My name is Launi King, and earlier this year I had the pleasure of designing the Tiana Disney Ultimate Princess doll. Designing the doll for the First African American Disney Princess has been one of the greatest honors of my career.
I began my journey with Disney in 2007, overseeing product design for toys and apparel in our Latin American markets. I just celebrated 10 years at The Walt Disney Company, and I currently serve as the Global Product Design Director for an amazing team, managing all of our 20th Century Studio brands, like “Avatar” and “The Simpsons”. I’m also honored to manage the Center of Excellence for all Pin Trading for our parks.
When initially asked to design a Disney Ultimate Princess doll, I was given a choice of my favorite. I didn’t have to think long, as it undoubtedly was Tiana. She inspires me, as there are so many parallels between us, especially our love for cooking for the people we love. In our house, my father and I would cook seafood Gumbo for hundreds of people every year. It is a recipe that connects mixed cultures so prevalent in New Orleans. Tiana and I also share similar characteristics: kindness, a giving heart, passion, resourcefulness, imagination and beauty. She had big dreams of opening her own restaurant and serving great food, music and laughs. This is much like the celebrations I have in my own home. We are both successful, strong women, who own our own businesses. The biggest difference between Tiana and me, is she became a princess.
The first time I saw Walt Disney Animation Studios’ “The Princess and the Frog,” I was inspired to know even more about who inspired Tiana’s character. I interviewed Rob Edwards, one of the film’s screenwriters, and confirmed Tiana was inspired by Leah “Dooky” Chase, an African American Orleanian chef known as the “Queen of Creole Cuisine.” Born in the 1920’s, Chase was the owner of the famed Dooky Chase’s Restaurant and a political activist during the civil rights movement, the same timeframe “The Princess and the Frog” is set in.
When I started designing the Tiana collector doll, I was inspired by the art deco aesthetic of the roaring 20s, both in architecture and accessories, which you can see in the structure of the dress. I also wanted to celebrate our hair, which is curly, distinctive and part of our culture. Tiana’s hair is down and out, showcasing its beauty and highlighted by an extravagant headpiece. Throughout the dress and cape, the storytelling is subtle with kitchen equipment, frogs and more. Senior Manager of Product Design and fellow Black Talent Network colleague Dom Brown illustrated my vision and truly brought her to life. My hope is that everyone who sees her will want to know more about the stories and people that influenced her creation.
Black Talent Network is a dynamic program designed to support the exposure, sponsorship and development of Black senior leaders through a variety of unique experiences including mentorships, access to internal and external insights, career resources and networking opportunities. I played a big role in the 1st cohort, and I’m so excited that we are about to wrap up the program’s 3rd cohort. Two things I was able to take with me from my experience with the Black Talent Network include:
- An amazing mentor that I’ve had the opportunity to build a great relationship with. She supports me at work and gives me solution-oriented advice. I try to give back to my mentor as well, by always showing up and giving it my all.
- Oftentimes in the workplace, I’ve been the only Black woman in meetings. The sessions and get togethers set up by the Black Talent Network have allowed me to meet so many talented Black cast members that I never would have never met otherwise. People that will forever influence and be a benefit to me. I am looking forward to mentoring the next cohort.
Today, we celebrate Princess Tiana during World Princess Week. I am encouraged that World Princess Week represents courage and kindness, as I show up every day in my life with those exact two words in mind. You must be courageous to take chances, be yourself and take the risk even if you fail along the way. The latter is often hardest. Kindness is something that needs to be shown to others, but it truly is the greatest thing you can give to yourself. Being kind to yourself allows you to show up as your authentic self at home and at work. When you can be you in the beautiful skin that you are in, you are always at your best.