Otterbein Alumnus Designs Dress for Walt Disney World’s New Attraction
Posted Feb 04, 2021
By Madelyn Nelson ’23
Alumnus Wes Jenkins ’09 took his skills from the Otterbein Department of Theatre and Dance to the most magical place on earth. The theatre and design technology graduate has been working in costuming for Disney since November 2016 and recently designed a dress related to a new Walt Disney World ride, Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure, which opens this year at Epcot.
“I supplied the initial idea, and then many additional hands helped bring it to life. For my part, I approached this design like I would any other — including theatre costumes — which begins with asking the question, ‘What story do I want to tell?’ In this case, the film’s story had already been told, so I had to come up with a way to support the themes of the story in my design,” Jenkins said.
“The tiled pattern on the dress was inspired by the tiled floors of French cafes and kitchens. Remy and Emile [movie characters] peek from the pockets, ready to help cook (or eat) at any moment. The top of the dress mimics a double-breasted chef coat. Very little changed between my initial concept sketch and the finished product,” Jenkins said.
His Ratatouille dress is now available in shops at Disney parks and on the Shop Disney website. “It’s really fun to see something come to life and be available on such a far-reaching platform. I’m relatively new to merchandise design, and it may wear off someday, but for now I’m soaking it up,” Jenkins said.
Jenkins has designed for many purposes during his career at Disney. He started as a costume sewing specialist at Walt Disney World before working his way up to apparel and costume designer for Disney Parks, Experiences and Products.
Along with designing for Disney, Jenkins has designed for many other performances and occasions. His favorite on-stage work is from his thesis project for his master of fine arts degree at Lindenwood University, where he designed costumes for a production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
“It was special to me because I got to do a lot of different projects all in one show. I had to dye and hand paint details on the fairy costumes, build wings, learn about military uniforms of the [time] period, create costumes for the ‘show within a show,’ etc. It was a great MFA project that helped me to showcase a wide range of skills,” Jenkins said.
Stepping out of the spotlight and onto the runway, Jenkins described an experience that helped him get to where he is today.
“My favorite non-theatre design project was my entry for the Her Universe Fashion Show in 2019, which takes place in San Diego every year alongside Comic Con,” Jenkins said. His fashion show entry was inspired by Oogie Boogie from The Nightmare Before Christmas and was complete with glow-in-the-dark details.
Thinking about his Otterbein experience, Jenkins said, “I imagine the spirit remains the same — to become the most well-rounded theatre artist you can be. Despite focusing mostly on costume design and construction while I was there, I also learned about scenery, lighting, and sound. I took art and photography classes as electives,” Jenkins said.
Jenkins also reflected on the impact that his Integrative Studies courses had on his career. “I took a class in my senior year all about Japanese culture. I think having the liberal arts college experience was important for me, and I may not have realized it at the time. That collective array of knowledge has served me as a basis for inspiring my design work ever since. Conversely, I think it would be incredibly difficult to design art that reflects a world you’ve neglected to learn anything about.”
If he were to give advice to current Otterbein theatre students, Jenkins would say, “Be flexible and open to new ways of doing things. School is where you learn the ‘right’ way to do things — which is important — but you are going to run into situations that require you to adjust. Not everyone you meet will work the same way as you. Learn from those people and experiences. It will make you a more agile and creative artist, particularly when it comes to making things work in a pinch.”.
When Jenkins isn’t designing, his favorite park to visit is Disney’s Hollywood Studios and his favorite attraction is Avatar Flight of Passage at Animal Kingdom, “But I haven’t ridden Rise of the Resistance yet, so that could change,” Jenkins said about Disney’s popular Star Wars-themed ride.
Seeing Jenkins’ creative work on Main Street U.S.A. reminds students of where an Otterbein education can take them. Whether his designs are under the spotlight or in a Disney shop, he is creating beautiful work for people all over the world to enjoy.