destination weddings took place in the United States and a quarter of those couples honeymooned in the same spot where they were married.
Millie Martini Bratten, Brides magazine editor-in-chief, said that's good news for Disney.
"I think it plays into a lot of other things that Disney has done in general to expand what people already love (and) the service they get," Bratten said.
"They are offering different types of weddings for different budgets and ... they have the resources and the imagination and the focus to attract the higher-end weddings."