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Fashion Little Cartoon Characters

Meet Snoopy as Alexander Hamilton. Dressed by Paul Tazewell, the costume designer for “Hamilton,” he is half of one of the 64 Snoopy and Belle doll pairs dressed by various designers for a traveling exhibition that arrives today at Brookfield Place, the shopping complex in downtown Manhattan. It will remain in New York until Oct. 1.

“Snoopy & Belle in Fashion” is a reimagining of a similar exhibition that was hosted by the Louvre in 1984 and featured miniature outfits made by Karl Lagerfeld, Jean-Paul Gaultier, Giorgio Armani and Oscar de la Renta. It is also the most blown-out version of fashion’s long-term obsession with cartoon characters, a trend that seems to grow more prevalent every year.

Think back to Givenchy’s Bambi sweatshirt from 2013 (the one that was priced at $1,375 on Net-a-Porter), Coach’s Mickey Mouse-inspired bagsfrom 2016 or Alison Lou’s growing series of emoji necklaces, bracelets and rings (a gold, diamond and ruby kissy-face pendant goes for $9,680).

Jeremy Scott has dominated the oeuvre for seasons, making references to SpongeBob SquarePants, Mickey Mouse, Bart Simpson, Shrek, Betty Boop and more in his collections for his own label and for Moschino. During London Fashion Week this winter, designers riffed on the Powerpuff Girls, the Pink Panther and Hello Kitty; and earlier this summer Marc Jacobs unveiled sweaters embellished with a grinning Mickey Mouse.

According to Edited, a company that tracks analytics at more than 90,000 brands and retailers, the number of clothing and accessory items related to Disney that are sold online rose by 150 percent between the first half of 2015 and the first half of 2017. Pieces related to Mickey Mouse grew by 84 percent during that time period, and anything from the emoji universe grew by 502 percent.

“Nostalgia is a huge deal at the moment,” said Katie Smith, a senior analyst at Edited. “In the stories these products evoke, there is an escapism that’s reassuring, particularly in the current climate. The characters go through tough experiences but always come back to a good place.”

The names of designers involved in the Snoopy and Belle project read like a dream fashion week lineup: Calvin Klein, Diane von Furstenberg, Dries Van Noten, J. Mendel, Kenneth Cole, Tracy Reese, Rodarte, Dsquared, Opening Ceremony, Monse and Oscar de la Renta. The final two were added especially for New York.
Both Laura Kim and Fernando Garcia, the founders of Monse and the creative directors of Oscar de la Renta, were already fans of Peanuts.

“I bought Fernando a giant Snoopy book for Valentine’s Day,” Ms. Kim said. Mr. Garcia said his Instagram profile picture had for long been an image of Pig-Pen, another Peanuts character, until Eva Chen, the head of fashion partnerships at Instagram, asked him to change it.

Ashley Biden, who designed a Snoopy and Belle pair dressed in aviators, hoodies, Dr. Martens (for her) and Timberlands (for him) for her social-justice-focused label Livelihood, said that Snoopy is a universally loved character. “Everybody in this group of designers remembers growing up with Snoopy and the cartoons,” Ms. Biden said. “Back then it was a simpler time, and the messaging, especially through cartoons, was about love and kindness and following your dreams.”

Krystine Batcho, a professor of psychology at Le Moyne College in Syracuse, N.Y., said that nostalgia can serve a healthy purpose during times of change and upheaval. She said that transformational or transitional periods can be personal (a death in the family, a breakup, a career change) or shared (a terrorist attack, an economic crisis, an election).

“Nostalgia helps keep you connected in terms of your self-identity,” Dr. Batcho said. “It connects you to your own past through the continuity of self.”

When we wear symbols of nostalgia on our clothing, we make it easier to connect with others around us, she said. “Making it public is a way of saying, ‘We all need to chill.’ Everybody needs to take a deep breath and remember what is best, and the ideals epitomized by childhood, especially cartoons, where all the problems are solved by the end of the episode, where good and evil are easy to tell apart.”

For the designers who participated in the Snoopy and Belle collection, the motivation may have been much simpler. “A fashion designer has to be so serious because so much rests on the collections and how much perfume they’re going to sell,” said Jeannie Schulz, the widow of Charles Schulz, the creator of the Peanuts cartoon