The Iconography of Alice in Wonderland and Heavy Red

The character of Alice from Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland is wonderfully iconic. When Lewis Carroll wrote Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass, most literature of the time depicted children in a very mannered, unrealistic, and subservient way. At the time, it was very radical to have a child heroine who knew her own mind, would talk back to crazy authority figures, and was capable of addressing problems cleverly as they arose in her adventures. Because of the fantastical nature of Lewis Carroll’s storytelling, it might seem odd to describe his depiction of Alice as more realistic, but Alice is a fully actualized character. A strong female character who can take care of herself. Children of the time adored Lewis Carroll’s writing and he was definitely very successful as a writer within his lifetime.

Some people believe that Alice Pleasance Liddell, the daughter of one of his coworkers in academia, (and whose governess Lewis Carroll was rumored to be banging) was the model for Alice. The author himself always said that Alice is not based on any one specific little girl. He did get her name from Alice Liddell, as he told her and her sisters an early version of Alice’s Adventures and was encouraged by Alice Liddell to write them down. Lewis Carroll was, in addition to being a famous author and an academic, a scenester photographer of the Gilded Age. His portraits of Alice Liddell show her as dark-haired, with a pixie face, and an intelligent but perhaps insolent gaze.

Although Lewis Carroll did a series of drawings for his initial drafts of the Alice stories, he ultimately hired professional illustrator John Tenniel to illustrate the published works. Some art historians feel that John Tenniel just had a sort of almost templated nice middle class girl design which he used for Alice. John Tenniel was wildly successful as an artist. He was on salary for the same magazine for fifty years and was the first illustrator ever to be knighted in the United Kingdom. So, while he was no slouch, his drawings of Alice are probably still his most well known works today, due to the enduring popularity of the Alice stories and thus accompanying iconography. Over the years, art nouveau artists to Disney have reinterpreted the Alice semiotics.

An interpretation which I particularly like is Heavy Red’s series of Alice Halloween costumes. (They offer super fast shipping in both the USA and internationally, so you’ve got time to be Alice this year.) Maybe I just subscribe to the theory that every day is Halloween, but I think Heavy Red’s Alice outfits make for lovely regular wear. Each Fall, the Alice look is re-imagined again with different gothic flair by designer Tyler Ondine Whitman (who I interviewed some years back). Because the iconography of Alice is so timelessly appealing, this look is always a winner. I especially like the Alice en Bataille couture that Heavy Red came up with this year. While still keeping to the Alice vibe, the scalloped black waistcoat and gloves give it that extra warrior princess appeal, which is always helpful if you have to battle the Red Queen. The feminine power implied by these Heavy Red designs is very in keeping with Lewis Carroll’s enduring creation.


Posted by on October 19, 2014. Filed under Headline, Images, Trappings. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

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