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Tim’s Burton’s fantastical Alice In Wonderland grossed a staggering $1 billion at the box office last year. So the pressure for the James Bobin directed sequel, Alice Through The Looking Glass (in which Burton is a producer), for Alice’s second trip to Underland to be even more whimsically incredible, was ever-present.
This time, Alice (Mia Wasikowska) returns to Underland via a giant mirror (apparently rabbit holes were so 2010), and in one gloriously nonsensical world she makes it her mission to save the ill Mad Hatter (Johnny Depp). His family have gone missing and Alice, along with help from the White Queen (Anne Hathaway) must journey back in time to solve the mystery of what happened to her friend’s family.
Along the way, we discover how the Red Queen (played by scene-stealer Helena Bonham-Carter) became so evil and meet Sacha Baron-Cohen who is a first timer to the franchise, and also a half-clockwork, half-human demigod who helps Alice travel in time.
Some critics have mocked the film – in the same way they mocked the first film before it went on to make over a billion – and while there is a new creative in the director’s chair, the aesthetic of the film remains the same, thanks to famed costume designer Colleen Atwood. Inspired by 80s Japanese designs and Lewis Carroll’s original books, Atwood returned to Underland once more (she worked on Alice In Wonderland) to pretty much make the entire movie more whimsical, more dramatic and exquisitely magical. The challenge for her this time though was dressing each character as they travelled in time.
“Lewis Carroll’s second book is a different twist on Underland that plays with past, present and future… it was interesting to see the tale told in a non-linear kind of way,” explains Atwood. “The challenges for me were different because I had to depict characters at different times in their lives.”
The first costume Atwood approached was Wasikowska’s – Alice is the central character after all. The pre-production process for films these days are a lot shorter, it’s, as Atwood describes, “boots on the ground running” from the very beginning. She says often drafting patterns, building costumes of muslin for fittings and shopping for fabric happens all at once.
“We needed yards and yards of vintage-looking fabric for Alice’s Chinese-influenced costume, but knew we weren’t going to find that anywhere (and even if we did, vintage fabric is very, very fragile). So the textile department hand embroidered 70 yards of basic blue silk to create the look we wanted,” says Atwood.
Atwood fell in love with the Australian actress straight away. “They could not have found a more perfect Alice than Mia… she is Alice,” says Atwood. “Her style is a natural, period look from the world above ground and is different from the first film. She has returned from being out at sea and is grown-up and feeling empowered so she is no longer your traditional Alice in a blue frock with fluffy hair.”
The designer also points out a really interesting point about the way Carroll envisaged Alice. “The girl that Carroll based Alice on had a long bob haircut at a time when most girls were extremely feminine with their hair in ringlets and wearing big dresses,” says Atwood. “You could tell she was a forward-thinking girl for her time and I like the idea of a girl that is a little outside the box and who creates her own world and I think that’s an exciting message to woman in general.”
Atwood had to reflect this sentiment in Alice’s costumes and to do so she cleverly crafted pants for Alice that are disguised as dresses. We are first introduced to Alice in a “high collar, navy-coloured coat with gold braided lapels (similar to what a ship’s captain would wear) when she arrives in London”.
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She then shows up at the Ascot mansion in “a lavender organza Oriental top” that she bought back from her travels. “This is based on period fabrics from China with Chinese-style embroidery and medallions and a subtle background of hats, rabbits and a little ‘A’ for Alice,” says Atwood. “We then see Alice in a military frock coat and white linen and blue trim and based on a real Navy uniform.”
Watch these sketches come to life here:
Alice Through The Looking Glass is in cinemas now.