Tuesday, 26 February 2013

"All persons more than a mile high to leave the court."

She is recognizable through the details – the blue skirts, the insatiable curiosity, the endless questions. She doesn’t even need a second name. ‘Alice’ is enough. She can be found wandering around Wonderland, checking how porous mirrors are or finding that it was all a dream.
Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland is a richly symbolic and complex book. It’s also a deliriously lovely children’s tale. Part of its strength lies in its multiple layers. On one level it can be read for pure enjoyment; for tales of the mock turtle; the cries of “Off with her head!”; the constant shape-shifting from tiny to tall and back again.  But if one wishes to dip beneath the surface then there are plenty of linguistic games, joyous explorations of words and ideas, a fair few puns and a whole lot of intriguing nonsense to unpick and analyse. Many children’s books work like this (authors such as Maurice Sendak, Joan Aiken and Margaret Mahy come to mind) – a revisiting in adolescence or beyond revealing an entirely different perspective, or at least more to think about.
But unfortunately, at times it’s easy to think that Alice has been reduced down to an icon who, like Audrey Hepburn, has been a little bleached by overexposure. The powder blue dress, the starchy white apron and yellow block of bouncing hair. It’s a bit 2D. But this is just the Disney incarnation of Alice, all primary colours and animated sunshine. It’s a version that may be charming, but her legacy is a commercial one – filtering all the way down to the supermarket own brand, highly flammable children’s fancy dress costume. Imagination is subsumed by the desire to make money out of a culturally significant creation.
Luckily this isn’t the only reflection of Alice. Others include John Tenniel’s black and white illustrations that accompanied the original 1865 edition, the psychedelic adaptation directed by Tim Burton, the numerous actresses who have embodied Alice in various film, television and theatre productions. But it is not just the main character - so many of the images and objects featured in the book link themselves back to Wonderland quicker than you can say “curiouser and curiouser”: dainty tea cups, pink flamingoes, croquet hoops and hedgehogs, top hats, mad tea parties, Cheshire Cat grins, decks of playing cards, ‘eat me’ cakes and ‘drink me’ bottles, rabbit holes, pocket watches, caterpillars, hookahs and jam tarts. And that’s before we meet the mirrors, chess pieces and white queens that lie beyond the looking glass.  There is a resonance in many of the characters and items featured in Lewis Carroll’s two books.
There's also a visual richness. Perhaps one of the reasons for this story (and its sequel’s) endurance is the enormous scope for continual reinterpretation. From illustration to photography to cinematography, the concepts and characters formed by Carroll lend themselves well to imagery.
It also provides the inspiration behind the rather magnificent Richmond Tea Rooms - a miniature Wonderland in the midst of Manchester. The décor of this café-cum-cocktail-bar captures the sense of whimsy present in Carroll’s tales, with mirrors, velvet, teacups and bird-cages a plenty. The fabulous Florence Fox and I arrived at 7.30am in order to spend two hours modeling and snapping among the tables and chairs before it opened for business. The theme was a riff on ‘Alice meets Absolutely Fabulous’ by way of blue satin, glittering heels and plenty of floral dresses. The aim was a collaborative set of images for our photography blog ‘Renard et Rose’. In fact, these images are only a sneak preview – the full set can be found spread across three posts here, here and here. You can read a detailed description of the process on the blog.
I have now seen Richmond Tea Rooms from two angles – firstly from that of a customer enjoying the magical, early evening atmosphere; and secondly from an insider witnessing the space when empty in the early morning. But although these visits may have been on different sides of the mirror, both had something in common. Each allowed me (and Flo) to become Alice for an hour or two, quietly treading through a strange and wonderful world. 

We mainly styled ourselves in an assortment of vintage garments sourced from the depths of my wardrobe, with a few additions from Flo's. However, the dresses worn by me in the two top shots are from a brand that Flo has been working with recently called So in Fashion. The blue and white fifties floral dress pictured on Flo below was on loan from Bertie's Vintage. Thanks to all who lent clothes, to Richmond Tea Rooms for letting us dash around their rooms like two white rabbits with a limited amount of time, and to Florence for being a brilliant friend, photographer and model.  



Natalie Suarez said...

love this! you are amazing! xoxo


Emma said...

Such an thoughtful discussion about Alice in Wonderland-- it's so interesting how certain aspects of a character become iconic while others don't. I do love the John Tenniel illustrations, though. These pictures are absolutely lovely!

Willow said...

Lewis Carroll definitely makes the idea of outdoor tea parties in full skirts and top hats all the more delicious. "Alice's Adventure's in Wonderland" takes me on an exciting and whimsical adventure when ever I read it (just like these stunning photos did) but I still haven't read "Through the looking-glass and what Alice found there" yet (though I'm hoping to.)

Both you and Flo did beautifully behind and in front of the camera, you both look gorgeous and these pictures are wonderful.

Vix said...

I love these images, you look incredible! x

Caramel Latte Kiss said...

