Welcome to FrockTalk, the web’s only costume-based movie review site. The goal of Frocktalk is to shed light on the magnificent artistry of costume design in motion pictures. Reviews on this site are written by working costume designers in the entertainment industry – people who know, better than anyone, what it takes to make it all happen. The focus of FrockTalk is not to comment on the big flashy costume dramas, but to call attention to the seemingly ordinary costume design work in film that silently and persuasively moves the audience toward understanding the characters. Costume design for motion pictures is an art form that deserves more recognition than it usually gets. Fancy, pretty costumes do not always equal effective, appropriate costumes. The art of the costume is in letting the audience know who the character is, before the actor even has a chance to open his mouth. Read on, and enjoy. ** CAUTION: ALL REVIEWS CONTAIN SPOILERS! **

FIDM Alice in Wonderland Costume Contest

The Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising in downtown Los Angeles has a few exhibits up right now – one of which features film costumes and other garments inspired by the Tim Burton film Alice in Wonderland. Along with the exhibit, FIDM is hosting a number of events, including the Alice in Wonderland costume contest, which took place this morning. My. Oh. My.

There were only a handful of people there in costume this morning, but the costumes were in general pretty extraordinary. We saw a few versions of Alice.

First, the original, old-school Alice (blue dress, white pinafore) and here you can see that she’s grown too big for the house.  I thought this was very clever, and very cute.  Based on the BOOK, not on the film.

The house costume is pretty great – the details were lovely.

There was even a little rabbit doormat in the front. Sweet.

Then we have cocktail-hour Alice. I am imagining that there is straight Vodka in that teacup.  She’s nursing an injured foot, so I wouldn’t blame her.

We have an imaginative, snowboarder-esque version of the Rabbit…

And then a mystifying Mad Hatter:

Complete with Barbie doll Alice on the hat…

And Cheshire cat accessory.  Gotta give big points for originality and funky interpretation!  Look at the details – mushrooms, teapots…

The woman manning the door was a Mad-Hatter-esque creature as well.

Then we have Tim-Burton-Version Alice, and look at the details.

She told me that the embroidery on the bottom of the dress (look at the picture) was manufactured by a guy in Hong Kong and sold on eBay.  Here’s a closeup of her dress:

Which brings me to a disturbing question: could the research and publicity we share on the web actually enable counterfeiters to make a quick buck off of costume designers’ work? I think the answer is YES, sadly.

Here is my photo (from ComicCon) of the embroidery:

And here is my photo (also from ComicCon) of the mitts:

The embroidery manufacturer in Hong Kong could have quite easily seen my pictures from the secret Alice exhibit at Comic Con on this website or on The Costumers Guide, and (using the pictures) copied the embroidery exactly. So what does this mean for those of us who only seek to admire (and not steal) this work?

Take a look at the Red Queen – this costume was made by a guy (who you will later see dressed as the Mad Hatter) who does everything by hand. Look at the attention to detail.  If you saw this woman walking around Disneyland, you’d assume she was an employee/cast member.  It’s a very good reproduction.

And here is my detail pic of the original gown from the exhibit at ComicCon:

Now look, I am not suggesting that posting pictures on the internet is the only way these people can get the design information. A person can rent the DVD and have a good look at it, no question. But where do you draw the line?

Here is the Mad Hatter – this is the same guy who made the Red Queen costume. He also made this one, the one he’s wearing. It’s exquisite, is it not?

I interviewed him on camera about his process and sourcing. And without a SHRED of irony, he asked if I could wait until September to post the interview, so that, “No one copies him or his work.” Cheeky Monkey! Isn’t it Colleen Atwood’s work?

His protestations were due to the fact that he makes money selling these costumes on eBay, and gets particularly busy in September (in advance of Halloween). He makes every item by hand, and doesn’t want his “design secrets” leaked to manufacturers in Asia, who can churn out quick copies for less money, thereby putting him out of business. Hate to tell him this, but TOO LATE.

I left the costume contest early, because I was starting to feel weird about it. Colleen Atwood’s costumes are beautiful, but with people manufacturing zillions of copies and making money off of them, I can’t help but feel a little bit miffed on her behalf. I know that Alice is a marketing juggernaut for Disney, and everything to do with the movie has been licensed to within an inch of its life… but there is something intrinsically personal about these designs. You can feel Atwood’s touch, you can sense Burton’s world. The mass commercialization (and the attendant design-stealing) makes me feel sick to my stomach.

Colleen Atwood's Mad Hatter Hat - ComicCon 2009

Look at all the products for sale in the FIDM gift store:

Everything Alice. It looks like one of the stores in Disneyland, for Crikey’s sake.

It’s whimsical, and it’s cute, but you know what? It just reminds me that this is a totally mercenary business.  If it can be sold, it will be sold.

So will I continue to post pictures of beautiful costumes? YES. Will people continue to rip off designs from movies? YES. Is there any kind of solution? I don’t think so. As long as costumes are cool, people will try to copy the design. Unfortunately, it is up to the studios to chase down the copyright/licensee infringers. And at this point, the cat’s out of the bag for Alice.

– KMB

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