Fairy Tale Fashion: 'Alice Day' down the rabbit hole

One golden afternoon on 4 July 1862, Charles Dodgson, an Oxford don, took the 10-year-old Alice Liddell and her sisters on a boating picnic up the River Thames from Folly Bridge in Oxford. To amuse the children he told them a story about a little girl, sitting bored by a riverbank, who finds herself tumbling down a rabbit hole into a topsy-turvy world called Wonderland...

Fairy Tale Fashion, Fashion Institute of Technology Museum, New York

To celebrate 'Alice Day' (today, 2nd July) I'm sharing photos from the Fairy Tale Fashion exhibition that ran at the Fashion Institute of Technology Museum, New York, at the start of the year.

It was my first visit to New York in February, and I discovered the exhibition by accident, Alice-like, when I wasn't looking for it. Immediately falling down the rabbit hole, I spent over an hour marvelling at the clever fashion interpretations of everyone's favourite fairy tales.

Beginning in the thick velvety drapes of a prickly 'forest' with Little Red Riding Hood, the exhibition lured me through a magical realm of to-die-for couture and the fantastical machinations of childhood fairy tale viewed through an adult lens.

I thought the paper mask for the face of the wolf was a clever, contemporary take on the theme. The jewelled velvet gown was sumptuous (Dolce & Gabbana), and the padded, vinyl-hooded cape was by one of my favourite designers, Comme des Garçons.

Next: Beauty & the Beast. The paper mask again denotes the beast (without relying on ugliness or the grotesque). In fact, he looks rather like a lion?

The detailing of the floral layers really caught my attention here, having been a 'corsage queen' in my day. These shoes in the form of furry 'beast' claws were a real wonder:

Fairy Tale Fashion, Fashion Institute of Technology Museum, New York

Christian Louboutin's 'Alex' pumps embody the dynamic of beauty and beastliness. Taking the form of a lion's foot, their craftsmanship is extraordinary: the fur-like texture is created using dense embroidery, and the 'claws' are made from glittering rhinestones. Wow.

'I'm late! I'm late! For a very important date!'

This Manish Arora dress (2008) was displayed in true fairy tale style with fabric playing cards, bunny mask and checkerboard tights.

I'm sure the real Alice would have been delighted and proud with this nod to Wonderland. Meanwhile...

Fairy Tale Fashion, Fashion Institute of Technology Museum, New York

The Nicholas Kirkwood Alice shoe (2010) combines numerous Wonderland motifs, including the red roses favoured by the Queen of Hearts, a tiny tea set referencing the Mad Hatter's tea party, and the White Rabbit's pocket watch.

Fairy Tale Fashion, Fashion Institute of Technology Museum, New York

The Swan Maidens: a huntsman observes seven swan maiden sisters as they remove their featured robes to bathe in the river...

The Swans were one of my favourite sequences as the blue lights and the dazzling costumes served to transport you right there to the lake, the 'black swan' evening dress taking centre stage. Signet to swan.

The Wizard of Oz is another classic tale, and I love the sleek, sexy lines of 'the witch' costume here, and of course, the much-coveted 'Lady Lynch' ruby slippers by Christian Louboutin.

Dorothy's were made from fashionable, late 1930's pumps adorned with sequins and rhinestones. A modern-day Dorothy would undoubtedly prefer shoes by Christian Louboutin...

I was stunned to discover the original slippers were in fact silver, only turning red to capitalise on the use of Technicolour in the original 1939 film. That's turned a million Dorothy-dreams on their heads then. (Off with their heads!)

Moving on, The Bear Prince is a story I'd never heard before.

I like the juxtaposition of lace in the female costume that contrasts with the rugged tweed and rough edges of the Princes' outfit, the caged head indicating a need for restraint.

Clearly red is symbolic of the battle between good and evil, right and wrong; daring, poisoned, passionate red - as if we didn't know that already.

Finally, one of my childhood favourites (though I think I've said this about them all) - The Snow Queen - with the best shoes of the exhibition (a close call to make) - and Sleeping Beauty in her embellished nightgown.

