Shoppers in Wonderland

Alice In Wonderland Merchandise at Urban Outfitters

By Lauren Panariello

When fashion week hit New York City last February, it left spectators wondering if they were strutting Bryant Park, or tumbling down a cosmic rabbit-hole.

Tim Burton’s take on the Disney classic Alice in Wonderland hit theaters March 5th, and raked in $116.3 million its opening weekend. But by the looks of the runways, designers just couldn’t wait for a taste of the magical story.  Boutique favorite Alice and Olivia sent models down the catwalk with unfinished updo’s dressed with off-swept miniature and oversized top hats in hues like rouge, turquoise, and smoke grey, recalling mad-hatter images and the funky-fairytale vibe of Wonderland.

Anna Sui closed her thoroughly Bohemian collection with a floor-length gown that can only be described as Alice’s wedding dress.  With an English schoolgirl collar, whimsical lace appliqué, a tiered descent to the floor, and asymmetrical miniature top hat accessory slathered in florals, a topaz-haired Karen Elson strutted the twisted fairytale frock in front of the mosaic-like sketch of a purple and green paradise that was Sui’s backdrop for the show.

Several designers, among them Diane Von Furstenberg and Carolina Herrera, opted for ice blue party dresses- Alice’s signature style throughout her fantastical journey.

Alice-esque party dress from Forever 21

“I think Alice in Wonderland had such a big impact on fashion because the industry is obviously made up of creative types,” said Erin Flaherty, the style and beauty editor for The Frisky, an online fashion magazine. “It’s such a beloved, magical story that has always inspired the imagination.”

The past several seasons have focused on recession-chic fashion. Bang-for-your-buck features became magazine cover stories, and shoppers spent money investing in wardrobe basics instead of creative couture. Now, designers and customers alike are demanding a return to fantastical fashion as an escape from a harsh economic reality. And who better to deliver the magic than Alice?

“What makes the story generally appealing may be that it expresses the typical adolescent journey to fit in,” said Karin Badt, a film and literature professor at New York University.

“We are definitely going along with fantasy-like themes in our recent catalogs and what we are stocking in our stores,” said Minna Lee, of 5th Avenue’s Free People store and formerly Teen Vogue’s fashion department. “The merchandise is heavy on ruffles, lace, eyelets, and intricate beading.” The company’s catalog, which targets fashion-forward women and teens, featured full-page spreads of feather and flower-clad models prancing through mythical looking woodlands and sun-drenched landscapes.

Soho-Chic Alice: Top Shop dress, Tiffany & Co key necklace, and Urban Outfitters Feather Headband

“My favorite piece in the store right now is the Praga patch skirt,” said Lee of the fanciful multi-patterned floor-length skirt that the five-foot fashionista wears as a dress. Not only does the floral patchwork garment conjure images of rustic fairytales and wood-nymph wardrobes, it also retails for $198. Compared to seasons old smocked striped long-sleeved tee shirts that cost $48, or solid-colored sweaters that ran shoppers $88, what consumers are willing to spend on this season’s more inventive designs is far more than what retailers have experienced thus far during the recession.

From the catwalk to cover stories, fashion’s return to fantasy has already begun gracing pages of the glossies. “We just had Mia [Wasikowska], the girl that plays Alice in the new movie, on the cover so her shoot was definitely very Alice in Wonderland inspired,” said Teen Vogue’s Samantha Merski. The pin-thin actress posed for Teen Vogue in two Alice-blue dresses, black bow-tied Mary Jane’s, and polka dot painted pants in a garden of swan statues and animal inspired landscaping.

The magazine industry is making moves to leave behind more of the economical articles of seasons past and follow the spendthrift strut of New York’s runways.

“During the hard core months of the recession we definitely had more of a focus on ‘look at these awesome fashion steals’,” explains Merski, “but now we are moving away from that and just focusing more on the clothing in general, expensive or not. It’s more like how our pre-recession stories were.”

This isn’t the first time a film has influenced fashion. From Annie Hall’s menswear style to the shaggy 80’s frocks that Madonna flaunted in Desperately Seeking Susan, film-ista has been synonymous with fashionista since the start of the silver screen. “Most recently, we saw how many designers created items and collections based on Where The Wild Things Are,” said Flaherty “All these grown-ups were buying super expensive onesies from Opening Ceremony. It was insane!”

Rock and Roll Alice: BCBG cocktail dress with a studded Saks 5th Ave belt

While the fantastical fashions of New York’s runway that will be trickling down to the magazine pages and retail racks may be beautiful, they will still carry price tags too hefty for many consumers.  But if the catwalk said nothing else, it told patrons to say buh-bye to reality and welcome to Wonderland. “As a consumer, I am fine with this,” said Merski. “I like seeing the more fantastical and expensive stuff. Although, it’s not stuff I could wear or afford, I do appreciate it. It’s art.”

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