Thread By Thread: Costumes on Screen

Oscar Frontrunners-Alice In Wonderland

In celebration of the Oscar’s this Sunday, I’ve decided to cover the two front runners for Best Costume Design. There are a lot of factors that go into who will win the statue but this year there are two clear standouts, The King’s Speech and Alice In Wonderland.  Both films have beautiful costumes and big name Costume Designers at their helm First up, the imaginative almost period piece Tim Burton’s Alice In Wonderland.

The story of Alice In Wonderland is a amalgamation of Lewis Carroll’s classics Alice’s Adventures In Wonderland and Through The Looking Glass and Burton’s own new plot in which a grown Alice re-enters Wonderland to save it.  Costume Designer Colleen Atwood reteamed with Burton on this film and created the fantasy and real realms for Alice. Atwood began by studying John Tenniel’s illustrations for Lewis Carroll’s book.

A John Tenniel illustration, the disproportionate head on the woman and mixture of fabrics are reflected in the Red Queen in the film.

As for the period of the film there is some gray area.  Alice’s Adventures In Wonderland was published in 1865 and Through The Looking Glass in 1871, smack dab in the middle of the Victorian era.  The costumes in the film’s real world reflect this, crinolines and bell sleeves and pastel colors are seen at the party Alice attend.

The cuts of the dresses and shape of the skirts in addition to the long overcoats for the men all point to a late 1860s setting.

Alice however defies the social conventions typical of the era. In the strict social and fashion constraints of the Victorian era, a 19 year old debutante in society would never be allowed out of the home without a corset or in a dress that did not go beyond her ankles. Atwood explains that “Alice is in a neverland between adult clothes and children’s clothes, which is why I made the blue dress the way that it is, it doesn’t quite touch the ground, it doesn’t have a hoop, it doesn’t have a corset but it has embroidery around the hem which acknowledges Wonderland in a way but without saying it.” Alice’s latter costumes in the film were created with the idea in mind that they were made from the same frock we first see her in to accommodate her growing and shrinking.

The color of Alice’s dress and her cap sleeves are a nod to her previous incarnations.

The short dress created for when Alice grow is actually based on her undergarments, which can be seen peeking out as lace in her first dress.

The second halter-maxi inspired dress was supposed to seem as if it were created from a ruffle of the larger dress from before and tied at the waist with a scrap from her gloves worn with her original gown.

The girly blue dress the Mad Hatter creates for Alice is created from a ruffle of the previous dress and further smaller scraps of the gloves for the top.

Atwood’s sketches of Alice’s Red Queen court dress and her Real World dress, obviously some design changes were made.

For the world of Wonderland (or Underland as the movie calls it) Atwood also had some period inspiration for each character.  The White Queen’s gown was inspired by Louis XVI court, complete with panniers and low cut bodice for sheer fabric to tuck into just like Marie Antoinette would’ve worn. Atwood  “[W]ent for the flowing romantic, Norwegian fairy tale vibe,” for the White Queen and accordingly added silver glitter snowflakes to the dress.  The White Queen was also given a wig of fair blond hair to go with her white gown which was actually made from real hair.  Her eyebrows remained dark and lips were made a deep red to maintain a sense of oddity about her.

Silk and glittering tulle were used for the White Queen as a contrast to the Red Queen and so she could literally create an ethereal glow in the film.

In the film the Red Queen is a combination of the Queen of Hearts from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and the Red Queen who is engaged in a chess battle with the White Queen in Through The Looking Glass.  Atwood repeated the theme of hearts in the Red Queen’s costume and created a shape from a much earlier period than her sisters’. The Red Queen’s costume was based on Elizabethan fashions, with a nipped waist, high collar, and puffed cap sleeves. Atwood also used clashing fabrics for the Red Queen for contrast to her sister “[She’s] vaguely trailer trash material, so we used less luxurious fabrics. Hence the gold hearts made out of gold foil, which were a little tacky but still queen-like.”

The Red Queen’s collar provided much difficulty as it had to be exaggerated but not draw the eye in order to accommodate the digital enhancement of her head.

The gown the Red Queen has made for Alice matches the Red Queen’s tacky fabrics but also mis-matches because it is “made” from curtains in the film, this the red tie rope around her waist.

Atwood’s take on the Mad Hatter may seem quite unusual but actually has its roots in real world looks. Hatter’s look is based on working class Victorian era fashions (around the same time as Alice’s real world).  “He’s a real person with a great amount of heart in the story, so to have him running around in something that distracted from that would have been a mistake…[he’s]playful but still traditional.” However his hat is based on Edwardian top hats and is made from leather that was laser cut to look as though it had been burned.  Touches of the Mad Hatter’s former profession as a Milliner are evident in his costume from the many different colors and types of fabrics in addition to his bandolier or thread spools.

The use of pink in Hatter’s makeup was actually an allusion to Mercury Poisoning, a common ailment of Milliners during the Victorian era in addition to being the source of his moniker the Mad Hatter.

Atwood also designed the digital costumes worn by the film’s animated characters.  Her designs have taken root in pop culture, as evident by the popularity of the film’s costumes for Halloween and the sheer number of Mad Hatter hats worn and sold at Disney World.  Here’s wishing Colleen luck with winning another friend for her other two Oscars.

The film ends on Alice in a modern take on her familiar blue but decidedly more grown up with a tie and wool coat and a hint towards Wonderland in the fabric of her skirt.

This entry was published on February 23, 2011 at 11:52 pm. It’s filed under Entertainment, Feb. 2011 and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. Follow any comments here with the RSS feed for this post.

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