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Fashion in Wonderland

Since the publication of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland in 1865 and Through the Looking-Glass, and What Alice Found There in 1871, the adventures of Alice Liddell have taken on a life outside of Lewis Carroll’s novels. Though they have inspired cinematic, graphic, and musical reinterpretations, the confluence of Lewis’s dream-world and reality is most at home in the photographic presentation of haute couture. Indeed, just as Alice occupies the space between two states of consciousness, fashion resides on the threshold between the practical and the artistic. Haute couture’s abstraction of the ordinary into the realms of the imagination makes it the perfect form to visually express the child-like wonderment of Lewis’s stories. In 2003, Anne Leibovitz photographed Natalia Vodianova as Alice Liddell for Vogue US in a series based on the nineteenth-century novels. In twelve photographs, Leibovitz cast Alice back into wonderland, pairing her with recognisable figures from the fashion world under the guise of characters from Lewis’s books.

'If you're going to turn into a pig, my dear,' said Alice, seriously, 'I'll have nothing more to do with you!'

‘If you’re going to turn into a pig, my dear,’ said Alice, seriously, ‘I’ll have nothing more to do with you!’

This first photograph depicts the story of the pig and pepper, in which, having taken the Duchess’s baby, Alice discovers that it has turned into a pig. Karl Lagerfeld stands imposingly in the foreground, wearing, perhaps unsurprisingly, the exact outfit he wore to the shoot; meanwhile, Vodianova wears an ensemble of Lagerfeld’s Chanel creations: an embroidered satin jacket, with a draped satin skirt and cream leather boots. By positioning the two figures in this way, Leibovitz is able to play with one of the most significant tropes in the novels: the changing size of his protagonist. In this photograph, Vodianova appears physically reduced next to Lagerfeld. However, in spite of the dominance of the left half of the image – with the larger figure and the darker colouring – there is some attempt at restoring chromatic balance. The cream boots are measures against the white shirt, while the dark cravat pairs with the black trousers: a cross is formed in the centre of the image, the intersection falling just below the sunspot in the upper-center.

'You're mad, bonkers, completely off your head. But I'll tell you a secret. All the best people are.'

‘You’re mad, bonkers, completely off your head. But I’ll tell you a secret. All the best people are.’

The second photograph depicts one of the most famous scenes from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland: the Mad Hatter’s Tea-Party. Vodianova is joined by Christian Lacroix as the March Hare and Stephen Jones as the Mad Hatter. There is a certain opulence to this image, with the over-flowing table of food reflected in the cascading blue of Alice’s Christian Lacroix haute couture dress. Lacroix’s own open, masculine pose visually embodies the self-confidence of one of fashion’s elder statesmen. By contrast, Jones appears more reserved, almost nervous, as he partially hides beneath a top hat of his own design. However, it is Vodianova who commands the photograph, the soft, youthful features of her face juxtaposed with the adult severity of her penetrating stare.

'How puzzling all these changes are! I'm never quite sure what I'm going to be, from one minute to another.'

‘How puzzling all these changes are! I’m never quite sure what I’m going to be, from one minute to another.’

This third photograph takes as its source the incident in which Alice becomes stuck in the White Rabbit’s house. Vodianova wears a deep-blue organza minidress from the Helmut Lang made-to-measure studio. Her limbs are contorted as she tries to fit her frame inside the walls of the house. The scale of the objects is disconcertingly irregular, only further augmenting the sense of disorientation.

'It is better to be feared than loved!'

‘It is better to be feared than loved!’

The penultimate photograph portrays scene in which Alice plays croquet with the Queen of Hearts. Vodianova plays alongside the exuberant John Galliano as the Queen of Hearts and his lover Alexis Roche as the King. Alice wears a haut couture Dior hand-painted polka-dot dress from Galliano’s collection, while the designer himself wears a coat from the same house. Galliano brings vitality to this image, his pose is flamboyant and we can almost hear him as the Queen of Hearts shouting, ‘Off with her head!’ Roche and Vodianova become almost decorations in the designer’s fantasy, each marked for their composure in the face of Galliano’s passion.

'Contrariwise,' continued Tweedledee, 'if it was so, it might be; and if it were so, it would be; but as it isn't, it ain't. That's logic!'

‘Contrariwise,’ continued Tweedledee, ‘if it was so, it might be; and if it were so, it would be; but as it isn’t, it ain’t. That’s logic!’

The final photograph sees Alice’s encounter with Tweedledum and Tweedledee. Rolf Snoeren and Viktor Horsting of Amsterdam-based fashion house Viktor & Rolf take on the roles of Lewis’s illogical twins. Vodianova wears a multilayered silk dress from the designers’ collection, while the two men wear identical suits and bow ties of their own design. There is something delightfully playful about this image, the askance looks betraying the anxiety that lies beneath the powerful poses.

W. J. Humphries

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