Nicholas Mellamphy is the buying director for The Room, The Bay's high-end women's fashion hub in Toronto, a job that includes weighing in on which looks score the department store's coveted window space. For TIFF 2014, the choice was obvious: Star Wars-themed gowns by Rodarte, featuring imagery from the iconic film. The dresses – now for sale at The Bay – were the grand finale of the Rodarte show during New York Fashion Week last February and have since transitioned from outré runway pieces to items sold on demand. In terms of window dressing, it was an ideal cross-section of film and fashion: "This is such a big time of year for fashion and, in Toronto, it's all about movies for the first two weeks of September. The synergy was perfect," Mellamphy says.
Star Wars-inspired style got a couple more recent nods (courtesy of a couple of pop princesses) at the VMA Awards last month: Ariana Grande's backup dancers looked like an army of sexed-up Storm Troopers, while Iggy Azalea walked the red carpet in a skin-tight silver Versace gown with a distinct R2D2 vibe. Fashionably speaking, the Force has been with us since at least spring, when Kirsten Dunst wore one of the Rodarte gowns to the Met Gala on May 5. The actress, a frequent muse of the Rodarte designers, sisters Kate and Laura Mulleavy, managed to look incredibly sophisticated, even with the Death Star Number Two draped across her lower half. That very same day, Julia Roberts showed her love for George Lucas's universe by wearing a white blouse emblazoned with the Darth Vader mask. The shirt was part of the fall 2014 collection by the U.K. line Preen. Roberts said it was a nod to her two sons, who are obsessed with the movies. One week later, she wore a dress from the same collection (with the same, life-sized Vader helmet stamped on the front) for an appearance on Good Morning America, affirming her affinity for the dark side of fashion.
The Preen collection debuted during Fashion Week in London. Preen's creative director, Justin Thornton, says he was surprised to see the Rodarte dresses on the New York runway just a few days prior. "We had no idea that was going to happen, but they didn't use Darth Vader, so that was good. That was sort of our thing," he says. Both design teams had the blessing of Disney, which bought the rights to Lucasfilm for $4-billion in 2012. Preen was actually working with the company's London office. "It was too late to do anything about it," Thornton says of the unintentional double take. No matter. There seems to be enough Star Wars love to go around of late.
It has been almost 40 years since George Lucas's space epic made its big-screen debut, but the movie's relationship with fashion started even before that, with Lucas seeking inspiration from Japanese designers for the films overall look and feel. By the time Return of the Jedi was released in the summer of 1983, every beach was resplendent with gold lamé bikinis and any guy worth looking at could pull off Han Solo's sartorial swagger. Today, that first wave of fans has passed the obsession down to their kids; there's also the forthcoming Episode VII movie, which crashes the Internet with every photo leak and casting decision. "It's sort of like the perfect storm, with the nostalgia people are feeling for the first movie combined with the anticipation of the next movie," says Toronto fashion consultant Susie Sheffman. "Mix a cool brand with nostalgia and you've got a winning ticket."
Thornton of Preen was a teenager when the original movie came out. "I'm a huge Star Wars geek. The movie has always been a reference in our collections, just not as overtly," he says. He and his design partner, Thea Bregazzi, were already working on a collection based on their favourite films (Star Wars for him, Annie Hall for her) when Disney approached them about using one of their characters. "I wasn't sure. I didn't think that any of their cute characters would work, but then they reminded us that Disney had acquired the rights to all of Lucasfilm and it was just a perfect fit."
The marriage of style and superbrand reached its zenith at Milan Fashion Week last February when Moschino's McDonald's-inspired collection, featuring fashion-forward versions of the company's uniforms along with Happy Meal box purses and an oversized red sweater with the golden arches across the front. Before the Star Wars lines, Disney had already made its mark on the runway. Last year, there was the Minnie Mouse cropped sweatshirt by Marc Jacobs that popped up on numerous magazine covers and the Givenchy Bambi shirt was worn by half of young Hollywood, including very young North West (mom Kim Kardashian posted a snap of the infant's new shirt, along with a handwritten note from its designer, on Instagram). At the street-wear level, Vans recently released a limited-edition collection of sneakers featuring Luke, Darth and the gang, which are already hard to find. "I think it was a case of stores not realizing how popular these were going to be and then regretting that they didn't order more," says Ontario-based Vans sales agent Stu Cameron. Cameron adds that collections like this one are a way to stay culturally connected (the brand recently released another limited line of shoes themed around The Beatles). Zara has also come out with a Star Wars sweatshirt and chances are many more brands will hop on the bandwagon as anticipation for Episode VII increases, meaning Disney will have a lot more licensing agreements to sign off on.
The importance of official authorization is a lesson that Aussie designer James Lillis learned firsthand a few years ago when his line of Star Wars bathing suits (three one-piece suits featuring R2D2, C3P0 and Darth Vader) earned him a cease-and-desist notice from Lucasfilm. Lillis says he had intended the line as just a little project, but then all of sudden the suits were in high demand. Today they are cool-girl collector items, available for several times the original sale price on eBay. At first blush, a movie so beloved by the geek community may seem an obvious sartorial status symbol, but then geek and chic have been circling each other for the past several years. "It's one those moments where the nerdy girls are the cool girls," Mellamphy says of the current style landscape, where dorky wardrobe staples like thick-rimmed glasses, high-waisted pants and utilitarian sandals have become high fashion.
Take that notion one step further and you could argue that Star Wars forms the basis of the contemporary wardrobe. After all, what is normcore, the current celebration of the everyday mundane, if not a combination of Leah's less-ismore aesthetic, Han Solo's neutral colour palette and Darth Vader's affinity for the jolie laide? "Basically, if you look at the way that we dress today, so much of it can trace back to Star Wars fashion," Sheffman quips. "I've never actually even seen the movies and I still know that."