As Mickey Mouse’s perpetual love interest, Minnie Mouse has spent most of her life playing the supporting role. She turns 92 this year, but in her early days was almost always cast as a damsel in distress or a ditsy, flirtatious entertainer forever slipping out of her oversized high-heeled pumps.
She’s come a long way, but Minnie was still only awarded her Hollywood Walk of Fame star in 2018, a whopping 40 years after her life partner.
Now, a new collection for Uniqlo puts the cartoon icon centre-stage, and adds a little contemporary-cool to her character. It’s by Korean-American designer Yoon Ahn and her label Ambush.
“Everyone loves Disney, and Mickey, but Minnie is just as important, and as a woman I feel like Minnie should be celebrated too – as her own character, with her own world,” Yoon says.
Yoon launched Ambush in Tokyo in 2008 with her partner, the rapper Verbal. Back then it was a small, experimental jewellery label, but it soon became known for casually strolling the intersection between pop art and hip-hop culture.
“It’s hard to define what Ambush’s style is because there’s no one style,” Yoon says. “I mean, we just have our world.”
Ambush is perhaps best known for its cult POW! necklaces and rings – based on comic book sound-effect balloons – which have been seen on A$AP Rocky, Kanye West and Jay-Z. The label has launched ready-to-wear collections, and Yoon has designed jewellery for Dior Men and collaborated with Nike, Converse and New York’s Museum of Modern Art.
But reimagining Minnie Mouse for Uniqlo’s T-shirt category UT was a new challenge for the avant-garde designer.
“I wanted to make it quite pure,” Yoon says. “I don’t want to use the word minimal, because it’s not really minimal. It’s more about taking the essence of who Minnie is, and her character that you often see, and finding a different side. I wanted to make it abstract enough that we’re just seeing the essence – the core – of who she is.”
True to Uniqlo form, the range is simple, functional and comfortable, and features Minnie’s signature red bow and white-gloved hands reimagined in a range of garments and accessories, including tees, outerwear, bucket hats, utility pants and sporty messenger-style bags.
“I kept it abstract enough that it’s not so in-your-face,” Yoon says. “And she’s such an icon that without having to put a face on her, you know it’s Minnie right away. But it’s also a side of Disney that could be timeless. I wanted to create pieces that people want to hold onto.”
An athleisure-inspired jacket can be worn like a dress, and cuts and shapes are clean and adaptable, designed to work on all kinds of different bodies. T-shirts are loose-fitting and straight-leg pants have a stretchy waistband.
“I’m quite tomboy-ish. I do wear a lot of pants. I do live in men’s clothes. I really value being comfortable, and I hate walking out of the house and not feeling good. You don’t need that in life,” Yoon says. “It wasn’t about pushing the boundaries and the limitations of design. It was about how we can make a good T-shirt, and how can these things seamlessly blend right away into your wardrobe.”
Colour-wise, it’s fun and vibrant – a mix of mint-green, pale pink, neutral beige, and black and white – but Yoon didn’t have free rein.
“There are design restrictions, sure, but it’s just something you have to work with,” she says. “For me it was more curious as a study. I learned a lot. I thought, ‘How can we have fun within this space?’”
The Disney Love Minnie Mouse collection by Ambush is available in Uniqlo stores around Australia and online. Tees cost $19.90, parkas and coats range from $79.90 to $129.90, and hats are $29.90.