The children’s book that’s really for adults



The Alice we expect today may have had the Hollywood treatment along the way, then, but one of the most striking things about the characters of Wonderland is how very easily they morph and bend to an artist’s vision, while still remaining recognisable. 

More than 300 illustrators have offered their Alices: from Arthur Rackham’s whimsical fairy-child vision in 1905 to Moomins’ author and illustrator Tove Jansson‘s softer, more impressionistic take in 1966 to political cartoonist and children’s illustrator Chris Riddell’s version published last year, where the heroine looks a good deal more like the actual Alice Liddell. Some artists bring their own styles, irrepressibly, to bear: Salvador Dalí‘s series features his iconic floppy clock; Ralph Steadman’s Mad Hatter and March Hare look like they’ve come straight out of his infamous illustrations for Hunter S Thompson’s Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, while Yayoi Kusama‘s 2012 book features more of her trademark polka dots and pumpkins than most Wonderlands.

Despite the original stories’ reliance on wordplay, puns, and nonsense, Alice has become such an icon that she is often used as a touchstone even within primarily visual media. When Christopher Wheeldon first suggested a ballet version, his designer Bob Crowley reportedly thought he was “completely insane” to make a wordless Wonderland. But the Royal Ballet’s 2011 show was a huge hit – not least because of Crowley’s designs, which combined familiar Alice shorthands with classical tutus and cutting-edge stagecraft, from op-art projections to a multi-part Cheshire cat puppet. The Queen of Hearts stepped out of an intimidatingly huge crinoline-cum-throne-cum-tank, to dance a parody of a sequence from the ballet Sleeping Beauty: both very Lewis Carroll, and very ballet. 

‘Magic and mystery’

Alice has long been a touchstone for fashion, too. Vivienne Westwood, Zac Posen, Viktor & Rolf, and John Galliano have all sent looks down the runway inspired by Caroll’s characters and Tenniel’s drawings, while the transformative, otherworldly possibilities of Wonderland hold appeal for fashion shoots.

“I think a lot of people are inspired by the magic and mystery and the craziness of the story of Alice,” said legendary Vogue creative director Grace Coddington in a recent online talk. In 2003, she directed a shoot by Annie Leibovitz for Vogue, in which fashion designers were assigned Wonderland characters. “There was Stephen Jones as a Mad Hatter; Viktor and Rolf as Tweedledee and Tweedledum. John Paul Gaultier was the Cheshire cat because he’s always smiling and always wearing stripes,” recalled Coddington. 

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