I love the Alice books, they're such wonderful stories.
Have you read Automated Alice? It's a really interesting sci-fi-esque riff on where the story might have gone next. Completely bonkers, but obviously written with great affection for the Lewis Caroll books.

Closet Fashionista said...

Wow, these photos are so amazing!! Alice in Wonderland is indeed complex, though I must admit I never really think much about it, ha ha. I just enjoy the Disney movie (And other adaptions...there was a weird mini-seires shown here with Alice grown up)

Lydia said...

First let me just say, I looooove your butterfly lashes. So beautiful. I read both Alice in Wonderland books, and while they were fantastical and entertaining, I had a hard time getting through them and found myself falling into boredom because the fantasy and nonsense were a little TOO much. Especially the nonsense. When something is so nonsensical, you can run the risk of losing the reader. But they are classics, and literary genius in their own right.


Such wonderfully fanciful elements in these images. All styled exceptionally. :) I love the tale of Alice and all of its layers, I enjoyed reading them as a little girl and even more now. /Madison

Sacramento Amate said...

Always inspiring, my dear Rosalind. I need your eye lashes and a dress made of blue china tea cups, ahhhhhhhhhhhhhh. Dream, dream...
Much love ALWAYS.

Emalina said...

What a fantastic concept, and how gorgeous and otherworldy you are in those amazing eyelashes and outfits! Flo also looks incredible, great photos.

I've always loved Alice portrayed by John Tenniel, who seemed to bring out best the eerie, urgent existential questions lying behind what seems on the surface such a nonsensical tale. As you explore in your writing, the book has as many layers of meaning as it has readers.

Ali of Dressing Ken said...

Alice in Wonderland is an interesting "children's" tale. And yes it is multi layered. My favorite has always been Peter Pan. Though I must say finding out that a 13 year old boy was played by an adult women was a bit scarring. I mean yuck, seriously what were they thinking. But the idea or retaining a child's fascination of the world really is timeless in some ways.

Ali of


Izzy DM said...

Finally, a chance to drink tea and catch up on your fabulous blog! I can't wait to re-read Alice and Wonderland for the millionth time to Harper, when she's old enough to appreciate it. You're right: the text is rich enough to support a million re-readings.

I love that you and your friends have such fun together. I didn't have a friend like that at your age. It took moving to the big city to find such creative, fun people. But this was before blogs brought like-minded people together. I loved the photography blog and the name. Very clever :)

Speaking of wonderful children's books, I just received your gift. Your father edited it? Really, really special. I am deeply touched and can't wait to share this lovely book with my baby. Please send me your address when you have a moment. I'd love to send you a birth announcement, featuring some of my own photography (of which I am inordinately and pathetically proud.)

Okay, off to catch up with more of your whimsical, wise essays.

Much love,

Jean at www.drossintogold.com said...

A delicious, delightful romp into fashion-land. How wonderful to have a friend along for the ride. Alice will endure, despite Disney's simplification and commercialization. Enjoy!!

Francesca Giusti said...

love this also your blog! It's so nice!!! I follow you!
Pass to my blog and if it likes you follow me too, I will be so glad :D

AVY said...

So cool, very model like.



Anonymous said...

Simply amazing! I keep scrolling up to get more glimpses of those feather lashes. Wow.

Living_in_aShoe said...

great pictures! I love the feather lashes!

OrigamiGirl said...

Ok, so firstly that tea rooms sounds amazing. I have friends in both Richmonds in the UK so was a bit disappointed it is actually in Manchester! If I am ever there I will have to go.

Secondly, I am with you on the Alice thing. I have just mentioned in my lastest blog post my mixed feelings about disney. It has grown on me. But I don't really like their Alice and it's hard to pinpoint why. I think it just simplifies it a bit. I have always love Through the Looking Glass more. But both are books absolutely swamped in incredible imagery. When we were kids my parents used to recite The Walrus and the Carpenter to us on long journeys so I have a really deep fondness for the story that has been passed on from my parents love of it.

Opposite lipstick said...


Bella Q said...

One of my favorite childhood reads, and still a fashion icon. Great interpretation of it all!

Nina Apple said...

Lovely! A very complete post about fashion-land! I do love Alice by Temperley clothing, I think it would fit in your Alice theme.



Jess said...

Those eyelashes are amazing! Where are they from?


The Foolish Aesthete said...

These are Absolutely Fabulous! Those feathered eyelashes should have been part of Lewis Carroll's world.

Alice is so dear to my heart. Partly because of Carroll's imagery and poetry (how many times have I recited and acted out "Jabberwocky" or "Mock Turtle Song"). But I was so inspired by Carroll himself. Here was a young mathematician with a gift for words and puzzles, a talent for photography and costumes, who also wanted to overthrow restrictive Victorian traditions. I don't think he was understood very well in his own time.

You and Flo did a marvelous job here. And it's interesting how you both had slightly different (and equally gorgeous) takes on Alice. - J xxx

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