Disney has always been a big, beautiful part of my life.
I was singing and dancing along to its songs since I could walk and talk. Watching its movies in theaters and on repeat at home has been a family weekend activity ever since I can remember. Dressing up as my favorite characters and sporting matching Disney Style outfits has been a tradition that I have shared with my mom since I was a little girl. And the Happiest Place on Earth is filled with some of my best and happiest memories.
Today, that love for Disney music has led to a career in the performing arts and even in teaching. Disney movies and park visits are still highly anticipated and celebrated by our wonderful family of grown-ups. Dressing up in Disney has now evolved into participating in an online community full of creators and dreamers just like me. And the Happiest Place on Earth remains one of my greatest sources of magical moments to this day.
Suffice it to say that Disney is my Home – but a part of me has always felt like something was missing. Whether on the big screen or on Main Street, I never quite saw myself in any of the characters I grew up wanting to be. And that stirred something in me – an ache to find myself in the magic.
“Growing up as a young Filipina, there was not a single Disney Princess that looked like me.”
These were the words that inspired my #DisneyPrinsesa journey 3 years ago.
After my first project showcasing Philippine textiles and styles through Disney Princess inspired looks, and my second one incorporating Filipina elements in my favorite Princesses’ live action costumes, I knew I wanted to do something bigger: a complete reimagining of all 12 official Princesses as Filipinas. The Ultimate Filipina Disneybound Lookbook – a chance to see my beloved heroines in skin that looks more like my own, and a tribute to my home and my people through what I love most.
Since conceptualizing this project, it took one year, one lockdown, several months of hunting for materials and creating each look, and three locations across the Philippines to bring this all together. And today is the day I finally share it all – just in time for the #UltimatePrincessCelebration World Princess Week that starts at Disney today.
Get ready for Once Upon a Time, Filipina Style.
We’re kicking things off with the very first Princess!
I think Snow White would be the town darling – well-off but not afraid of a hard day’s work, beautiful but simple in her dress and manner, humble, kind, and a friend to all – especially animals. While apples wouldn’t grow locally, she’d kindly offer to buy them from a frail old merchant, nicknamed “mangkukulam” (witch) by the townsfolk.
While I wanted Snow’s outfit to look elegant and put together, I also wanted it to be comfortable enough to whistle while working in. So I chose a yellow skirt, a bright blue floral panuelo, a red bandana, and red sash to tie it all together.
It’s the perfect start to this series too as her colors remind me of the Philippine flag.
Cinderella would have been forced to work at her stepmother’s small farm until her ninang (godmother) – visiting from a faraway town, would whisk her away to their fiesta (festival) on a kalesa (horse-drawn carriage). There she would meet a handsome and wealthy haciendero (plantation owner), and live happily ever after with all the quiet strength, grace, and kindness befitting a Princess.
Cinderella is the Princess of all Princesses for me, which is why I wanted to portray her in her ballgown. I paired a light blue floral painted wrap top to go over her blue dress, and put simple silver and pearl clips in my hair to give her royal look an understated elegance.
Sent away by her parents at an early age to live with her three doting titas (aunts), Aurora would often be found wandering in the fields, picking berries, taking many siestas (naps) during the day, and singing to all her animal friends.
For a true Make it Pink, Make it Blue moment, I chose this striped skirt style that I’d often see in Philippine paintings and photos, but incorporated her iconic two colors. (I can almost see her titas bickering over which colors to use for her lovingly hand-sewn skirt) And for the top, I picked a traditional Maria Clara embroidered blouse and wrap.
Called “sirena” (mermaid) by people in her town because of her love for the ocean and her beautiful singing voice, Ariel would usually be found spending her days warm on the sand, collecting gadgets, gizmos, and thingamabobs aplenty that would only be valuable in her eyes.
Ariel’s outfit was a bit of a challenge for me, so instead of looking for traditional Filipinana pieces that would work for her, I chose Philippine fabrics to create her signature purple and green ensemble instead. And for that mermaid touch, I added a starfish clip to my hair.
Belle would work at her father’s repair shop, usually helping him with his true passion – inventing. Beautiful but introverted, and more fond of reading than participating in social events, she would often find herself the center of unwanted attention. She would run off to take breaks from the village chismis (gossip), read her books hidden in the tall grass to avoid the town flirt, and ride her horse Felipe as far as his legs could carry them in the hopes of stumbling into adventures she has only read about.
For her outfit, I created layers of blue patterned fabric by using Filipiñana scarves over a skirt, and for the top I chose a white cotton linen shirt, and a light blue headscarf to wrap up the look.
