Alice in Wonderland
Art

Alice in Wonderland

Fall down the rabbit hole with a new exhibition at London’s V&A Museum celebrating the style and influence of Alice in Wonderland.

Zenaida Yanowsky (as the Red Queen), The Royal Ballet, at the Royal Opera House, 25 February 2011; Credit: Royal Opera House / ArenaPAL

We’re not sure whether art imitates life or life imitates art, but in the case of Alice in Wonderland, the beloved children’s book by Lewis Carroll, it’s safe to say they are both constantly taking inspiration from each other (as seen in fashion’s current penchant for the oversized collar and Alice band). 

First published in 1865, the book has seen countless adaptations across art, stage and screen, as well as catwalk interpretations of not only Alice’s memorable style, but the bold Mad Hatter, Queen of Hearts, Cheshire Cat, White Rabbit and Caterpillar too. Alice is also synonymous with garden mazes, pocket watches and constantly changing proportions: no wonder fashion loves everything about Carroll’s vision.

The surreal story has been given its own exhibition at London’s V&A.  Alice: Curiouser and Curiouser is on through December 2021 and is full of immersive delights, whether you’re a literary lover, art aficionado or fashion fan. Best of all, it showcases the endless possibilities and interpretations of these immortal characters. 

Highlights for us included electrifying imagery from Tim Walker’s all-black Alice-themed Pirelli calendar from 2018, styled by Vogue editor Edward Enninful and starring RuPaul, Adwoah Aboah, Lupita Nyong’o, Naomi Campbell, P Diddy and Duckie Thot as Alice, and the incredible Viktor & Rolf multi-layer shirtdress worn by Natalia Vodianova in Annie Leibovitz’s Alice-themed shoot, in the December 2003 issue of US Vogue, which is on display in the exhibition. In some ways, this comprehensive exhibition proves that Alice is a tale as old as time – that can always feel fresh, modern and relevant.  

Viktor & Rolf Haute Couture Fall/Winter 2016 collection

Like all of the V&A’s exhibitions, Curiouser and Curiouser invites viewers to inhabit an extraordinary world, complete with immersive theatrical sets (for example, a giant, slightly askew tea party set-up, and a beach scene with deck chairs underneath a giant blue caterpillar and toadstool). The show takes Alice firmly into future territory with VR experiences (yes, VR croquet is a sport everyone needs to try at least once), charting Alice the character’s inception (based on Carroll’s real neighbour, Alice Liddell) in Victorian England, through manuscripts, objects and art of the period. We then visit Mary Blair’s Disney version, the Alice we all recognise and love in her blue frock, and black Mary Janes, inspired by Christian Dior’s 1947 collection. The exhibition also shows the book’s global impact and inspiration for creatives around the world, including Salvador Dalí, The Beatles and Yayoi Kusama. 

There are over 300 objects in the exhibition, and seeing Alice and her friends as muses for countless designers shows what an extraordinary impact Carroll’s characters have had on our wardrobes. Laser in on Oscar winner Colleen Atwood’s eclectic costumes for longtime collaborator Tim Burton’s 2010 Alice in Wonderland movie, as well as Bob Crowley’s larger-than-life Queen of Hearts costume from Christopher Wheeldon’s production for The Royal Ballet in 2011 – both costume designers are masterful in playing with proportion, echoing Alice’s many physical transformations in the book. Fashion designers including Iris Van Herpen, Viktor & Rolf and Vivienne Westwood also pay homage to this ordinary, yet totally extraordinary heroine with fashions ranging from the surprising to the surreal. If this exhibition could talk, it would say two words: SEE ME. 

Alice: Curiouser and Curiouser is on at the V&A until Friday 31 December 2021 – click here for more details.