Lady Gaga, Tyra Banks and the Disneyfication of Fashion

Lady Gaga, Tyra Banks and the Disneyfication of Fashion


This week Lady Gaga, last seen winning the game of entrances at the Met Gala, will re-emerge in Las Vegas to continue the series of “Enigma” shows she began last December at the Park MGM. On its own that may be exciting news for anyone feeling “Shallow” nostalgia, but this time around she is also bringing a little something extra to the strip: 1,600 square feet of disco-bedazzled fashion and retail extra, to be precise.

Not exactly merch, not a museum, the Haus of Gaga is something else. It is a kind of theme park/trip down memory lane complete with about 50 items — 20 head-to-toe looks, assorted hats and shoes — from her archives, all set in a futuristic space with dark walls lit by spots like floating planets.

The meat dress she wore to the MTV Video Awards in 2010 is there. (“We beef jerky’d it,” said Nicola Formichetti, fashion director of the Haus of Gaga, in case anyone was wondering how it was still around.)

So is the Armani insect ensemble from the Born This Way Tour in 2012. So is the metallic Versace bodysuit she wore to fly into the Super Bowl in 2017, and the blood-spattered “Paparazzi” bodysuit and the many, many pairs of eye-popping hooflike platform shoes.

There are also specially designed new items for sale, as well as personal Gaga pieces that will be auctioned, with proceeds going to the Born This Way Foundation.

“It’s like being in a galaxy of Gaga!” said Mr. Formichetti, who has been curating the contents of Haus of Gaga. “Everything inspired by her story and her work,” with takeaways both in memory and material.

And it’s just the first example of what may turn out to be the fashion trend of the year.

Later this winter, Modelland, the 21,000-square-foot modeling amusement park in Santa Monica dreamed up by Tyra Banks, is scheduled to open, offering retail, model role-play and other interactive fashion features, the better to allow paying visitors to live out their catwalk fantasies.

It will be “a new world of storytelling and adventure in a grand, fantastical, physical place where all expressions of beauty are celebrated,” according to a news release. “The multilevel ticketed experience invites all visitors to redefine what a model really is and for people to be the dream versions of themselves.”

And after that will come American Dream, three million square feet of immersive consumption (don’t call it a mall) from the Triple Five Group, currently under construction in the Meadowlands area of New Jersey.

When finished, it will contain an indoor ski hill with real snow, a DreamWorks water park, a Nickelodeon Universe theme park, a Legoland Discovery Center, an ice-skating rink, a giant Ferris wheel, an indoor garden with bunnies and an aviary — and assorted stores including Gucci, Saint Laurent and Tiffany & Co., along with the largest mall-based Zara store in the country (among other things).

Triple Five’s Wizard of Oz — sorry, chief creative officer — is Ken Downing, who was the fashion director of Neiman Marcus for 28 years, and who envisions a fashion show on the ski slope, with models going up in the chairlifts and down on skis, the audience arrayed in little gold ballroom chairs alongside.

“There is nothing that is too big or too crazy,” Mr. Downing said.

Welcome to the Disneyfication of style: the convergence of entertainment, consumption and experience in a single, sensation-filled high/low extravaganza. Everyone has been on something of a roller coaster lately, after all. This just makes it official.

Maybe it’s where we’ve been going all along; the ultimate evolution of T-shirts with Hermès bags, of the convergence between streetwear and luxury, the transformation of shows into Shows and Content, and the constant harping on the need for “experiences,” and how they — be they travel or concerts — are vying with handbags and cashmere sweaters for pocketbook share.

It’s probably not a coincidence that Mr. Formichetti, who also has his own brand, Nicopanda, is the former artistic director of Diesel and the current fashion director of Uniqlo. He plays in all style sandboxes.

No one doubts that the old way of selling things — the 1980s mall, now an echoing wasteland; the department store, a dying breed; the flagship, a museum encased in amber — may be over. But are rides with a side of style, or fantasy with fanny packs, really the answer?

“There’s so much fear right now,” Mr. Downing said. “People are afraid to do something bold. But what retail lacks right now is creativity, theater and the ability to get people to come in just to see what’s going to happen.” It lacks “The Avengers”!

Mr. Formichetti agreed. “We talked about this from Day 1,” he said of Haus of Gaga. “Fashion is such a big part of performance, why shouldn’t performance be part of fashion? I love seeing fashion in a more entertainment way. That’s how the magic is made.”

But is it also how it is bought? Certainly it is not a surprise that in the search for the new and the different, Disney would prove an irresistible model, just as Apple once did. After all, Disney blockbusters got people back into movie theaters (another relic of the past, like stores, oft-declared “over”), and the company has become expert at taking one brand and disseminating it across multiple platforms: small screen, big screen, live action, cartoons, merchandise and, most of all, rides.

One school of thought says yes, that we invest in souvenirs to recall great experiences, and this is simply the wearable expression of that urge. Since none of these products are strictly necessary, they become symbols of a happy, exciting time.

According to Uma Karmarkar, a neuro-economist and professor at University of California San Diego, connecting fun (rides! theater!) to product attaches a brand memory to a positive experience, potentially giving us adrenaline-rush associations with a purchase.

But after the thrill of actual action — plunging down a flume, being flung around by bungees — can the thrill of a new leather jacket really compete? Do the urges to acquire sensation and stuff live in the same pleasure centers in the brain? (Rock climbers who live in their vans would suggest not.)

David Sulzer, a professor in the psychiatry department at Columbia University whose lab studies changes in the brain that occur during learning and addiction, said the fact that American Dream and Haus of Gaga are designed so that visitors have to pass through the retail section of the “experience” to get to the actual “experience” may work in their favor.

Dr. Sulzer pointed out that studies have shown that dopamine (a neurotransmitter linked to desire) is released when a pleasurable end is achieved, and that release can be “upstreamed” by cues related to the goal.

In other words, passing by Gucci to get the rush you achieve from pelting down a ski hill may transfer the sense of rush to Gucci, or passing by “Enigma” merch on the way to seeing your favorite Gaga outfit in the actual cloth may give you a feeling of satisfaction simply from seeing the shirts (or whatever exciting product is on offer).

More feeling, anyway, than you get from simply wandering around an empty store, or shopping by iPhone light in the middle of the night. “Though we don’t really know,” Dr. Sulzer said. It has been demonstrated in a lab environment with animal subjects, but not in a retail environment with people.

Still, Dr. Karmarkar added, there’s a certain precedent for all of this. “In some ways the Champs-Élysées is already the Disneyland of Paris,” she said.

Vanessa Friedman is The Times’s fashion director and chief fashion critic. She was previously the fashion editor of the Financial Times. @VVFriedman

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