WHEN DISNEY recently began unveiling merchandise for its new live-action "Cinderella," the usual girls' dolls and dresses were joined by princess-worthy fare tailored to a notably different market: adult women.
A $599.95 "I Have Arrived" Cinderella-collection crystal necklace on the home-shopping network HSN. A $75 pair of "Cinderella and Prince Charming" champagne flutes. Even a $4,595 pair of "glass slippers," designed by luxury fashion brand Jimmy Choo for boutiques in New York, Paris and Milan.
For Disney's third princess-themed mega-film in two years, the traditionally kid-centric media juggernaut and its licensees are making a big play for women's spending, hoping "modern-day princesses" will spring for fairy-tale wear not for their daughters or little sisters, but for themselves.
Days before the movie's mass premiere today, that bet was already paying off. A Cinderella-themed makeup line by Estee Lauder's M.A.C. Cosmetics, promoted on a Disney fashion blog with a style called the "Stepmother look: Madam will do," sold out within hours of its online debut last month, with some items reappearing on eBay for more than four times the retail price.
For Disney, the "Cinderella" onslaught represents a risky bet on a behind-the-times tale of a hapless servant girl saved by magic and a benevolent prince, in a country calling more than ever for strong female leads. The mega studio is turning away from the blueprint of newer films, such as "Frozen," its $1.2 billion-grossing blockbuster that showcased a fearless princess and became one of its biggest successes at the box office and beyond.
But faced with striking a tricky balance between modern calls for gender equality and the princess nostalgia of women's youth, Disney's merchandising has aimed squarely at the latter, gambling on the professional woman who, amid doing it all, doesn't mind a detour through fantasyland.
"Our target consumer is female, age 35 to 55, which is what Disney was looking for," said Gigi Ganatra Duff, a spokeswoman for HSN, which plans to run a 24-hour live event and two primetime specials to promote its "Cinderella" collection. "Our girl is sophisticated; she's fashionable. She doesn't want it to scream 'Cinderella.' She wants it to scream the essence of 'Cinderella': Fairy tale, dreamy, beautiful."
The movie's producers, in line with the marketers of Disney's world-spanning merchandise operation, have promised in their new take of the 1950 animated film a more contemporary, independent heroine (though just as stunning, in crystal-studded heels and an iridescent blue-silk gown).
"You see a really strong woman by herself and a young man coming together," actor Richard Madden, who plays Prince Charming, said at the film's Berlin premiere, "rather than a kind of more sexist view from the older animation."
To underline that, "Cinderella" offerings cater to the not-so-young princess-at-heart in a way "Frozen" never was able to capitalize on. The online Disney store features a $199.95 fine-china tea set and a $600 14-karat-gold charm. Kohl's is selling $60 organza women's dresses and sequined sweaters through a collection with Lauren Conrad, the 29-year-old former "Laguna Beach" star.
There are the usual youth-aimed wares, like Cinderella-themed prom dresses, selling for $350 to $800, but many products stretch far beyond teens' reach. HSN's Cinderella collection features a $169.95 "Enchanted Castle" crystal pin, a $350 pair of crystal-encrusted lace-up sneakers and leather jackets with "the baroque styles of a contemporary princess."
Perhaps the most indulgent come from Disney's partnership with nine upscale designers asked to unveil shoes paired to the "glass slippers" theme, each affixed with Swarovski crystals and selling for between $795 and $4,595. A Saks Fifth Avenue spokesperson said that its New York and Beverly Hills stores started taking special orders for the shoes last week, though they also will go on sale in emporiums in London, Moscow, Tokyo and Dubai.
The most successful so far has been M.A.C.'s limited-run lineup of lipsticks, eye shadows and glitters, launched to breathless followings by style magazines and fashion bloggers, some of whom were crushed when they quickly sold out. Teary posts on social media and heated bidding wars followed: On eBay, bidders brought one auction of a four-pack of $16 lipglosses and lipsticks up to $132.50.
Before the makeup's in-store debut last week, lines formed at the doors of M.A.C.'s standalone shops in Portland, Ore.; Jacksonville, Fla.; and a suburb outside Los Angeles, where the line stretched more than 120 people long. In Jacksonville, the head of the line took a selfie while wearing a tiara in front of a window sign that said "Viva glam."
To reach women, Disney has expanded its cross-promotional efforts far beyond their typically youthful clientele. In an episode last month of "The Bachelor," the reality show in which women compete over a husband, one Cinderella-themed date included a royal ball, fairy godmothers and a promotional clip of the new film. There was a special Cinderella-themed "afternoon tea" at London Fashion Week, and the film also was plugged recently by the closest thing to American reality-TV royalty, the "Real Housewives of Beverly Hills."
Disney's princess-as-woman push, analysts said, has been fueled by lingering concerns that "Frozen," which thoroughly conquered toy-store shelves, perhaps didn't go far enough.
The highest-grossing animated movie in history, it became Disney's 11th franchise to drive more than $1 billion in retail sales a year, but analysts said that sold-out storefronts and conservative merchandising lines ended up costing Disney and its licensees an untold gold mine in potential sales.
That was without accounting for the dollars from adult women wanting to shop for themselves. The grown-up items for "Frozen," as Disney's online store show, are far from adventurous: The most expensive are an iPhone case and an Olaf tote bag, which sell for less than $40.
Disney's appeals to women could pay dividends at the box office. Women have made up a bigger share of filmgoers than men every year since 2009, industry data show, though movies that tell stories centered around women remain exceedingly rare. (Rarer still: Movies that pass the Bechdel test, which measures whether the story features at least two women who talk with each other about things that don't involve men. The classic "Cinderella" passes.)
But a successful "Cinderella" merchandising gambit won't just help Disney with one movie. Women who go out to buy "Cinderella" stuff for themselves could end up grabbing "Frozen" gifts, as well.