The Alice Look: V&A Museum of Childhood

On my way home from a frustrating meeting with my estate agent and surveyor on Saturday afternoon, I passed the V&A Museum of Childhood in Bethnal Green and decided that a step back into my childhood and the alluring world created by Lewis Caroll would be the best antidote for my adulthood frustrations. I have been curiouser and curiouser to visit ‘The Alice Look’ exhibition since it opened on 2nd May and it was just the escapism I needed… split into 4 categories comprising Alice in Wonderland’s beginnings, follower of fashion, inspiration and global Alice, it explores Alice’s relationship with fashion since her inception 150 years ago. As a lifelong fan of these books, I was surprised to learn it was Lewis Caroll himself who created the first images of Alice in a handwritten manuscript that he produced for the real ‘Alice’ (Alice Lidell – the daughter of a family friend) minus the pinafore, striped stockings and hairband we now automatically associate with the character. In the first published version she continued to be dressed in a yellow outfit worn by many middle-class Victorian children, and it was not until Through the Looking Glass was published 6 years later that she gained her hairband and stockings. And she wasn’t dressed in blue – the colour most widely associated with her – until the Disney animation in 1951! The exhibition goes on to look at the various reprints and special editions over the last century and a half, her influence on designers, stylists and photographers, as well as her various incarnations across the globe including Swahili Alice in a local kanga dress, and a Japanese Lolita-style Alice. My only criticism is that it could and indeed should have been larger, calling five or six display cases an exhibition is a little misleading and I was left craving more.

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