She is blonde, wears a blue pinafore, and her friends include a white rabbit, a Cheshire cat, and the maddest of hatters. Alice in Wonderland will always be one of literature’s most endearing characters but, this season, she also happens to be the most ubiquitous figure in the global fashion industry.
If you don’t know why, you’re late for a very important date: the UK and US release on Friday of Tim Burton’s film version of Lewis Carroll’s classic. Burton’s phantasmagorical visions have long had a filter-down effect on fashion collections – many a gothic top note can be attributed to his idiosyncratic directorial style – and Alice is no exception. Indeed, her mass appeal, with a dark Burton twist, could make her one of the most marketable fictional characters of all time.
And the fashion world knows it. For autumn 2010, Zac Posen created a pre-collection themed “Lewis Carroll meets Paloma Picasso”, and Donatella Versace cited Alice as inspiration for her spring/summer 2010 range of whimsical pastel gowns. In Paris, the Printemps department store has created a suitably fantastical Alice in Wonderland window display: rabbits made from white roses and books as big as buses form the backdrop, while dresses replicating the fairy-tale world and designed specifically for the store by Christopher Kane, Haider Ackermann and, poignantly, Alexander McQueen, hang on rabbit-faced mannequins.
At Selfridges in London, the film’s production company Disney has collaborated with the department store to recreate a similar scene across five windows, including the Mad Hatter’s tea party complete with the hat, wig and suit that Johnny Depp, Burton’s Hatter, wore in the film. In store, the Wonder Room is selling Alice-inspired jewellery from Kabiri and clothing from another Alice – Temperley.
Linda Hewson, Selfridges’ creative head, says: “Alice has both mass and niche appeal: she’s a muse to the fashion world but accessible to all. Lewis Carroll’s Alice provides the most brilliant definition of wonder, and Burton’s interpretation will no doubt be fantastical and hugely influential. The theme of Alice in Wonderland offers real scope for product across all areas.”
The realisation isn’t lost on Disney, which is spearheading a big fashion merchandising plan, collaborating with the US fashion designer Sue Wong to create an Alice in Wonderland high-end dress collection to be sold in US department stores. It is also bringing Swarovski on board to create a Wonderland jewellery collection, from charms and rings to the “Sparrow” rose gold necklace that is worn by Alice in the Burton film; and tapping haute jeweller-of-the-moment Tom Binns to create two further collections comprising high-end and costume jewellery pieces, with motifs such as giant keys and multiple red hearts.
The key to Alice’s power is her appeal to adults and children alike. To the first, she represents a surreal nostalgia, her story a universal message about human experience; to the second, she represents sheer awe-inspiring fantasy. And for fashion, the iconography of the book lends itself particularly well to accessories: there are sparkly Alice bands at accessories label What’s About Town; top hats with an embroidered King of Hearts card by milliner Jane Lawson; bespoke shoes by Nicholas Kirkwood incorporating a chess board print, pocket watches, tea sets and keys; diamond print over-the-knee socks at Burlington; pocket watches at Ernest Jones; printed bags at Furla trimmed with metal rabbit head clasps; and even OPI nail varnishes in the shades of Mad As A Hatter and Off With Her Red.
Giovanna Furnaletto, president of Furla, says: “Alice’s wonderland reflects the desire of every contemporary woman to be at once sophisticated yet whimsical, feminine yet cheerful.”
Could, in terms of fashion influence, Burton’s Alice in Wonderland rival such films as Annie Hall, Breakfast at Tiffany’s and Pulp Fiction? The difference between this film and the others is the proactive involvement of marketers who are working, even pre-release, to elevate Alice into the world of high fashion. As Moira Benigson, managing partner of the MBS Group, an executive recruitment company specialising in fashion, retail and luxury, says: “You have an archetypal girl and she will be dressed specifically for the transference into merchandise.”
According to Graham Hales, managing director of the London branch of the global branding consultancy Interbrand: “The fashion influence of Tim Burton’s interpretation of Alice in Wonderland is immense and goes far beyond traditional merchandising to the new territory of actually impacting fashion trends. This influence certainly isn’t a one-off, as it seems that the blurring of lines between fashion and film is increasing. Alice in Wonderland has all the right ingredients at the right time, and the world of fashion would be mad not to exploit it.” Mad as a hatter, even.
Patent boots, polka dots and the ‘Pretty Woman’ effect
This month sees the 20th anniversary re-release of Pretty Woman, the film that paired Julia Roberts as prostitute Vivian Ward and Richard Gere as businessman Edward Lewis. It remains among the top 100 highest-grossing films of all time, raking in more than $460m worldwide and, despite its somewhat dubious storyline (prostitute with heart of gold gets saved by, and saves, businessman) it also remains a surprising influence on fashion, writes Lauren Cochrane.
Costume designer Marilyn Vance, who made most of the pieces worn in the film, describes the elements in Roberts’ wardrobe – which range from stretch cut-out mini-dress, blonde wig and over-the-knee patent boots to an elegant lace evening dress and a polka-dotted 1950s number – as “purely incidental”. But half of the items she mentions could have come from recent seasons’ catwalks. Over-the-knee boots were key for autumn/winter 2009 at Stella McCartney and Prada, and lace and polka dots feature in the spring/summer 2010 collections at Christian Dior, Dolce & Gabbana, Luella and Marc Jacobs. Carolina Herrera has even designed a strapless, full length red dress as part of her spring/summer 2010 collection evocative of the one Roberts wore to visit the opera in the film.
A generation of designers including London’s Henry Holland, Christopher Kane, Mark Fast and Marios Schwab, as well as the hip US designer Alexander Wang, grew up in the era when Pretty Woman was aired, and references to the film appear in their catwalk presentations. The oversized denim jacket and bed-head hair worn by Vivian’s friend Kit de Luca, for instance, made its way down the Topshop Unique catwalk for spring. Karen Bonser, Unique’s creative director, points to the “big influence of cut-outs, body- conscious [tight-fitting] clothing and the thigh-high boots” from the film – with the store’s Britney over-the-knee boot a bestseller.
And that stretch dress? This perfect example of the bodycon look is currently being advocated by brands from Azzedine Alaia to American Apparel, while a Topshop homage – complete with cut-outs – was recently spotted in-store.
Henry Holland has stills from the film stuck to his mood board. “It’s my favourite movie. It’s so much about fashion. I love all the clothes – from the cut-out dress on the poster to the blazer and high-waisted Levi’s at the end. They all have their uses.” In Holland’s spring/summer 2010 collection cut-out dresses, oversized denim and lace feature prominently.
The influence of Pretty Woman also chimes with a wider resurgence of 1990s styles. “An era needs to be 10 years old to be officially vintage,” says Linda Hewson, Selfridges’ creative head, who put together its “90s are Vintage” concept store last month. “We thought something on the 1990s would be good. It’s provocative but also nostalgic.” Kind of like Pretty Woman.