He's funny. He's colorful. And he's American as, well, Mickey Mouse.
And those are just some of the reasons why Mickey Mouse has become the hottest thing to hit fashion since the alligator and polo pony, says Max Raab, head of J.G. Hook and its subsidiary, Mickey and Co., one of the companies officially decorating clothes and accessories with Mickey and family this season. Raab now figures he will sell more than $20 million wholesale of these items in the first year -- three times his original projection.
"There's a Mickey cult," says swimsuit maker Paul Lewis of Daffy California. "It's nostalgia. It's thumbing your nose at convention." Lewis expects to sell more than 150,000 swimsuits embellished with pictures of Mickey. On one style Mickey sits in a deck chair on the back of a bikini bottom as well as on the bra top. (On a kid's bathing suit from Candelsticks, Minnie sunbathes in a two-piece suit.)
According to Kim Meth of Walt Disney Productions, the Mickey Mouse revival started when European designers adopted the graphic, using flashy colors and giddy poses, "while we were stagnating here." While Walt Disney Productions loosened up about the way Mickey could look and act, it kept some guidelines: He can't be seen with liquor or cigarettes, and "Mickey doesn't gamble," Meth says. And he must always appear dressed.
Not necessarily dressed in the same way he has for the last 56 years. Often the red suspenders are gone, and the Disney character looks positively mod in sunglasses and bright colors.
But Raab has stuck with the traditional look. "Ours is pure -- the antique Mickey," he says. Over the years, even the authentic Disney Mickey has changed in shape of ears, shoes and physique as he appeared on a watch face in the 1930s, a movie cartoon in the '40s and a television character in the '50s. "We like the original Mickey from the 1930s," says Raab, who has three designers working full time adapting Mickey and other Disney characters. All must be approved by Walt Disney Productions.
Raab doesn't see any cooling off on Mickey, "but when it happens there is always Goofy, and even Snow White."
For another view of Mickey, check Roy Lichtenstein's "Look Mickey" at the East Building of the National Gallery of Art, or the Claes Oldenburg sculpture "Geometrical Mouse" at the Hirshhorn Museum's sculpture garden.