Snowflakes are linked to what the scholar Erica Weitzman refers to as the "frigid mathematical perfection" of the Snow Queen's world (Alexander McQueen evening dress, centre, 2008)

Meanwhile, mirrors are often symbols of vanity and frivolity (mirror, mirror, on the wall...), but here this mirrored Tom Ford dress (centre) and matching shoes offer a beautiful counterpoint to "the demon's nasty mirror shattering into millions and billions of bits".

What fabulous imagery; snowflakes and mirrors. Shattered snowflakes and mathematical mirrors. Mathematical snowflakes and shattered mirrors.

Fairy Tale Fashion, Fashion Institute of Technology Museum, New York

The shoes for me were a huge part of the exhibition experience so I couldn't finish without including the hat made from shoes, the most stunning take on Dorothy's ruby slippers, or the pivotal element in Cinderella's story.

Fairy Tale Fashion, Fashion Institute of Technology Museum, New York

This design is by Stephen Jones (1997) and apparently he designed his collection around the plot of The Red Shoes, referencing the talismanic ballet pumps.

But really, they had me at 'Glass Slipper' (Noritaka Tatehana, 2014):

What a fantastical way to escape the responsibilities of real life and immerse in the glory of these costumes. The exhibition ran from January - April 2016, and I'm so glad I happened into it. It was obviously meant to be.

Fairy Tale Fashion was a unique and imaginative exhibition that examined fairy tales through the lens of high fashion. In versions of numerous fairy tales by authors such as Charles Perrault, the Brothers Grimm, and Hans Christian Andersen, it is evident that dress was often used to symbolize a character’s transformation, vanity, power, or privilege. Colleen Hill, associate curator, Fashion Institute of Technology, New York


The Collage Club theme for May was all about WILD. And when I thought about how to interpret WILD, the first images that popped into my head were of the catwalk: WILD fashions, sets, shows and extravagance.

Patterns and prints and shoes that are almost too high to walk in. WILD hair and party make-up and trends that go viral and fights in the 'FROW'.


I was in the fashion world once, having studied it for 4 years. I can't say that those years were particularly WILD, but like any student, there were definitely some wilder times. So many influences to absorb, so much colour, and the chance to experiment. Going WILD.

In terms of concepts and materials, whatever you could lay your hands on went into the mix. And I specialised in printed textiles so the textile-lover in me got a chance to go WILD.

Feathers and foam and printing on lace and drawings for electronic dresses with keyboard parts in them long before jewellery and craft sellers were using keyboard numbers and scrabble tiles to make things. Staying up late to write print reports. Staying up late to party. Sleeping in late for exams. WILD times!

So here's my WILD designs; a triptych:

WILD collage - The Collage Club - Image 1

The photograph in the middle was shot on my analogue fisheye camera on black and white 35mm film. It's of wild woodland and I love the glossy effect against the high-colour fashion image. I also like the idea of models being the 'trees of the catwalk'.

WILD collage - The Collage Club - Image 2

Pulled straight from a fashion mag, this image - this outfit - reminds me of a skirt I had when I was 16. It was navy with orange flowers and I wore it on a first date one summer evening. I took my mother's vintage handbag with me and I felt super grown-up. I wore a camisole and a blazer with it. WILD sweet sixteen!

The triangles of jungle-print are the cut-off-corners of wrapping paper that I used to cover one of my scrapbooks.

They remind me of my creative-collage-sister Karen Lynch who is well over halfway through her #100daysofpaper for The Great Discontent's 100 day project. You can follow her collage-journey here.

The red mirror card is like a metaphor for how fragile the fashion industry can be. One minute the catwalk is red-hot for a trend, the next, everything is gone, thrown away, broken, fragmented. That sounds super-serious and deep, but it was just a thought I had when I spotted the card in my stash.

And then I couldn't resist drawing more triangles in black and adding squiggles. It's the rebellious art-journaler in me. (Check out my ZINE.)

WILD collage - The Collage Club - Image 3

This final image is much softer; a naive wood-nymph peering through leaves and branches, wild flowers at her feet and sunlight on her face. But she's got a vagabond spirit and lives and thrives by her wiles and her wit, out there, there in the WILD.

I did a fashion collection called 'Fairy Nymph' at college and it was made entirely in chiffon. There is something so beautiful and feminine about it and completely at odds with 'high fashion' - more raw and unfinished and closer to nature than machine.

So these are my three faces (images) of WILD.

View more responses to this theme and join The Collage Club on Facebook.