The Wonderland Effect

Alice in Wonderland [Tim Burton, 2010]

Last week, WORN’s Editor-in-Pants tried to schedule a staff meeting. “I can’t come,” I told her. “I won tickets to an advance screening of the new Alice in Wonderland movie.” Apparently I wasn’t the only one who couldn’t make it and the meeting ended up being rescheduled. “Maybe you could write about the movie’s costumes for our blog?” she said, subtly reminding of how long it had been since I last wrote a post (her exact words being, “it’s been a long time since you wrote a post.”) I told her I would.
After my last class on Wednesday I bolted for the TTC, hoping to make it to the theatre in time for the 7 pm screening. Long story short: I was too late, and the doors were closed by the time I got there. “Well, that’s it,” I thought. “I’ll have no article to turn in and everybody in the entire world is going to hate me for being a terrible, terrible blogger and for making my editor reschedule the staff meeting for nothing” (sometimes I get dramatic when I’m tired). But gosh darn it, I had promised our good readers here at WORN an Alice in Wonderland themed blog post, and I am a woman of my word. So here you go:

Neco z Alenky [Jan Scankmajer, 1988]

It’s not like there’s a lack of anything to say on the subject of fashion and Alice. If I had a penny for every artsy film adaption, inspired runway collection, and magazine editorial entitled “Through the Looking Glass” I would have enough cash to buy not only my own movie ticket, but theatre-priced popcorn – and that’s saying something. I want to start this post somewhere else, however. After all, my own introduction to Lewis Carroll didn’t happen with a visually-saturated interpretation of his stories – no, not even the Disney one – but rather on a more literally literary level.

Alice v Strane Chudes [Efrem Pruzhanskiy, 1981]

When I was a little girl I spent many holidays in British Columbia, visiting my grandmother. She had this thick book called The Complete Works of Lewis Carroll, and before I could understand what they were about, she would read to me his poetry – the Jabberwocky, The Hunting of the Snark, and so on. For my birthday a couple of years later she gifted me with an illustrated hardcover copy of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass, two stories I would read over and over again. Alice served as the gateway to the books I would learn to love reading as a kid: stories about children who were bored with their humdrum lives, finding a way to escape to a world of wonder; the likes of Narnia, Harry Potter, the Phantom Tollbooth and others followed suite in my readings.

The Wednesday Play: Alice in Wonderland [Jonathon Miller, 1966]

Growing up however, I had no magical cupboard of my own, no Platform 9 ¾, no mysterious tollbooth and no rabbit hole to escape through. Being introverted and more than a little nerdy, I continued to seek my own escapes through what I read, and eventually through what I wore. Discovering fashion felt a bit like entering Wonderland; the first designers I really fell in love with were those like Alexander McQueen and Viktor & Rolf: designers who, with their clothes, created a world of the fantastical where practicality took second place to imagination. It became really evident why Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland was a major inspiration point for countless photo shoots – at its best, fashion could share that notion with the story that the absurd is always so much more compelling than reality. I’ve tried to channel the more popular perception of Alice in my own wardrobe, occasionally donning that iconic cornflower blue dress and white tights when I run errands, causing my sister to ask “Anna, are you doing that weird thing where you pretend you’re a fictional storybook character again?” (Answer: yes. Yes I am).

Walt Disney’s Alice in Wonderland [Geronimi, Jackson & Luske, 1951]

My grandmother passed away last month, on the same day that McQueen did. Going back to her old apartment in B.C., I found her Lewis Carroll anthology (it seemed so much bigger when I was a child!) as well as a couple of tattered, fading books a relative had salvaged. Among them was her first copy of Alice, a copy which, according the scrawl in the front, had belonged to her own grandmother. It doesn’t surprise me that this book has been passed down through so many generations and yet continues to stand the test of time: another year, another half dozen photo shoots, another film adaptation – this one in 3-D, no less. I still haven’t had a chance to see Tim Burton’s version (at this rate it looks like I’m going to be shelling out for a full priced ticket) and I know it won’t be able to live up to the image of Alice I’ve constructed in my head. At the very least, I hope it can serve as the jumping-off point for a new generation to fall in love with all things Wonderland.

Alice in Wonderland [Cecil Hepworth and Percy Stow, 1903]

7 thoughts on “The Wonderland Effect

  1. I love that people keep reinterpreting/restyling this subject. Sometimes it’s great, sometimes a total fail, but the fact that in continues to inspire is something really beautiful. I guess it’s the achievement every artist dreams of…

    I only just remembered – I used to work for this guy, a hippy from waybackwhen, who would have an annual costume croquet session in one of our public parks. (Inspired by AIW, naturally.) WORN should do this!

  2. Great post, Anna! I like how you were able to turn your disappointing screening into this really thoughtful reflection on what Alice has meant to you and your relationship with your grandmother. I have a funny feeling that I’ll have enjoyed this post a lot more than new film, comme d’habitude…

    My friend bought me a copy of Alice in Wonderland for my birthday last year, illustrated by Ralph Steadman. It’s totally fucked up! But I think it’s that dark undercurrent in Alice that continues to make the story so relevant and interesting. You should borrow it sometime.

  3. I do have a croquet set. It always made me think more of Heathers than Alice in Wonderland…maybe you could have a mixed party when one could dress up from either story?

  4. Anna, you’ve done it again! Another great post. Love the pictures you decided to put in.

    I think the world just doesn’t want Wornettes to see Tim Burton’s version of the story… The theatre lit on fire when I went, before the previews even started! I waited in line and had the 3D glasses and everything! :(

  5. This is a great post, well rooted in personal history as well as a a timely and relevant interpretation of the fashion and symbolism. I enjoyed reading this post.

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