This was actually the photo that started this entire chapter of my #DIsneyPrinsesa series. Part of another campaign I did last year with other creators from around the globe (Princess Where it Matters), it inspired me so much that I knew I wanted to build a collection of Filipina Prinsesas one day.
Daughter of a mighty Sultan, Jasmine would be known to her people as a brave, just, and compassionate Princess. She would empower those around her to make their own wishes come true, and always lead by example. She would love her home above all else, and do anything to protect it.
Heavily inspired by the sinkgil (Maranao Princess Dance) costume I used to wear, I made Jasmine a two-sided wrap skirt to show off the gorgeous textures and prints on the fabric, a cropped blouse, and a teal malong (sash). In place of the traditional singkil headdress, I used a turquoise headchain, and added some bangles as well as Jasmine’s live action earrings to complete the look.
Tiana’s outfit is probably my favorite from the bunch. Another look based on a dance I used to do – “Banga-Salidsid” (Clay Pot Dance) I wanted to represent the strength and resilience associated with the Cordillera women who inspired it. I chose this beautiful green sarong and paired it with a simple nude top, and literally topped it off with a clay pot.
I think Rapunzel would be the village favorite. Beautiful, creative, and kind, Punzie would have time for everything and everyone. She would sing for the villagers, paint and draw for the children, play with the animals, dance at fiestas, do needlepoint with the lolas, sew her own beautiful clothes, and make everyday feel like the best day ever. Her long hair and charming smile would inspire countless haranas (serenades) and win over the hearts of many in the village – particularly that of its handsome troublemaker. Some would say it was almost as if she was a Princess who was lost at birth – which of course, she was.
For my favorite girl, I thought the Bulaklakan Dance (Dance of Flowers) would be the perfect inspiration. I paired the traditional terno (butterfly sleeve top – we did puff sleeves first!) with a floral skirt in her signature colors, and apart from the flowers in my hair, I also made a garland much like the ones I used to carry when I’d perform this dance.
Inspired by her strong, brave, and larger-than-life father, Merida would often sneak out of the house to learn archery with the warriors in her region, and go on epic adventures with her three brothers. Arguments with her mother about marriage and doing only what a woman ought to do would be part of her daily routine, as would her sumbong (complaints/reports) to her father. A chance encounter with a wicker-weaving lola (grandma) and her sage advice would change Merida’s fate for good, and would teach her that bravery comes in all forms however different they are from her own.
For our brave girl, I wanted to make a patadyong (wrap around skirt) because it is worn by both men and women, and it has many functions. I thought this style would be perfect for Merida, who always paved her own way with spirit and courage. I also chose a green plaid pattern usually found in this style, but also reminiscent of the tartan prints that Scotland is known for.
Knowledgeable in all the ins and outs of her coastal town, Moana would fit into her role as the town leader’s daughter beautifully. Fearless, honest, and sincere, she would lead her people fairly and openly alongside her father. She would take the time to get to know her people and help them, make frequent visits to her lola (grandmother), drink a lot of buko (coconut) juice, and take out her bangka to say hello to her best friend, the ocean.
Moana’s look was another challenge for me. While my top is made from Igorot fabric (found in our mountain ranges), it was the closest that I already had that resembled Moana’s top the most. I paired it with a pair of woven pants I found in Palawan (our country’s most beautiful island in my opinion), and this Philippine-made necklace that looks a lot like the heart of Te Fiti.
I’ve always believed that the easiest way to tell your story is through the things that you love, and I am truly grateful and proud to have told mine through Disney. This was the most fulfilling project I have done to date.
I know the world is changing (we have Raya now), but we still have quite a long way to go. I truly hope that there will come a day when no one will ever feel the need to find themselves in the magic, because magic is for everyone.
But until that day comes, I will continue to make my own.
And to you reading this now, I hope you will too.
Happy World Princess Week everyone!
*Photography: Ayn Rand Parel
*An important note: None of the outfits I created for this project are 100% traditional or accurate. These are meant to be a reimagining of Disney characters, so certain materials or styles were used to achieve colors or themes suited to each Princess, and do not strictly represent any particular costume, tradition, people, or place. The paintings/artwork used are only meant to show my inspiration for each look, and do not belong to me in any way.
Special thanks to:
Ayn Rand Parel
You have been there for all three Disney Prinsesa projects now, and have not only listened to all my crazy ideas, but also supported them, added to them, and helped make them happen. Thank you for always coming along on these adventures, and for making each one just as special as the last. Your encouragement has been invaluable to me, and none of this would have happened without you. Thank you Ayn, for everything.
The Disneybound and Leslie Kay
Thank you for creating such an open and welcoming community. It is in this space that I can create, dream, and be who I truly am, and there is no greater gift than that. Thank you for allowing me to find my way Home.